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Cardio vs. Strength Training: What should you be doing?

Cardio vs. Strength Training

When it comes to losing weight there is a pretty broad mix of different things people tell you to do. Some swear that cardio is the only way to get thin. Others maintain that strength training (weights) is the way to go.

But who is right? And what should you be doing?

Unsurprisingly, the answer isn’t simple. The results you desire dictate the kind of exercise and how much of it you should undertake.

Before we begin, what do we mean by cardio, and what do we mean by strength training?

Cardio = cardiovascular exercise. This is any exercise that increases your heart rate dramatically. Examples of cardio are things like running, rowing or using an elliptical machine.

Strength Training = exercises designed to build strength and stimulate muscle development through the use of increasing resistance, for example, lifting freeweights or using resistance bands. An intense strength training session could count as a cardio workout if it raises your heart rate enough!

To Build Speed and Strength

Cardio: Exercises such as running should help strengthen leg muscles and increase speed and fitness levels, allowing you to exercise harder, burn more calories and build more strength.

However, your body is great at adapting to change. Just pacing out those 10 miles a week on a treadmill isn’t going to be enough. Your body will get used to the exercise and you’ll quickly find yourself plateauing.
In order to continuously see results, you need to push your body outside its comfort zone with speed training cardio workouts. These can jump-start your metabolism, help burn fat and increase endurance.

Strength Training: As the name suggests this is about building strength. If you want to be faster and stronger, you’re going to want stronger muscles.

More than that, strength training allows you to work muscle groups all over your body, most importantly your core and back muscles. This will help you better support your body weight and maintain good form, resulting in more powerful muscles.

To Burn Calories

Cardio: For burning calories and reducing body mass, cardio has the upper hand. However, it’s not quite as simple as burning off the pounds.

It has been found that people who ostensibly do just cardio burn large amounts of muscle mass along with the fat.

Strength Training: This doesn’t burn as many calories, but it does promote the development of muscle mass. This is important because muscle mass, even when idle requires more fuel for everyday functions than fat does. So, by building up muscle you will burn more calories over time.

It also takes energy to repair the muscles you break down during training. One thing to remember: muscle weighs more than fat. So, if you want to lose weight and only care about what the scales say, adding muscle will slow that process down.

If your goal then is to lose weight quickly, a cardio-heavy exercise regime is going to be best for you. However, if you want to keep the pounds off, you need to put on some muscle at the same time.

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Improving Lifestyle

The right exercise can help you improve your quality of life. Cardio is proven to help with a number of ailments, including, but not limited to, helping blood pressure, strengthening your heart and helping with osteoporosis.

That being said, it’s not all good news. Exercises like running, are incredibly hard on your joints and can lead to straining ligaments, wearing out cartilage and other permanent injuries that you might regret in later life. One suggestion we would make is to choose low impact cardio exercises like swimming.

For back health, resistance and muscle training are vital, particularly when focusing on your core. For those suffering from back problems, regular strength exercises can help minimise the effects of these problems on your daily life, while also stopping the build up of intra-abdominal fat.

Combating Stress

Exercising for just 15 – 20 minutes a day, no matter what it is, will help increase your serotonin levels and help your brain produce endorphins which will massively improve your mood.

On top of this, getting your heart rate up helps increase your energy levels by increasing blood flow to your muscles. A short cardio workout will stretch your muscles and break down any lactic acid in your system, reducing stiffness and aching.

Personally, if I am experiencing high levels of stress, I find a high-intensity strength workout consisting of lifting implausibly heavy things helps to vent my frustrations and clear my head.

Avoiding Injuries

Cardio: Regular cardiovascular exercises can help keep your body in shape and perform to its best ability.

However, the repetitive nature of doing cardio alone (that is, without combining it with any strength training) can put serious pressure on your joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons, and potentially result in injury.

Strength Training: Functional strength training teaches your brain how to handle muscle contractions that are quick enough to prevent or minimize injuries.

If you choose exercises that work your core, improve your balance and force you to bend at multiple joints, you are actually protecting your body. Think lunges, rows, squats and pull ups!

Conclusion

Simply put, if you want to lose weight, cardio burns more calories. Yet, as I hope I have made clear, this isn’t so cut and dry…

Cardio doesn’t do a whole lot for your muscles, in fact, a cardio-heavy exercise regime will reduce muscle.

Strength training on the other hand will help you build muscle, which, in the long term will help you burn more calories. ‘For every 3 pounds you gain (of muscle) you can expect to burn an extra 120 calories a day without moving.’

As you get older, resistance training becomes more important, as it improves muscle strength, suppleness and bone density. This will help keep you healthy and mobile and enjoy a better quality of life.

The best solution then is a clever combination of both cardio and strength training. This will help you slash calories, but build muscle at the same time leading to a leaner, stronger you.

References

Bernard Gutin, Paule Barbeau, Scott Owens, Christian R Lemmon, Mara Bauman, Jerry Allison, Hyun-Sik Kang, Mark S Litaker; Effects of exercise intensity on cardiovascular fitness, total body composition, and visceral adiposity of obese adolescents, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 75, Issue 5, 1 May 2002, Pages 818–826, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/75.5.818

http://www.health.com/weight-loss/best-exercise-to-lose-weigh

thttps://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/g19965862/your-body-on-cardio/ 

https://www.livestrong.com/article/421082-weights-vs-cardio-your-guide-to-the-perfect-body/

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5 Common Back Problems And How To Fix Them

Five Common Back Problems And How To Fix Them

Looking after your back is an important part of life no matter how young, fit or flexible you are.

Our modern lifestyles are culprits of a huge array of potential back threats. One of the biggest is the chairs we sit in.

