Cardio vs weights: my view

Up until fairly recently, I thought that the more cardio you did, the more weight you would lose, and the better your body would look, and it was as simple as that. Now, it’s obvious to me how wrong this hypothesis is, and I can’t actually believe that this is what I used to buy into. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself though (and nor should anyone else) because this is what we’re fed by the mainstream fitness industry from as early as we can remember.

The issue of cardio vs weights is one which affects both men and women, but due to gender stereotyping I’d say the effects on women are greater, mainly because we are shooed away from the ‘men’s’ (weights) section of the gym from day one, so not only are we scared of going in there because we’ve never been shown how to use any of the medieval looking equipment, but it’s reaffirmed to us that it is not our area, and that we don’t belong there. So we’re pushed towards the CV machines and the mats with the pink dumbbells where we feel safe and can spend hours plugging away with our headphones in, listening to Taylor Swift or watching Made in Chelsea, feeling like we’re really doing a good workout.

Why are the smallest kettlebells pink?! WHY?

Why are the smallest kettlebells pink?! WHY?

Then 5 years later we wonder why our bodies look the same. Or why they actually look worse, a bit more haggard (late twenties, sad times). Or why, when we’ve made the effort to do 10 hours of cardio a week, why don’t we feel like the athletes we obviously are?! The frustration increases when you add to this the fact that you’ve reduced your calories down to one satsuma and one banana a day, with a few cans of diet coke to plug the gaps, and still you don’t have the body you were after. Huh.

What exactly is the body you were after, anyway? Did you ever really stop to think about it, or did you just get in the gym and start running, assuming that because Elle magazine said so, if you do this workout then you’ll automatically look like the fitness model that they definitely haven’t airbrushed and who definitely wasn’t born with the perfect body (enter mesomorphs and ectomorphs, but that’s for another time).

I’d never thought about it before. I assumed I could look like her if I did a tonne of cardio, lifted up some 3kg dumbbells a few times, and ate into a huge deficit. My cardio actually used to happen in the studio, I’d do ten to twelve aerobics classes a week (5 of which were one after the other on a saturday morning, mental) and all I got for it was a bad knee and a bit sad because my body didn’t look how I hoped. That was very depressing, and after a while everything started to hurt. Looking back now, I can’t believe how dumb I was, and how ok fair enough if I want to do that many classes, fine, but at least eat enough fuel (and the right fuel – enter PROTEIN) to help my body recover.

So slowly but surely I discovered weight training, and not just dumbbells, but barbells, and lifting as much as I possibly can on them. I workout 3 times a week, based around compound movements (where more than one joint is working during the move), plus a few accessory exercises (where just one joint moves) for about 45 minutes a session, and I’ve changed my body more in the past 3-4 months than I’ve ever managed to before.

To sum up, weight lifting works for me because it’s made my body stronger, leaner and more defined, whilst letting me eat more without gaining fat. Some of the science behind it is explained here, as well as some studies on the effects of weight lifting vs cardio on metabolism.

Obviously weight training won’t be for everyone, this is just my experience of it, but I have found the more I read up on it, the more it makes sense. I’m also not saying that cardio has no health benefits at all, but I do think it’s got to be the right kind of cardio to make the effort you’re putting in worthwhile (unless you want to run marathons, in which case ignore all of this!). Next time I’ll dissect my workout for those that are interested, so you can see the typical weights that I lift in a week. Then I’ll look at High Intensity Interval Training vs Low Intensity Steady State cardio.