This is a common question among fitness enthusiasts, whether your goals are to gain more muscle or lose more weight, the way in which you go about your fitness routine could make all the difference.
Of course having a personal trainer who can customize your workouts for you can optimize your success, but it's always a good idea to educate yourself on how to best reach your fitness goals - with cardio workouts and strength training being two primary approaches.
If you're looking to achieve results for a lean, fit body, by now you should know that you can't just stick to the treadmill or elliptical alone. Building muscle mass of any kind requires some heavy lifting, especially if you want a strong and chiseled body.
In fact, even if your goal is to become a runner, you still need to incorporate strength training into your routine. So even when you're strapped for time and need to squeeze in some heavy weights and a cardio session, where should you start? The study experts of exercise say the answer is - strength training - here's why:
Why Strength Training Should Not Wait
In one study printed in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, three workout strategies were studied against each other: strength training alone, cardio and then strength training, and then cycling followed by strength training. It was found that exercisers failed during weight lifting reps if they had run or cycled first. However, when doing strength training without the cardio, it resulted in more reps.
Another recent research study found similar outcomes. The number of completed reps diminished, as did muscle power, after research subjects performed sessions of treadmill running. Their heart rate and rate of perceived exertion also increased during the strength training sessions that followed aerobic exercise, especially after a HIIT running exercise.
All in all, the research supports that if you want the muscle-building benefits of strength training, then it's ideal to begin with strength training exercises.
When Cardio Matters Most
In terms of fighting off fat, the two resistance exercises and anaerobic exercises are crucial. When you gain muscle, it raises your metabolic rate, which helps you burn fat quicker. And according to an exercise study, doing both strength training and cardio workouts reduces body fat more than either method independently.
This means that you are likely to adhere to the exact same formula mentioned above, but keep in mind this caveat: that exact same study demonstrated that while fat mass and waist circumference decrease if you do a combination of both weight lifting and cardio workouts or even just aerobic activity alone. In other words, strength training alone did not lead to weight loss. So in the event that you're looking to slim down, then you will definitely have to kick up your cardio - even if that means skipping some weights when you're short on time.
That being said, it's still wise to strength train, even if your goals are to become a better runner or biker. Research has found that resistance exercises improved the endurance in athlete performance, muscle strength, and economy. You may just need longer and more frequent cardio exercises (a few of those being standalone aerobic exercises), with strength training days sprinkled throughout your weekly program.
Finding Your Formula for Success
Obviously everyone has different goals for what they want to get out of their gym time, so make sure yours are custom to you and your needs. In the occasional or beginner level exerciser, it is recommended that you work with a personal trainer to help you to decipher which type of workout routine and the frequency of your workouts will work best with achieving your goals.
That being said, even the most seasoned athletes can benefit from consulting a personal trainer, especially if you have hit a plateau in your results or are looking to challenge your body in new ways.