Busting the Cardio Versus Weights Myth of Fitness

people running on treadmill for cardio


Presumably, if you suffer from hair loss (Alopecia), you’re interested in both a fit appearance and good health. After all, short of running yourself through the gamut of all the different and costly hair loss treatments, restoring your body to a fit and healthy state is the best and cheapest method for making yourself attractive to potential dates and mates, or to your wife and husband, for that matter. More importantly, it will help you to feel better, too.

Too often, men who lose their hair throw in the towel and let their bodies go, rationalizing that they are never going to look good again anyway without hair. We all understand that trap. The problem is that it doesn’t help improve health or happiness. Bruce Willis is a star despite his baldness because his body is fit and healthy and that, alone, gives him the confidence to be Bruce.

Fit appearance. Good health. The facts are that the two go hand in hand. But to be successful at both you need to approach it with a smart plan based on science, not folklore.

Sifting through the folklore and mythology of fitness

Folklore runs rampant in fitness. There is a great deal of misunderstanding created by supplement promoters, unaccredited “professionals,” and simple locker room banter.

A good example of folklore is in the very common question, “To get in shape and lose a few pounds, should I do cardio or lift weights?” As if someone intending to lose weight needs to choose one to the exclusion of the other.

The question makes several erroneous assumptions. Weight loss is always a goal (usually it is, but not always, nor is it always a healthy objective). Cardiovascular activities and weight lifting are completely distinct and divergent (they aren’t). You must choose one over the other (not at all true).

I suspect this is because we tend to think of our bodies like cars. Gas-in/gas-out from driving is just like calories-in/calories-out from miles logged on a treadmill, right?To a certain degree, that is true.

But your body is burning calories 24-7, more so with physical activity of all kinds, and especially when you have greater muscle mass. What increases muscle mass?Lifting weights, of course – although to be fair, a cardiovascular exercise program will build new muscle mass on someone who is altogether new to exercise. Returning to the automobile analogy (and torturing it a bit), building body strength is like souping up a car – it will burn the gas faster because it is a muscle car.

How lifting weights and cardiovascular activities work

Metabolism is a function of several things, but the amount of muscle mass and general physical activities are most influential in otherwise healthy individuals.

And here are some numbers that clearly illustrate this. A pound of muscle at rest, simply to exist, requires 50 to 70 calories of energy per day, not counting what’s used in exercise. A pound of fat, at rest, requires three calories per day. The bigger the muscles, the higher the metabolism.

Cardiovascular activity occurs at different levels of intensity. If you read magazines while riding a stationary bike, at a leisurely pace, you’re not burning nearly the calories you would in a coached, high-intensity spin class where your oxygen consumption overall is greatest. Any high intensity cardio set – such as speed and incline intervals on a treadmill that take your heart rate to around 150 beats per minute – will keep the metabolism high for a few hours after your workout.

Simply performing a medium or low intensity cardiovascular routine day after day burns the numbers seen in the machine’s readout panel. Usually, it’s not much.

“Too often, men who lose their hair throw in the towel and let their bodies go, rationalizing that they are never going to look good again anyway without hair. We all understand that trap. The problem is that it doesn’t help improve health or happiness.”

Lifting weights or cardio? It boils down to your goals

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Reading a book while peddling an exercise bike is better than sitting on a couch watching TV. It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
If you’re going for a short-term weight loss – buffing up before a beach vacation, for example – your best method is to diet. Done sensibly do not try to lose more than two pounds per week.

Some of the best advice on this is to follow the research of Dr. Barbara Rolls at Pennsylvania State University. She developed an approach called Volumetrics, comparing how a high calorie, high fat slice of cheesecake is dense in calories while a bowl of vegetable soup (broth-based, not creamy) is calorie sparse. Eat either one and you will feel full – but the soup has only 20 percent of the calories in the cheesecake.

If your goals are improved appearance and general health over the long term, you would be smart to combine cardio and weights into an overall program. This can be done by several methods:

Take a cardio-pump class at your health club. These classes generally keep participants moving between :20 or :30 sets of a variety of exercises: jump rope, dumbbell shoulder press, elastic band pulls, “bicycle” or other style sit-ups, mountain climbers, and other exercises, simultaneously building muscle while raising the heart rate.

Alternate cardio and weight training every other day. For example, on M-W-F, do strength work. On T-Th-S, do cardio.

Do both activities within any one day. Warm-up with ten or twenty minutes on bicycle, elliptical or treadmill, finish out with a take-no-prisoners, very-little-down-time strength workout.

By any of these methods, you’ll develop yourself into a muscle car of sorts – and maintain it long enough, you’ll one day be a classic.