In any weight loss regimen, staying active is an important part of losing weight and keeping it off. Exercise, of any kind, is an established, reliable method for improving overall health and even elevating your mood.
However, there has been quite a lot of debate in recent years about which exercises are best for people who are looking to lose weight: cardio or weight training. Both of these classes of exercise possess solid health benefits for women, but which one is right for you?
Benefits of Weight Training
When most people think of weight training (also called strength training), they envision the big, muscular bodybuilders lifting huge barbell weights. However, there is more to weight training than just adding muscle mass (although that is a major portion of weight training).
Benefits of weight training include:
- The ability to focus on a specific group of muscles.
- Improved muscle tone.
- Increased strength and feelings of confidence.
- Increased muscle endurance.
- Free weight training, in particular, is good for rehabilitation after an injury.
For women who are trying to get into better shape, weight training is an excellent option. It allows women to tone specific muscle groups that may not be responding to aerobic exercise. Also, weight training allows for the person doing the exercise to either do a lot of repetitions with light weights, or a few reps with heavier weights.
While weight training does produce more muscle mass than aerobic exercises, women will not build mass as quickly as men. This is because men have an abundance of the hormone testosterone, which works to repair and strengthen muscles after a hard workout. Women still have some of this male hormone, but not nearly as much as men in most cases.
Cons of Weight Training
While weight training is a great option for improving strength and toning muscles, there are a few cons attached to this kind of exercise, including:
- Increased risk of injury (particularly with free weights), which demands the use of a spotter or other supporter/supervisor for safety.
- Need for specialized equipment for many standard resistance exercises (weight machines, free weights, barbells).
- Some exercises more complicated than aerobic exercise, making their safe practice more difficult.
- In many cases, weight loss from strength training is more modest for women than aerobic exercise. It is important to note, however, that the addition of lean muscle is a factor in this, as lean muscle mass weighs more than fat.
The biggest risk is that when using weights, it is possible to drop them and cause yourself serious injury. Even a light, 5-pound weight can do serious damage to an unprotected foot if dropped from chest height.
With any exercise regimen, exercise caution and if you are at risk for injury, heart attack or stroke, consult with your physician before trying to lift heavy weights.
Cardio Training Benefits
Millions of women engage in aerobic exercise to help themselves shed excess weight and improve health. For many women, cardio training (sometimes referred to as aerobic) exercises such as jogging, swimming, or riding an exercise bike provides cardiovascular benefits that improve heart health and lung function.
Other benefits of aerobic activity that women have noted include:
- Lessened muscle and joint pain. One of the best treatments for arthritis is to remain active and in motion, which is something that cardio training helps to ensure. On top of that, aerobic exercise stimulates the capillaries, improving blood flow and speeding the removal of lactic acid from muscles.
- Increased stamina. With improved heart and lung function comes improved oxygen generation for the body. With increased oxygen and other nutrients carried in the bloodstream, your muscles can operate more efficiently for longer.
- Weight loss. Cardio training burns more calories than strength training during exercise.
- Elevated mood. After any workout, endorphins are released into the bloodstream, naturally promoting feelings of wellness.
These are just a few of the benefits of cardio training. Certain research from as early as 1986 has even linked cardio exercise to longer lifespans!
On top of this, many basic cardio regimens don’t require much in the way of special gear other than running shoes for jogging, a bicycle or exercise bike, and access to a pool or beach for swimming.
Cons of Aerobic Exercise
The specific cons of aerobic exercise will vary depending on your specific routine. For example, if you go jogging, finding a good, safe route to jog along may be more difficult for some. Swimming might not be an option if you don’t have access to a large body of water to swim in.
Aerobic exercise, despite generally being good for joint health, can result in stress fractures for some. This is most common in jogging, especially if the person in question is wearing shoes not designed for the task.
Pain in the foot or legs is not uncommon after a few weeks or months of aerobic exercise, and may be an indication of a severe problem or injury. Many of these injuries can be prevented, however, by wearing the appropriate footwear and performing stretches before and after exercise to prepare the muscles for the upcoming activity.
Which One is Right for You?
This is a difficult question to answer. In reality, whether you follow a weight training or a cardio training routine should be based on your personal fitness goals.
Odds are, if you’re looking to shed the pounds, cardio training is your best bet. However, if you’re looking to build confidence, strength, and muscle tone, weight training may be right up your alley.
Of course, you can do both types of exercises, and gain the benefits of both. Whatever your fitness goals are, be sure to consult with a physician before beginning any kind of regimen that involves rigorous activity.