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Cardio vs. Weights? Nah… Cardio AND Weights.

You know the drill: Walk into any gym and you see the place has been divided into the “His” and “Hers” sections. Dudes on one side, lifting weights and girls on the other, hitting the cardio machines/group fitness classes. Ok, it’s a generalization but in my experience, truth is many women shy away from P90X because it “has weights” and gravitate to Insanity/Turbofire because “they don’t”. But is the fear justified? Newp. As covered here, women don’t turn into bulky manimals when they lift weights without dosing up on special sauce that’s usually filled with stuff that rhymes with “Shmoremones”. In the real world (beyond our paranoia and gym stereotypes) Cardio AND weight training are BFFs and work together in creating the body and athleticism most people want.

That said, cardio and resistance each have their benefits and too much of one or the other without some sharing between the two robs YOU of your best results. That’s right, Ladies– weight training is awesome. And before you start snickering, Dudes–cardio is awesome too. Now that I’ve given away the answer to the whole “Cardio Vs. Weights” question, let’s get into the “why” so you don’t have to just take my word for it.

Thanks to some legwork by my pal Sean Callahan, I’ve cribbed some interesting stats he’s researched and posted while answering the age-old weights vs. cardio fisticuffs.  First…

Does Lifting Or Cardio Burn More Calories?

We know Cardio is sweat-churning, gut-burning fun that sends your heart sprinting for the hills of Fat Burn City. But what about resistance (weight training)? You see plenty of people out there ripped as can be who put in very little time on the HIIT circuit or pacing their daily 10 mile loop through the neighborhood. While nutrition has a lot to do with it, what’s their training? As it turns out, there’s something to be said for resistance torching fat as well as, if not better than, cardio based on a study* that compared the oxygen burn (IE- the measurement of how your body burns calories) in treadmill work (cardio) with circuit training (resistance ala P90X style):

“A strength training session in which you burn, say, 300 calories burns more calories than a cardio session where you burn 300 calories on the treadmill. Impossible? No it’s not. At least, if you take into account the raised calorie burning after training: Elevated Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC: the phenomenon whereby your body burns more oxygen, and therefore also more calories, after a training session. Sports scientists only started studying this effect in the nineties, but the results of their research indicate that, for people who want to control their weight, strength training is a good alternative to endurance and cardio training.”

Imagine what a good ol’ fashioned resistance circuit can do if you kick your day off with a workout in the morning… just sayin’. But back to point: As Sean notes in his post:

“This is also known as the After Burn effect.  An idea where your body continues to burn calories much further beyond your workout.  As a matter of fact, this effect has been shown to be seen in HIIT versions of cardio  as well.  TurboFire is even based on this effect... After you break down the muscle, your body needs to repair itself. This causes… your body to take calories and use them in its pursuit to repair muscle.”

WHY Weight Training Keeps Things Burnin’

This gets “sciencey” but PROOF** is worth more than some opinion in this case. So here’s a highlight of the detailed breakdown of the study (Circuit Training and Treadmill) mentioned previously:

“During the first hour after each training session the researchers measured how much oxygen [and therefore calories] the women burned.  In the first hour after both training sessions the women’s oxygen expenditure was higher than before the training session. In the first half hour, oxygen expenditure was significantly higher after the CT training than after the TM training.The respiratory exchange ration [RER], this is the ratio between inhaled and exhaled oxygen, is what is responsible.  The lower the RER, the more calories you burn from fat and the fewer from carbs. So the women derived most of the energy for their EPOC after the strength training session from fat.

The researchers suspect that strength training uses relatively large amounts of energy that does not come directly from combustion processes… Restoration of the unnoticed energy reserves only shows up, in terms of oxygen expenditure, after the training session.”

If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet (and they shouldn’t have- this stuff is geektastically, nuts and bolts AWESOME), I hope it at least shows strength training is effective in not only sculpting the bodies magazines hire people to be on their covers for, but ALSO gives fat the heave-ho JUST AS WELL as cardio. As mentioned in the P90X Runner’s Guide, no matter what your preference for exercise, weight training can improve results and make you a more well-rounded example of health and fitness.

Of course, if you’re working out with P90X, you probably know all this. Using a circuit style training system, P90X adds “periodization”– the concept behind the term “muscle confusion”. IE- turn strengths into weaknesses, then switch it up to create new weaknesses to build on and then blow it all out of the water by combining the two for ultimate performance. Oh, and you get ripped/toned as well.

So Who Wins?

Since we’re all inclusive around here… everyone!  If you’re a cardio freak, lift your weights. If you’re a weight freak… keep doing what you’re doing but wedge in some cardio throughout your week.

Truth is, cardio rocks the house as far as blow-torching muscle mayo (fat!) goes… but now you also know weight lifting can do the same job– and more than simply making you skinny, makes you look good (after all– there’s a difference between “skinny” and “skinny” fit). Of course, there’s the added benefits of strength, increased bone health and all that good stuff as well. And honestly, if you’re looking for cardio in P90X2… well, there’s not much that you’ll recognize as true “cardio”. There’s plenty to up your pulse and rev your metabolism to get you sweating but Plyocide isn’t exactly “cardio” as you may have come to know it–and now you know…that’s for a reason. Even better, P90X2 GIVES you a free day (on day 6) to do whatever you like.  If you’ve been missing your treadmill, Saturday’s going to be a great day to get reacquainted.

In all, here’s a nice summary by Sean:

“Resistance lover Tony “P90X” Horton does cardio…  On the flip side, Insanity’s Shaun T. (Mr. Crazy Cardio himself) saw the benefits of weight training by adding in a Strength workout into Asylum and bonus discs with Insanity.  Even TurboFire has a resistance workout for this reason too!”

Ultimately, your goals and program will dictate how much of each you incorporate. If you need help, I’m ready and waiting to help push you to your best. You can also find me on Facebook, Google + and Pinterest.

*Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005 Aug;94(5-6):500-4.

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