But other things, like heavy bags, bad shoes, even too tight trousers can, over time, lead to a series of complicated and even agonising problems.

In this article we outline 5 common back problems faced by the modern person and how we can start to address them.

#1 Slouching in your chair

Humans are not designed to sit for long periods of time. However, the majority of people find themselves sitting for over 10 hours each day.

So, good posture whilst seated is important.

People often slouch unconsciously, as sitting upright requires engaging a number of core muscles. Over time this places strain on the muscles and soft tissue in your lower, and upper back as well as your neck and shoulders.

What to do:

Begin by being aware of your posture. When sitting, keep your back straight, shoulders back and abdomen tucked in. At first this will be uncomfortable as your muscles aren’t conditioned to work like that, but keep at it!

Stand up and walk around every half an hour or so, even go so far as to do a few stretches by your desk.

Exercises to help:

  • Plank/ Side plank
  • Hip thrusts
  • Lunges
  • Seated row

(Scroll to the bottom of the article to see more details on these exercises.)

 

#2 Flat Back

A flat back causes you to stoop. It means your back is straight instead of naturally curved with the pelvis pushed forward.

This can make it difficult to stand for long periods of time, adding all sorts of aches and pains to our back muscles.

Spending long periods sitting down can also contribute to a flat back.

What to do:

Flat back is likely an indication of weak core strength, so you are going to want to start doing regular core strengthening exercises.

  • Plank/ Side plank
  • Leg raises
  • Chest stretches
  • Seated row
  • Pull-ups

The opposite of this is anterior pelvic tilt which causes an excessive curve to the spine. This can be helped with many of the same exercises.

#3 Standing on one Leg

If you’ve been standing for a while you will likely find yourself leaning on one leg, maybe shifting between the two. It may feel more comfortable to do this than standing firmly planted on two legs.

However, when you do this you place extra pressure on the side of your lower back and hip.

If this is something you do a lot, perhaps you work standing up, this can lead to muscle imbalances and muscular strain in the lower back and buttocks.

Other guilty culprits that cause bad lower back and hip problems are things like carrying a heavy bag over one shoulder.

What to do:

Wear a backpack with both straps, distributing the weight evenly. Also, don’t overfill it. If you want a single strap bag, our Healthy Back Bags are specifically designed to contour to your spine, spreading the weight evenly across your shoulders and down your spine.

Strengthen your glutes and lower back.

Do frequent stretches to stretch out those tightening muscles.

Exercises to help:

  • Plank
  • Sidelying leg raises
  • Lunges
  • Squats

#4 Hunching/ Text neck

If you spend your days bent over your keyboard peering into your screen then you might often catch yourself hunching and aches will begin to appear in your back.

Hunching indicates weak upper back muscles and a tight chest.

This type of posture can cause you to develop a rounded upper back with shoulder and back stiffness.

As well as this, when hunched over your keyboard or bent over your phone screen, you may find yourself poking your head forward which can further this problem of tight shoulders.

Correcting a poking chin involves improving your sitting habits and exercises to correct your posture.

What to do:

  • Gently lengthen your neck upwards as you tuck in your chin
  • Seated rows in a gym or pull-ups
  • Chest stretches

 

#5 Rounded shoulders

Rounded shoulders are when you naturally stand with your shoulders rolled forwards. To test this face a mirror and relax. If your knuckles are facing forwards it indicates you have tight chest muscles and a weak upper back.

Rounded shoulders are typically caused by poor posture habits (like slouching), muscle imbalances and focusing too much on certain exercises, such as too much focus on chest strength while neglecting the upper back.

What to do:

Strengthen your upper back and stretch your chest muscles:

  • Plank
  • Seated rows in a gym or pull-ups
  • Chest stretches

 

The Exercises:

Below are just a few exercises you might want to try. If you are unsure how to do any of the exercises, we suggest you ask a professional. Some incorrectly performed exercises can be more damaging than helpful.

#1 Plank and Sideways Plank

Lie on your front propped up on your forearms and toes. Keep your legs straight and hips raised to create a straight and rigid line from head to toe. Don’t allow your lower back to sink during the exercise. Your shoulders should be directly above your elbows.

Alternatively, balance on one side, again keeping the part of your body touching the floor in line with your shoulder and your body rigid and straight.

Focus on keeping your abs contracted during the exercise. Hold this position for as long as you can.

#2 Side leg raises

Lie on your side with one arm tucked under your head. And raise and lower your leg slowly in a controlled fashion.

 

#3 Seated Row (Rowing machine)

This is one of our personal favourites as it works your legs, core, arms and upper back.

Remember to keep your back straight as you move through the motions.

#4 Pull-ups

These require a fair bit of upper body strength. However, you can do assisted pull-ups using various machines in the gym or resistance bands.

#5 Chest stretches

Various yoga poses are excellent for this such as upwards facing dog.

A good stretch to try is standing with your back to a wall, then with your arms at 45 degrees press back against the wall.

#6 Lunges

Step into a lunge lowering one knee to the floor and then moving back into a standing position.

Repeat this with alternating legs ten times (each side).

#7 Squats

With your feet firmly planted on the floor shoulder width apart, lower yourself down as low as you can go without lifting your heels.

Keep your back straight and stay as upright as possible. You should feel like your are about to fall backwards.

A good trick for beginners is to place a chair or box behind you, gently touch the chair or box and then stand up again back up again. This will stop you from tipping backwards.

Alternatively, put something under your heels to tilt you forwards, allowing you to drop further into the squat.

You can find more detail on many of these exercises and on dealing with back problems online in places like the NHS health blog 

 

Share your knowledge of dealing with back pain in the comment section below.