Sweating buckets on the treadmill or stationary bike will definitely give you results. But if you're doing only cardio the results probably won't be everything you hope for, particularly when it comes to muscle tone. That's why your fitness program should include a strength training aspect as well.
Cardio exercise is essential to any well-rounded fitness program. It burns calories and fat, and directly benefits overall heart health, like reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and even blood sugar. Especially as you age, enough can't be said about building total-body strength and fitness.
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However, routine strength training has proven to do more than just add definition. As the Mayo Clinic points out, further benefits include increased bone density, improved balance, and reduced risk of chronic illness, decreased risk of injury and even sharper thinking skills.
Your body can't achieve all of this on cardio alone.
Physical Activity Guidelines
Physical activity guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following each week for optimal health and fitness for adults:
- 150 minutes moderate-intensity aerobic exercise; or
- 75 minutes vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise; and
- 2+ days with moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercise.
Supplement calorie-burning cardio with a consistent strength-training regimen to really see your health and body transform.
Read more: Is a Rowing Machine for Strength Training?
What Counts as Strength Training?
Not dissimilar to cardio, the options are plentiful enough to identify the activity you actually look forward to doing. There's the classic weight room with dumbbells and machines, but other options include kettlebells, resistance bands and, of course, your body weight.
Be sure to share the load across the upper body (arms, chest, back, shoulders, abs) and the lower body (hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves). In particular, ExRx.net notes that doing weight training exercises that target your larger muscle groups, and progressively increasing the resistance over time, is the best method for building lean muscle mass and boosting your metabolism.
Bodyweight exercises are valuable for a strength-training regimen for their effect on the muscles, but also their convenience. You can do classics such as push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats anywhere you have space, like your bedroom or living room, the park or a hotel. Yoga absolutely counts, and it comes with the added benefit of improving flexibility.
How to Start Strength Training
Strength training may look easy enough, but this is one time when paying for a couple of trainer sessions at the gym are well worth the investment. With their guidance, you'll understand ideal form and function for the free weights and the machines as to avoid injury and optimize the workouts. Beginners should start slow and easy, focusing on quality of the movements as opposed to quantity.
The American Council on Exercise advises beginners try one set of eight to 12 reps of each exercise, working to achieve fatigue in the muscles. During the movement, make sure to breathe normally and move through a full range of motion. As you improve, increase your resistance by 5 to 10 percent—but only after you can complete 12 reps with proper form.
Don't Forget Flexibility
Flexibility may be as underrated as strength training, but is a key component in the total body package. Improved flexibility is responsible for improving ease of movement and range of motion, reduced stress on joints, and reduced risk of injury.
Incorporating flexibility activities like yoga, Pilates, tai chi and even simple stretching can be a beneficial piece of your fitness regimen that complements all the work you're putting in for cardio and strength. Don't look at it as one more time commitment though, add stretching before and after your usually scheduled workout and you'll reap all the benefits.