I Lift Things Up, and Put Them Down (and I Hate to Jog). Here's Why.
Today, I’d like to be quick (okay… quicker than usual. Ha!) and talk a little bit about why I prefer weights to cardio. I do a lot of ragging on cardio, and I suppose it’s time to explain why. ;)
All kidding aside, cardiovascular activities (jogging, biking, jumping rope, ellipticalling…a word I just made up…etc.) are all stellar things to do to get our blood pumping, exercise our heart and lungs, and alleviate anxiety and/or depression.
The thing about cardio is, though, it usually doesn’t elicit body change. Or, not much, anyway. Have you ever seen a “skinny fat” person? Or someone who’s lost a ton of weight looks just like… a smaller version of the person they were before? Cardio is why. It doesn’t create muscles, so, while super great for mood, heart, and lungs, and it’s using the muscles that exist, it’s not building anything, so the results, from a body-change perspective, are limited.
Aside from wanting to look like I spent all those hours in the gym (aka have physical proof that I don’t just talk about it – I AM about it), I prefer resistance training for a ton of other reasons. Weightlifting increases the size and strength of our muscles, certainly, but it also improves our balance, stability, agility, confidence, self-efficacy (the belief in our abilities to complete a specific task), and has an anti-aging effect.
Resistance training accomplishes all this through a variety of mechanisms, largely hormonal that we covered a while ago (check some nerdy basics out here). AND we can certainly increase the intensity by shortening the rest times or increasing the weight to give ourselves a cardiovascular effect while we’re doing it (I mean, seriously, try going from a basic 5x5 or 5/3/1 powerlifting block to move into a hypertrophy phase…12 reps becomes cardio real quick. Mostly lookin at you, Lex, because I know you understand this from experience too. ;) if you’re a fellow powerlifter and I haven’t met you yet, say hi!).
To specify even further, I prefer free weights (barbells, dumbbells) to machines. By far. Because I don’t like to be boxed in. Ha!
In all seriousness, free weights > machines, for fat loss. Machines exist to target specific muscles, eliminating stabilization muscles along the way to get riiiiiight at what the machine says it’s working. Not a bad idea, for certain situations, but if what we’re after is body change (fat loss or muscle gain), what we want is an overall effect: we want to burn as many calories as possible.
Enter, the barbell (or dumbbells).
Our muscles and joints don’t exist in a vacuum – meaning, when we’re moving in everyday life, we aren’t just using one muscle or moving at one joint. Movements aren’t so much the stick figure drawings from your basic anatomy class as they are intricate patterns coordinated with several structures. Free weights don’t lock us in to a single motion in a single plane like machines do; dumbbells allow us to move through space in a pattern that more closely mimics the movement patterns we exhibit in everyday life. Translation: you’ll get stronger in areas you actually use outside the gym too, preventing injuries and kicking more ass at the things you do every day.
Free weights give us a more comprehensive training effect: we recruit not just the muscle we’re targeting (e.g., not just our chest when we bench press), but also the stabilization muscles involved in the joint structure. We’re holding a free-floating (heavy) weight, which requires our joints to be stable in order to bear the load without dropping it on our faces (e.g., our shoulders, triceps, lats, traps, and rhomboids, plus their associated connective tissues, are active when we bench press, so that we can lower the bar to our chest before pressing it back up). Using more muscles strengthens the surrounding connective tissues (our joints are able to bear greater pressure in everyday life = less likelihood of injury) and burns more calories (because more muscles are working).
Below is a full-body free weight workout – it’s barbell-based, because I’m basically married to the barbell, but feel free to sub dumbbells if you’re more comfortable with them (or if that’s what you have in your home gym). Or use gallons of milk (100% serious: a gallon weighs ~8lbs) if you wanna give it a try RIGHT THIS SECOND and don’t have access to a gym.
Try it out by Friday, and comment below and let me know what you think!