What is your goal? Do you just want to have overall cardio heart health? Do you want more muscle? Do you want to lose fat? I think more often than not people default to hopping on the elliptical, or going out for a run because it requires no skill to take on. Lifting on the other hand, can be intimidating between all the big gorillas in the gym using more weight than they can actually handle, as well as how overwhelming the exercise selection can be to someone just starting out.
I remember how intimidated I was when I first started working out. I stuck exclusively to machines, and maybe some light dumbbells because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way or make myself look like an idiot. If the gym seems intimidating to you, realize that that’s totally okay. You don’t have to start this journey jumping all in. While it’s not ideal, even if you did just as I did, and started with the machines, at least you can get yourself comfortable easing into the weight section.
Retaining Muscle vs Losing Muscle
Anyone who’s been following my blogs, has heard this a thousand times and I apologize. Yes, cardio is great for a short term, immediate caloric burn. Over the long haul, it may work against you. Especially if you aren’t accompanying it with any resistance training.
Working out even 2-3 times a week sends a signal to your body to adapt. That adaptation can either add muscle to your body (if you are in a caloric surplus), or provide a stimulus to hold onto the muscle you’ve got (in a caloric deficit such as a diet). Either way as you can see it makes sense to have some sort of weight training in your routine. The elliptical, and most forms of cardio aren’t going to add the kind of muscle you are probably looking for. You need to progressively be getting stronger and stronger in order to see a physical change in your body over the course of 2-3 months.
Posture – adding resistance training will help improve your bad posture that you no doubt have from sitting at work all day, or in your car and on the couch. Incorporating back exercises such as rows and pull-up variations, as well as compound movements like the deadlift, all (when done with proper form) help teach the body to keep the shoulder blades down and back, and not rounded forward. This is vital if you want longevity out of your body.
Muscle – lifting weights obviously as mentioned before, will help pack on muscle to your frame giving you the desired physique you want, which also will carry over to being stronger in everyday life. Even if it’s moving boxes around and picking your kids up.
Bones – as we get older our bone density, and our muscle starts atrophying unless we do something about it. If we don’t use it, we lose it. Half the reason you see older people get so many falling injuries has to do with lack of upkeep on their body. They accept their old age as wasting away. The reality is adding even two days of resistance training will provide a strong enough stimulus to keep your bones strong and muscles on your frame (or at very worst help significantly reduce the rate at which it slows down versus if you did nothing).
Metabolism – having more muscle on your frame means burning more calories at rest. It takes energy to keep muscle, and thus allows you to get away with slightly more calories than usual in order to retain that muscle.
Mobility – having good mobility isn’t just about being flexible like a yoga instructor. If you truly want to prevent injury, you need to be able to express those full ranges of motion with stability and under load. Being able to bend down and touch your toes, or half ass squatting down to pick something up means nothing if the moment I add any bit of load, your body can’t handle it and you’d get injured. You need to be able to handle resistance throughout the entire range of motion. This is another reason people get injured so much.
That’s not to say you should forgo any cardio. There is a way to implement both. Ideally we’d want a mixture of both to take care of our muscular frame as well as our heart.
2 days – these can be done after a workout or on their own day – 30 minute steady state cardio (could be jogging on treadmill, playing basketball, swimming, etc. Enough to get your heart rate up but you can still carry on a conversation just a little bit)
1 day – HIIT Cardio – on a non-workout day – For those just starting out focus more on doing HIIT cardio in the form of sprints on a bike, rower, or even outside on the track. 5 minute warmup, 4-6 30 second sprints with 1-1.5 minute break in between, then cooldown for 5-10 minutes.
3 Full Body Workout days – 1 exercise per muscle group – 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions (choose a weight where you can hit that rep range and only have 1-2 reps left in the tank).
If you incorporate a balanced plan of 3 full body days, with 2-3 cardio days (to start), you should be well on your way to seeing a fat loss of about 1-2lbs a week. If you have already been doing this much cardio, it may take more though so keep that in mind. Also, don’t forget the third option of just increasing your NEAT through more steps throughout the day.