Many beginners often times don’t know what to do more of, strength training or cardio. Here are my top 5 reasons why I believe you must do strength training, especially if you are a beginner looking to get started. Doing something is better than nothing, but I believe if you are going to put in the effort, you should be maximizing those efforts.
Disclaimer: you can get fit with just cardio, but it’s a different type of fitness and in my opinion, it’s not true fitness. It’s not functional fitness. Whichever way you go, use the below items as a guideline and as a way to further your understanding as you move from a beginner into an intermediate phase and beyond. These will apply at any age, even for exercise for beginners over 50. So many people in their middle years have done very little strength training in their lives. It’s never too late to start.
1. Muscle burns fat even at rest. The greater your muscle to fat ratio is, the more efficient your body becomes. Think of your fitness as having two parts; your muscle strength and conditioning, and your metabolic efficiency.
Metabolic efficiency encompasses your heart, lungs, and how each one operates. With cardio as your only fitness mechanism, your missing the muscle strengthening component. Your heart and lungs will get more efficient, but you won’t build stronger muscles. Your muscles won’t develop the tight elasticity that is so important for injury prevention.
2. Cardio burns fat and muscle. Ideally, you only want to burn fat so that your muscles maintain their strength. You never want to exercise away your muscles. There is a huge misconception that doing daily cardio will get a person ripped and with a six-pack. In reality what happens is you maintain a more constant body fat percentage. You will most likely lose overall weight, but your overall look and musculature reduce equally.
I have an acquaintance who runs about 40 miles per week and has run over 300 marathons. He is not ripped and does not have even good muscularity. He’s in shape to run but does not work on his muscle strength. Next time you’re at the gym or if you go to watch a local marathon, just look at the people on cardio machines and the majority of the people at the race. They are not super fit looking or ripped or anything.
They have trained their bodies to run. If any of these people went to the doctor for a check-up, they would be classified as obese. It’s not taking anything away from their efforts, it’s just a fact of how the human body works.
3. It gets boring. Not for the die-hards, but for the general population it does. A few years ago, I was training for a Super Spartan Race which is the medium length race for that brand. I believe they are between 8-9 miles long. So for about 12 weeks before the race, in addition to my strength and skill training, I was running up to 5 miles per day.
I did some days on a treadmill and some days running trails near my house. After the Super Spartan, I signed up for a Spartan Beast, which is in the 12-15 mile range. Lots of obstacles in these, but also lots of distance in between. From the Super to the Beast, I went from running 5 miles per day, 5 times per week to about 3 miles per day, 2 times per week. Why? I simply got bored and could not maintain the previous pace.
4. There is much more variety with strength training. There is virtually an endless number of exercises and all exercises have several variations. You can adjust a bench or machine to target different areas of the same muscle. You can also make adjustments to work around an injury. Workout progressions are easy with strength exercises. For example, you can adjust the height of a bench, adjust the amount of weight, or adjust the range on a cable exercise.
With cardio, you basically have speed and elevation functions. Variety is the spice of life right? Variety is very important when it comes to fitness. It ties into your mental drive and your ability to stay motivated. With different exercises, you are challenged both mentally and physically. This allows you to see and feel progress and keep you progressing forward.
5. Injury prevention is greatly increased with strength training. I mentioned earlier “tight elasticity.” Essentially that means that your muscles are strong and flexible. They surround your joints and keep them from moving beyond their limitations. Joint sprains can still occur, but they are usually less severe when they do happen. The stronger you are with every functional movement or movements that mimic your daily life, you’ll have less chance of injury. Lifting things at work, moving furniture, doing yard work, or playing sports with your kids can all benefit from increased strength.
I hope you find these thoughts helpful. If you are a beginner to fitness, stay with it. If you are more advanced, also stay with it. Anyone can fall out of their routine at any time for any reason. Keep going, keep at it and stick with it. Oh, want to know a bit about who I am?
If you would like to learn more about a great workout that can be adapted to the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and that I recommend click here.
I'm just an average 40 something guy with a family who wants to help people get fit and healthy. I have a bachelor's degree in Physical Education (UTEP 1991) and a Master's degree in Kinesiology (Sam Houston State University 1993) I became a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) in 1994 from the National Athletic Trainer's Association. I became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association in 1999. I have worked out (mostly) in some form or fashion since high school. I'm not super fit and I don't have a six-pack. I've don't Spartan and a few other obstacle races. I've done home fitness DVD's and worked out at gyms. I'm not a runner or a Crossfitter. I don't eat perfectly, but do understand it's importance. There are too many people who are not healthy and too many people who don't know how to enter the fitness world. There are too many personal trainers that are not qualified to work with people, especially beginners. There are too many false thoughts, gadgets, and expectations and I want to guide people down the right path so that they have success. If I share a product or service with an affiliate link, I either use the product or know the product. I don't know everything, but I know a thing or two.