Cardio vs. Weight Training
It's hard to believe that exercise, which seems to be a relatively simple topic, can cause so much debate. However, when assessing the efficacy of weight training vs. cardiovascular exercise, there are plenty of conflicting opinions on which is better - and this debate may never get resolved. Therefore, the staff at BioFit and Wellness decided to compare the benefits and risks of the two forms of exercise so you can make an educated choice as to how to approach either type of workout. (Note: For the sake of simplification, we will use the term aerobic and cardiovascular interchangeably.)
The No. 1 benefit of following an aerobic exercise plan is the change in your cardiovascular fitness that results from this kind of training regimen. Regular aerobic exercise causes your lungs to process more oxygen with less effort; your heart to pump more blood with fewer beats; and the blood supply directed to your muscles to increase. As a result, by performing cardiovascular exercises, you are increasing your body's endurance and efficiency.
In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, other benefits of aerobic exercise include:
- Weight loss: Combined with a healthy diet and appropriate strength training, aerobic exercise will help you lose weight.
- Improved mental health: Regular aerobic exercise releases endorphins, your body's natural painkillers. Endorphins also reduce stress, depression and anxiety.
- Improved immune system: People who exercise regularly are less susceptible to minor viral illnesses such as colds and flu. It is possible that aerobic exercise helps activate your immune system and prepares it to fight off infection.
- Increased stamina: Exercise may make you tired in the short term, i.e., during and right after the activity, but over the long term it will increase your stamina and reduce fatigue.
- Disease reduction: Extra weight is a contributing factor to conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer. As you lose weight, your risk of developing these diseases decreases. In addition, weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as walking, can reduce your risk of osteoporosis and its complications. Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming, cycling and pool exercises, can help keep you fit if you have arthritis, without putting excessive stress on your joints.
- Increased life span: The Harvard Alumni Health Study (1986), published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientifically linked exercise with increased life spans for the first time. Since then, additional research has supported this finding.
- Improved muscle health: Aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in your muscles. This helps your body more efficiently deliver oxygen to your muscles and remove from them irritating metabolic waste products such as lactic acid. This can lessen your discomfort if you have chronic muscle pain or chronic low-back pain.
Cardiovascular Exercise Risks
Common Risks Associated With Cardiovascular Exercise
- Stress fractures: Probably the most common type of injury toaerobics instructors, stress fractures are caused by poor shoeselection, hard surfaces and overuse. Women are more likely to developstress fractures, usually in the lesser metatarsal bones, than men.When swelling and pain arise, be sure to see a podiatrist as soon aspossible. X-ray evaluation and early treatment can prevent a disablinginjury.
- Plantar fasciitis: More prevalently known as arch pain,plantar fasciitis is often caused by frequent stress on the plantaraspect, or bottom of the foot, in an aerobics routine. When the plantarfascia, a supportive fibrous band of tissue running from the heel tothe ball of the foot, becomes inflamed, pain on the bottom of the footresults. Forefoot and rearfoot instability with excessive pronation mayresult in plantar fasciitis. Shoes with proper support in the archoften prevent plantar fasciitis; if not, see your podiatrist for acustom orthotic device or a recommendation for another shoe.
- Dehydration: Dehydration is a condition in which the body,or certain body tissues, suffer from lack of water. The results arediscomfort and sometimes cracking of the skin unless it is protected bynatural lubrication or lotions and increased susceptibility of therespiratory system to infections.
- Heel spurs: Heel spur syndrome, related to plantarfasciitis, occurs after calcium deposits build up on the underside ofthe heel bone. Heel spurs form gradually over many months. Both plantarfasciitis and heel spurs can be avoided by a proper warm-up thatincludes stretching the band of tissue on the bottom of the foot.
- Shin splints: Aside from ankle sprains, shin splints areperhaps the most common injury to the lower body, as the musclesattached to the shin bone bring the foot up and down. The pain isusually associated with inflammation of the shin muscle and tendon dueto stress factors. Treat shin pain with cold compresses immediatelyafter working out to reduce swelling. Proper stretching before theworkout should prevent the onset of shin splints. Strengthening thelower leg muscles also helps reduce shin splints.
- Achilles tendon and calf pain: The frequent rising on thetoes that occurs during an aerobics routine often creates pain andtightness in the large muscles in the back of the legs, which cancreate pain and tightness in the calf and inflammation of the Achillestendon. Again, stretching the calf muscles gently and gradually beforeand after the workout will ordinarily help alleviate the pain andstiffness.
What Should I Do If I Become Injured?
If you experience any of these injuries, see a physician (a podiatristcan treat most of them) who will prescribe treatments to alleviate thepain, and make recommendations to prevent recurrence of any discomfort.As foot specialists trained in all aspects of foot care, podiatristsare also qualified to perform surgery if the condition requires it.
Remember: there are good aerobics programs and bad ones. Usediscretion in choosing classes to attend and/or home videos that areright for you. Always pace yourself and stop if you feel pain.Remember, foot pain is not normal so don't ignore it. Chancesare a successful aerobics regimen may bring out the bodily changes youdesire, both physically and mentally.
Weight Training Benefits and Risks
Improving or maintaining health should be the primary goal of anyexercise program. Health not only refers to the absence of disease orillness but may include the way a person feels about their body, theirconfidence about participating in a variety of activities and theiroverall attitude toward life. For many people feeling physically fitand strong is part of being a well-rounded and confident person.Resistance training (weight training) can play an important role in thedevelopment of self-confidence and body satisfaction by increasingstrength, toning muscles and increasing muscular endurance. It can alsohelp maintain lean body mass (important for individuals attemptingweight loss), decrease the risk of osteoporosis, develop coordinationand balance, and prevent injuries resulting from weak muscles.
By using free weights, a person will achieve greater overall musclemass as compared to aerobic exercise. Free weights use your naturalrange of motion and strengthen the stabilizer muscles. If you switchfrom machine weights to free weights, you will notice that your muscleswill shake a lot when performing the exercises. Once you becomeadjusted to the feel of free weights, your stabilizer muscles will getstronger and you won't shake as much, if at all.
Performing strength training exercises with machine weights gives aperson the ability to tone with the freedom of working out alone.Machine weights are nice to use when a person wants to use lighterweights and perform high numbers of repetitions. However, free weightsbuild mass faster than machine exercises. You can only get so strongusing machine weights because there is a maximum amount of weight thatcan be lifted. For instance, most machine exercises can only go up toroughly 200 pounds, whereas free weights can go to whatever the liftercan handle. If you can lift 500 pounds, there is no machine exercisethat would be heavy enough for you.
The Advantages of Free Weights
- A wide variety of exercises can be performed.
- Results are fast and noticeable.
- The equipment is often inexpensive, and is portable.
- Free weights are suitable for all shapes and sizes.
- It creates a more natural movement compared to machines.
- Exercises that use free weights are often good for the rehabilitation of injuries.
Risks of Weight Training
- More supervision is required as the risk of injury is greater.
- Certain exercises, such as lunges or incline bench press, can be difficult to perform.
- There is a need for lower back support, or strong back andabdominal muscles, when performing certain free weight exercises suchas squats and or any standing overhead barbell presses.
- There is a lot more to remember about how to do each exercise safely and correctly.
- Free weights can seem intimidating.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line when undertaking an aerobic or a weight trainingexercise program is that you must be careful and responsible. Both mayprovide the type of vigorous workout that you require. So listen toyour body and exercise your common sense as well as your muscles.
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