Throughout my adulthood, if I needed to lose a few pounds, I thought I should hit the gym and jump on a cardio machine like the treadmill or the elliptical. Well, lately, I’ve been told that I a am wrong, by lots of people. Cardio has become a villain – something people make fun of as if it’s some kind of inside secret at the gym that those sillies on the elliptical aren’t going to lose any weight. Well, I believe BOTH of those machines are great to help build up your cardiovascular system and maintain good physical fitness. I do agree that neither of which, alone, are the best ways to slim your waist. I think you need cardio to burn general body fat during the workout and then you need serious strength training to tone and build muscles in order to burn body fat while you’re at rest.
I’ve heard many trainers and other fitness professionals claim “the only way to blast fat is to do more cardio”. I can remember one specific instance of standing in the YMCA weight lifting room, speaking to one of the staff-members about my goal of losing weight, when she informed me that I was in the wrong room if I wanted to lose weight. No doubt, she was well intending, but she wasn’t entirely right. The weight lifting absolutely WILL aid in weight loss. Cardio and weight bearing are BOTH needed for the most efficient weight loss.
AND I don’t mean to minimize the food within this blog post. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE FOOD, first and foremost. I don’t care how much exercise you do, the food will determine weather you meet your goals, or not. The fact remains, you have to exert more caloric energy than you consume in order to lose pounds and the food quality does matter. Weight loss begins and ends in the kitchen alone, but you can speed it up and make it look better, with exercise.
So, as much as I love discussing food, this blog post is about the exercise.
Have you ever known anyone that worked out a lot, made healthy food choices and still never dropped an actual pound or lost a size? Or have you ever known anyone over the age of 30? Chances are, they are having this issue. Most of the women I know, over 30 and especially 40, have experienced that exact scenario, when they are trying to lose. For men, this tends to be closer to 40 (insert emoji with tongue sticking out). The same phrase is echoed by many: “I can’t seem to get it off like I used to”.
This blog post is for you!
We all want to find the quickest way to our goals. Let’s try to understand why either cardio or strength training, alone, are not the way. The key is to understand the difference between two types of exercise and to incorporate the two into your weight loss plan, simultaneously.
Aerobic, by definition, is with oxygen. What it means for us, is that our bodies are propelled by our large muscle groups, as well as, our lungs and heart. It is cardiovascular (cardio). You can breathe deeply, perform for a longer duration and the exercise is at a lower intensity. It’s usually rhythmic and presses the lungs to work harder as the body needs more oxygen.
Examples of aerobic exercise would be: walking, running, bicycling, or sports such as soccer or basketball (but not for the beginner who is struggling to breathe). Keep in mind, aerobic exercise is endurance based, something you continue steadily, for a length of time. Running for 3-miles or bicycling to work are great examples.
Aerobic exercises are extremely important for strengthening our muscles, strengthening our lungs and heart and for burning sugar and fat (calories) – especially abdominal fat. They are also important for endurance and stamina.
It is a huge piece of the weight loss puzzle, but not the whole piece and not alone.
Anaerobic, by definition, is without oxygen. What it means for us, is that our bodies are propelled by muscle strength, instead of oxygen (not cardio). Typically, anaerobic involves high bursts of activity, only sustained for a short amount of time. These exercises are high intensity and very short spanning. They usually involve repetitions and/or sets. Keep in mind, any exercise lasting more than 2-minutes is probably not anaerobic.
Examples of anaerobic exercises are: weight lifting such as bicep curls, body weight exercises such as push ups, suspension training, resistance training and even sprints. Have you ever heard of high intensity interval training (HITT)? That is an example of anaerobic.
Anaerobic exercises are extremely important for promoting strength, speed and power, as well as building muscle mass and most relevant here, for revving up your metabolism (which is crucial for burning calories when you are NOT working out – in other words, during the rest of your day).
How to Determine Which State You Are In
The easiest way to tell if you are in an Aerobic or an Anaerobic state is to ask yourself if you could maintain the activity for half an hour. If you can, you are probably performing aerobic and if you cannot, you are probably performing anaerobic. Can you do push-ups for half an hour? Most of us, cannot. However, most of us can walk uphill for half an hour.
Also, an easy way, is to gauge if you could carry on a conversation without struggling too much and if you can, you are probably in aerobic respiration.
What It All Means
For the average person (non athlete), knowing the difference and why you need both, is crucial for weight loss. Performing cardio, alone, for weight-loss, doesn’t work as well, for most of us. It is important to have both anaerobic activity, as well as aerobic activity. Your weight loss goals are more easily achieved and are achieved much faster. The silver lining is that your body will also be more toned and you will be more pleased with the results.
I have lost weight in the past (about 25-pounds), due to stress and lots of cardio mixed with low caloric intake and I am here to tell you, I was appalled at the state of my body when the weight was gone. Some type of body strength training is the answer and if you do it along the way, it will ensure you reach your goals faster.
