Hitting the treadmill or hitting the weights for 40 minutes? Now there is one question that will get you into hot water, no matter which stand you take.
There is no doubt that both are very healthy and effective ways of exercising and obtaining a healthy lifestyle. Just remember however, we are talking about getting into shape. Now this will obviously mean losing fat for most people, while obtaining a toned or even muscular look at the same time.
Even in this context, there is a huge percentage of people swearing by cardiovascular exercise (aerobics) as the best means of burning calories and loosing fat. Although this fact is not disputed and already proven, when it comes to getting into overall shape, it falls short of of the benefits provided by resistance (weight) training for a few reasons.
The most obvious one is that cardio raises your heart rate and do exercise most muscle groups to some extent. Unfortunately it does not put sufficient stress on your muscle groups in order to facilitate real change in your body composition. Even the argument that weight training does little to improve overall fitness, has been debunked by the recent tendency of resistance trainers to dramatically reduce the amount of rest between exercise, promoting a good deal of cardiovascular fitness in the process. The difference and advantage of resistance training runs a lot deeper though.
Let's first look at the body's ability to burn calories
One study revealed that after 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, your body's metabolism is raised for 2-3 hours. If you do weight training with the same amount of intensity, your metabolism is raised substantially and stay elevated for up to 38 hours! This means you are still actively burning calories (and fat) more than a day after your exercise. (Some studies even claim much longer periods of elevated metabolism, but let me stay conservative to keep perspective.)
But what is the reason or proof for this phenomena? After a 30 minute cardiovascular session, your metabolism needs to slow down along with your heart-rate, some recovery needs to take place and that is why you still burn calories hours after your workout.
Here is where the difference with weight training comes into effect. With vigorous weight training, some healthy muscle damage (micro tears in the muscle fiber) occurs. When your body starts recovering, it needs to do a lot more than just recover from the exercise itself. It also needs to restore and rebuild muscle tissue. The latter may take up to 48 hours or more (according to some studies) for a muscle to completely recuperate. During the bulk of this time your body needs energy for this process, which means it is still burning calories (fat).
In other words, you are not just burning fat for a longer period of time, but also sustaining or gaining lean muscle tissue. This need NOT be a concern for my female readers or men wishing not to look like a bodybuilder. This will not happen. Your muscles will simply look firmer and more toned. (A different approach to the type of weight training, as well as changes in your diet are required in order to build serious muscle.)
This ties in nicely with the next advantage of weight training I would like to address:
Lean Body Muscle and Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
I must be very honest here. Until recently, I was completely oblivious myself of this scientific finding and the theory behind it. It makes perfect sense once explained though.
Let us start off with Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). What exactly is it and why is it important?
In essence, your BMR is the rate at which your body is consuming energy when in a completely rested state and you do nothing but breathe. Basically, when you are lying in your bed fast asleep is the perfect example. To calculate this rate, your body's lean muscle mass is taken into consideration, which is represented by your muscles, bones and organs.
Here is where it becomes very relevant and interesting. It has been determined that the more lean muscle you are carrying, the higher your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and therefore the amount of calories (fat) you are able to burn. This means that muscle tissue is considered to be fairly stable (provided sufficient exercise and nutrition is provided), and therefore has proven to be a very sufficient long-term strategy for burning fat.
Since one of the primary benefits of weight training is gaining lean muscle, this added benefit becomes very relevant and important, especially when burning fat is your main goal.
In summary, I will restate my original observation that both forms of exercise are very efficient and helps promoting a healthy lifestyle. I am not "choosing sides" at all as to which is the better one overall. To prove my point, it is very well known fact that most bodybuilders (who obviously fall in the weight training camp) do extensive cardiovascular exercise shortly before a competition in order to remove that last layer of stubborn fat.
On a side note, this is why most professional competitors involved with crossfit workouts and competitions, are usually very muscular and lean. Both purely cardiovascular exercise, weight training and a combination of both are used in this discipline. It requires a lot of time, hard work and a LOT of nutrition. I have the world of respect for these athlete, but it is definitely not something will recommend for anyone who just wants to get into shape…
And there you have it. I know this topic is a hotly contested one, and there is more than enough room for arguments from both sides. However, if getting and staying in shape is your ultimate goal, resistance (weight) training wins this round fairly easily.
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Until next time, don't give that dumbbell such a skeptical look…