The old fitness dilemma

By: Alison Dunn Feb 22, 2011
The old fitness dilemma

Almost every other day, we get a reader question that goes something like this: “Should I do weights or cardio at the gym?”

But when we turn the question over to one of our many fitness experts, they always come back with the same answer over and over again: Why do the two have to be separate?

Many of us are guilty of dividing our exercise into two groups – either you do “pure” cardio exercise like running, cycling or using the elliptical trainer, or you do “weights” by working out on weight machines. And cardio is cardio and weights are weights, and never the two shall meet. Right?

I understand the reason so many of us divide it up into these two categories. After all, cardio exercise works out one huge muscle – your heart – while weights take care of the other ones. And if you want to keep your heart healthy, you’ve got to do cardio by raising your heart rate and increasing your lung capacity. You do weights to change the shape of your muscles – and if we’re women and don’t want to be bulky, we think we need to skip the weight workouts altogether.

But the trainers here at Health Local tell us that thinking isn’t right. Yes, the heart is a muscle you need to work out just as much as any other to keep it healthy – and if you want some ideas on how to do that, be sure to check out “Cardio for your cardio health” here on Health Local. But as that article will tell you, ANY exercise that raises your heart rate can be considered a cardiovascular workout. Yes, things like running and cycling count, but so does kickboxing, mixed-method training, boot camp and Crossfit.

Not only that, our Health Local trainers also tell us that both cardio and weights are equally important. No, you don’t have to lift 100 pound dumbbells and completely bulk up – but you do need some kind of strength training to maintain your muscle mass as you get older. (And don’t worry – you won’t get bulky!)

I know most of us want to keep our hearts healthy and get the cardiovascular benefits of exercise. But the best workout programs are varied and include a good mixture of both cardio and strength training. Personally, I try and follow that advice every week. Yes, I run a lot, but every workout isn’t a run. I weight train a few times a week (I prefer doing it in a class setting, like a body pump class), do yoga and go to a Pilates class. The key is making sure my heart rate goes up and stays there so I get a full cardio workout no matter what I’m doing.

I guess that’s really the answer to our reader question after all. Should you do cardio or weights? Do both!

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.