The cardio is self explanatory and most of us know, while you’re running, you are burning calories at a more rapid rate than typical. The anaerobic is a little more complicated, but basically, you burn calories during your workout, but you also build muscle mass, which burns calories for you during the time when you are NOT working out. The calories you will burn while you sit at your desk, for instance. Anaerobic exercise boosts your metabolic rate, which pushes your body to burn more, all day long.
Don’t underestimate the anaerobic impact on your weight. It is substantial and it is crucial.
Bottom Line for Losing Weight:
~ Limit your calories to healthy and nutritious calories and stay within your range that will allow you to slim down. Calorie counting isn’t my favorite way to lose weight, but for some of us that struggle with portion sizes, it’s key. Once you are set with portion sizes, though, I find that selecting natural, high quality foods over low nutrition, processed foods is the ONLY way to lose the weight. A calorie is NOT a calorie, but that’s an entire blog post on it’s own.
See this chart, for help in determining how many calories you need to consume in order to lose weight. I actually don’t like the word DIET, but we can’t escape the fact that some of us are overweight because of over eating food in general. I don’t think diets can be maintained longterm. Even the word, conjures up a false and temporary state. Only when you make a lifestyle change, is there hope of longterm sustainability. The way you think of food is pretty important.
Start with baby steps and try to limit yourself to making nutritious choices over non-nutritious and see how you feel.
~Perform strength training exercise or other anaerobic activity at least 3 days out of 7, for a duration of at least 30-minutes. This step is vital, as we’ve learned above. The key is to push yourself. If it’s too easy, it is. Know that you can do something as simple as adding another few reps or adding a few more pounds, to make a huge difference in your results. Push yourself! If you’re not capable of pushing yourself or if you just don’t know where to begin, hire a trainer! Trainers are vital to beginner’s injury risk reduction!
~Perform cardio training exercise at least 3 days out of 7, for a duration of at least 30-minutes. At a minimum, walk briskly and add in hills after a few weeks. Ideally, you’ll do a variety of different cardio activities. Cross-training is vital for long term success with weight control. Mixing up your cardio, in general, helps to define your muscles in all areas of the body, helps with overall balance and coordination and keeps your muscles guessing about what comes next. It’s also a great way to keep boredom at bay. Try a cycling spin class or go for an uphill hike. You can also read my running coach series on how to begin running.
Hire a Personal Trainer When Possible
The best way to achieve your weight-loss goal is to eat well, first and to consult a trainer for their knowledge, second. I know it’s cost prohibitive for a lot of us, but you can look into ways to defray the costs. Try hiring a trainer for group training, splitting the cost with several of your friends. Also, hire someone to see you less often than the two to three times, per week norm, like once per week, mostly to oversee your efforts. Even if you only use the trainer every few months to change around your program or give you a few new ideas, it’s usually worth it. Think of it as paying for your health and wellbeing. There is a saying out there “if you can’t afford to be healthy now, you must be prepared to pay for sickness later”.
It’s really not as frivolous as it seems. Can you put a price tag on health and wellbeing? Feeling fantastic is pretty priceless. Also, go ask someone that’s lying on the couch with a knee injury, from doing a squat imperfectly, if the cost of a trainer feels frivolous now?
Personal trainers can be a really powerful motivational force, as well as, a person you can be accountable to. This is key for some of us. They can also help you to understand things better if you have questions or need input on solving your weight loss problems or plateaus. Strength training is not a natural movement for most of us. It’s important to lift with proper form. Overall, trainers are a wealth of knowledge that can help you start out and also, point you in the direction of extra, invaluable resources.
It’s often worth the cost in ways you’ll never even know.
A Few Tips for Hiring a Trainer:
~ Make certain you are hiring someone who is certified by a nationally recognized organization. The top four, according to most experts: the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). But there are many, many more. Of course, I’m biased to prefer ACSM, since that is the agency I am certified with.
~ Be sure the trainer lives a healthy lifestyle themselves. Would you take real estate advice from someone in foreclosure?
~ Ask if they are staying abreast of new information and acquiring new training. Are they taking classes to further their understanding of the industry? When was their last re-certification? What have they taken a class on recently? All of these are valid questions. If a trainer is focused more on training professional runners, you might be better off with someone else, more abreast of the latest information on toning and strength training.
~ Find someone who asks questions about your lifestyle AND listens to your answers. Your plan should be able to work for you and help to meet your goals, not be a one size fits all, approach.
~ Find someone who pays attention during the training session, not someone who is on the phone, engaged in conversation with someone else or otherwise distracted. You are the focal point for the hour. Nothing else is acceptable.
~ Word of mouth is the best way. Ask your friends, co-workers and fellow gym goers if they have ever used a trainer and what their experience was.