Updated: Apr 2
Question: what type of exercise is the best for weight loss?
This is a question I hear A LOT from my clients. And the answer might surprise you!
While you might think it’s cardio that’s going to help you achieve weight loss, I’m about to drop a truth bomb...
Cardio AND strength training are both an important part of a balanced fitness plan. Each carries its own set of health and wellness benefits and both can increase longevity and improve your quality of life, helping you feel and function your best.
That said, strength training is where you'll build fat burning muscle and cardio is where you'll support a healthy heart and bone density. Add interval training to the mix (a combo of strength and cardio) and you'll reap the benefits of both PLUS support a healthy metabolism, shed fat, tone and shape your body!
Ask yourself, "what are my long term goals?"
Do you want to lose fat?
Are you looking to gain muscle?
Do you want to boost endurance and stamina?
Are you hoping to improve balance, coordination and flexibility?
Do you want to tone up and shape your body?
Maybe you want to boost your endurance to hike, bike, or jog further, or maybe you're looking to drop those first or last 10 pounds. Either way, you can use a combination of workouts to help get you there. But as I often tell my clients, you can't outrun your fork. The most powerful road to sustainable weight loss is through balanced food and fitness.
Now, onto explore the benefits and differences of steady state and high intensity exercise.
Steady state exercise
Typically considered any aerobic or cardiorespiratory activity that is performed for 30 to 60 minutes at a consistent level of intensity. For example, jogging at a steady pace for 5 miles or going for a high mileage bike ride. Activities that tend to fall into this category are biking, jogging, long walks, hiking, rowing, and using cardio machines like the elliptical, recumbent bike or stair master at a steady pace for at least 30 minutes. This type of training is key for long distance runners, cyclers, swimmers and rowers by helping them to improve their cardio health and endurance.
Benefits of steady state exercise:
Builds aerobic endurance
Supports heart health
Ideal for fitness beginners
Requires less recovery time
Low risk for overall sedentary lifestyles
Provides calorie burn relative to the level of intensity (low, moderate, or high) while doing the activity
Utilizes less energy from muscle groups
Activities can typically be performed more frequently, up to 5 days a week
Promotes a higher level of retention when you choose an activity you enjoy
Increased risk to overuse injuries
Can take longer to achieve weight loss goals
Minimal if any “after burn” effects
Working at too low of an intensity level has not been shown to build endurance and can stand in the way of long term weight loss and/or maintenance goals
Doing the same activity at the same rate day in and day out does not challenge the body
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This type of fitness training uses physical activities that are broken into segments of high intensity bursts of exertion followed by a lower intensity recovery period. For example, a 30 second all out sprint followed by a 1 minute slow jog (or fast paced walk). Intervals are often used in cardio and strength combo workouts, such as doing a series of squat, bicep curls and rows followed by a higher intensity cardio event like 30 seconds of jump squats, burpees, or speed skaters. This type of training is excellent conditioning for individuals who play or compete in sports like football, baseball, soccer, and short distance track events by helping them improve strength, speed and agility. Over the past few years, these types of workouts have become increasingly popular for their ability to burn fat, tone and shape the body in less time than conventional aerobic based workouts.
It takes less time to achieve high calorie burn
Muscles are able to use fat as fuel
Increases aerobic and anaerobic fitness
Promotes abdominal fat loss while maintaining and building muscle
Supports heart health
Boosts strength and speed
Enhances overall athletic performance
Offers a recognized “after burn," burning calories up to 36 hours post exercise
Requires greater recovery time
Utilizes a high amount of energy from multiple muscle groups
Should not be done more than 2 - 3 times a week (for beginners, no more than 1 time a week)
Not ideal for fitness beginners
Can carry an increased risk for potential injury
Bottom line - there are benefits for both cardio and strength training exercises as well as steady state and higher intensity workouts. The key is to start by considering your goals and then choosing activities you enjoy and complement your lifestyle. If you're just beginning a fitness program, beginning with steady state cardio can be a great place to start, then gradually adding in moderate to higher intensity elements. As I always remind my clients, start where you are, then slowly work up from there!
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