The Importance of a Well-Rounded Workout
By Ramin Bajoghli, MD
When it comes to exercise, guidance from fitness experts can be overwhelming and confusing. Some claim you only need to do cardio to get results. Others suggest skipping cardio altogether and only focusing on strength training. The fact is that although any amount of physical activity is better than none, to truly get the health benefits of exercise you need to have a well-rounded workout that includes both cardio and strength training.
How Much Exercise Do I Need?
In general, the average person should get at least 150 minutes per week of some level of cardiovascular activity, such as running, jogging, walking, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or swimming. That equates to 30 minutes of activity five days a week, but the time can be split however it best suits your lifestyle. As your stamina and endurance improve, you can double the time to 300 minutes per week, or an hour of cardio five days a week.
The other two days of the week, you should focus on strength training, which may be lifting free weights (such as dumbbells or barbells), working with resistance bands, using weight machines, and doing body weight training or other type of activity that focuses on muscle fitness. This isn’t necessarily timed activity, but you should try to increase the weight or resistance each time you do the activity.
What Are the Benefits of Doing Cardio and Strength Training?
There are two types of muscle fibers in the body: Type 1 (slow-twitch) and Type 2 (fast-twitch). The details of how the muscle fibers work and where they’re located in the body is complicated, but studies have found that when you train both types by combining endurance with quick bursts of energy, it increases your overall stamina.
What many people don’t consider is that cardio training and strength training both burn calories. Some believe that only cardio or aerobic exercise burns calories. When you do cardio exercise, you burn calories during the activity but stop burning soon after you finish the workout. When you do resistance, or strength, training, you can continue to burn calories for two or three days after your workout because your muscles are using calories to repair and regenerate. So, when you combine both types of exercise into a well-rounded routine, your body will stay in a higher metabolic state longer, meaning your metabolism will increase, and you’ll see results sooner.
What Types of Cardio Exercise Are Best?
No one type of cardio activity is better than another. Any activity that causes you to breathe faster and more deeply, uses large muscle groups, and gets your heartrate up is beneficial. And it doesn’t have to be an activity you do in a gym. In addition to walking, jogging, biking, HIIT, and swimming, you can participate in dancing, yardwork, jumping rope, hiking, and even hula-hooping. Switching up which activity you do each day can also help keep you interested and motivated.
How Do I Incorporate Strength Training?
If you’re new to strength training, start small. You don’t even need to use weights or weight machines to begin with. You can simply use your own body weight. Once you’re comfortable using your body weight, you can start adding light weights or resistance bands. To avoid injury, don’t try to do too much too soon. Search for beginner strength training routines online or ask your gym if they offer a free personal training session so you can learn proper form and technique.
To ensure progress and avoid burnout, you should focus on different muscle groups on different days. For instance, work your legs, back, and abs one day a week and your chest, arms, and shoulders the other day. This allows your muscle groups to recover on the off days.
As for how many reps you should do, start with three sets of eight reps per exercise, and try to increase the weight you’re lifting with each set by increments of 5 pounds. For instance, do three sets of eight reps of bicep curls, starting with 10-pound weights and progressing to 15-pound and 20-pound weights.
Before starting any exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor to ensure you don’t have any medical issue that could limit the types of activities you include in your workout routine.