Sunday, January 15, 2012

Don't Stop Running

I know, I know.  In my first post, I talked about weight lifting being more effective for weight loss than running and other cardio exercises.  I still believe this to be true, but I am not asking you to stop running, swimming, biking, or any other cardio exercise to only lift weights.  Cardio exercises can have massive benefits for your body including improving heart health, strengthening your immune system, quick calorie burn, strengthening bones and muscles, and improving your self-esteem.  I believe it’s necessary to balance our weight lifting and cardio.  The amount of time you spend on each, however, should be determined by your goals.

For Weight Loss

My earlier post dispelled any myth that cardio is better for long-term weight loss than weight lifting, because weight lifting builds muscle, boosts metabolism, and continues to burn fat even when you’re at rest.  Running and other cardio exercises are incredibly efficient at burning calories making running, biking, swimming, etc. all great ideas if you are looking for a quick burn.

To maximize weight loss, it is important to make time for both weight training and cardio. I recommend weight lifting three days a week and running three other days, taking one day for rest. For example, lift weights Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and run on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. 

You could also do two-a-days, but make sure you weight lift in the morning and run in the evening. Your body requires glycogen for weight lifting that would be burned by a cardio session. Also, when you deplete your glycogen levels with weight lifting, you get a jump start on burning fat with your cardio. This is because, when you run, your body often spends the first 15-20 minutes depleting glycogen. Once glycogen is eliminated, you start burning body fat.

For Strength Gains or Muscle Mass

Cardio can ruin you! I have experienced this first hand. Several years ago, I was in a fantastic weight training routine. I would spend an hour lifting weights, three times a week and I was seeing tons of strength improvements with this particular workout. A few weeks into the routine, I started to play pickup games of basketball after each workout. I did this for a few weeks until I noticed that I was actually losing strength and muscle mass. I was going completely backwards! So I ditched the basketball and continued to see the gains I was working so hard for.

I have since learned how to work in a little cardiovascular exercise without sacrificing gains in the gym. You might be thinking, “Why do any cardio at all?” Well, adding in a little cardio allows us to continue to get benefits that we would not normally get from weight training. You will get improved cardiovascular health, better endurance, and burn excess fat to help you get that cut body you are looking for. I have three simple rules that I like to follow to ensure I get these benefits without sacrificing all of my hard work in the weight room.

Rule #1 – If you perform cardiovascular exercises, you must eat more. Try eating at least as many calories as you predict you have burned. If you don’t cover the energy demands of your workout, you will lose progress.

Rule #2 – Perform between 12 and 20 minutes of intense interval cardio. I have read that this is plenty of time to get all of the benefits from cardiovascular exercise.  Any longer and your body will have two separate exercises to recover from and you will start to see fewer gains with your weight lifting exercises. Your intervals should be short and intense followed by a longer recovery period (e.g. 30 seconds of intense running followed by 90 seconds of a slow jog or fast walk).

Rule #3 – Separate your weight lifting sessions and cardio sessions with as much time as possible OR do your cardio immediately after weight lifting. I would do the former though. I worry that a fatigued body is more prone to injury. Two-a-days are especially horrible ideas. Your body, like mine when I was playing basketball, will choose to recover from the cardio and you will stop seeing gains from lifting. Unless you are a genetic freak, it is just impossible to be an endurance runner and a successful weight lifter.

For the Endurance Athlete

You are lucky. Endurance sports can negate any gains in weight lifting, but it is very unlikely weight lifting will ruin your progress in endurance activities. Obviously, you would not want to waste your time in the weight room though, so there are a few guidelines you should follow. You should obviously put your endurance activity as your first priority. You don’t want to lift weights before your cardio session in the same day because you will increase muscle fatigue and your chance for injury. You want to run while you have the energy. Try to separate your endurance activity and strength training, however. If you don’t, you will likely sabotage your progress in your endurance while seeing very minimal gains in your strength training. You will also deplete your body of glycogen (as I mentioned earlier) required for weight lifting and probably increase your risk of injury. Try to lift weights just two or three times a week and remember to keep it separate.  

Let us know! Do you lift weights and run? What kind of balance/schedule do you use to accomplish your goals? 

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