In the previous post I talked about why you should exercise, but when it comes to exercise there are two major types, aerobic (‘cardio’) and resistance. These two forms of training are very different in their execution (although they can both provide an element of overlap) and are both EQUALLY important in overall health. I stress this point because people are often mistaken in thinking that aerobic exercise is the most important type of exercise for health and fitness. Another common misconception is that aerobic exercise should form the basis of an exercise program designed for weight loss; something I can assure you is not true. Any fitness program, be it designed for weight loss or for general health, should contain both aerobic and resistance training.
[Before I go on I should just say (for the benefit of those who already have some understanding in this field) that although I use the term aerobic to encompass all cardiovascular exercise, things are a lot more complicated than this and ‘cardio’ actually consists of both aerobic and anaerobic elements, but as these are still fundamentally different from resistance exercise so I will describe them as one in this piece. We will go into the sub-groups in a future article.]
Most people know what is meant by the term ‘cardio’. It basically describes all those exercises such as running, cycling, rowing, walking, football, basketball etc. The important fact with ‘cardio’ is that it generally takes place over an elongated period (minutes to hours) and generally involves bodyweight (there are deviations such as cycling but although external resistance is added, this is needed to replace bodyweight which has been removed from the equation by the seat). So what do we mean when we say resistance training?
Resistance exercise generally means carrying out a movement where the muscles are loaded and made to work against an external weight. The most widely recognized example of this would be weight training in the gym. It generally encompasses exercises where one or more joints are loaded with a weight in excess to what it is generally accustomed to handling. This may require weight in addition to bodyweight such as the squat, weight alone such as the bench press, or in some cases some external assistance to reduce bodyweight (for example people first learning to do chin-ups).
So why do you need to do resistance exercise?
Resistance training actually targets a whole different system compared to aerobic exercise. Although muscles look the same form the outside, they are actually made up of very different fibres. One type of fibre (Type I or slow twitch) is built to provide a low level of force for a long time such as in aerobic exercise, whereas the other (Type II or fast twitch) is made to provide a high level of force for a short amount of time as needed during strength exercise. So if you were to spend all of your time doing aerobic exercise, you would improve your type I muscle function, but your type II function would stay stagnant. This would result in an imbalanced muscle and lead to imbalanced physical ability. This is actually a very complex and fascinating area, which we explore further in the future.
Why should you care about Type IIs?
The fact is that strength fibers are incredibly important in everyday living. They provide the power that lets you move quickly, pick things up, open doors, stand from sitting, run after someone and so much more. These fibres are the fibres that make you strong when you are young and allow you to keep your independence when you are older. This is actually a key point and the very reason why resistance exercise actually becomes more important as you age. As you age your muscles slowly waste through a process known as sarcopenia. This is a very important topic that I will go into more detail on in the future. For now however you should now that this process begins in your 50s and can result in loss in independence one or two decades later. You can help fight the effects of sarcopenia by carrying out resistance exercise earlier in life and ensure a better quality for the future.
Other reasons to do resistance exercise
There are numerous reasons why you should lift weights and I must stress at this point that I’m talking about males and females.
- Men will grow muscle if they weight train. It is primarily resistance training, NOT aerobic training that is responsible for muscle hypertrophy (growth). You need look no further than the physique of an elite marathon runner as proof (High aerobic capacity but very very little muscle). Any man who says they don’t want have well developed musculature is probably lying. Resistance training will give a man that well built look and will make them feel more physically attractive and confident as well as appear that way to others. Some people use the excuse that they don’t want really big muscles like bodybuilders to avoid resistance exercise, but the truth is they wouldn’t be able to look like that even if they tried. You would have to train for many hours, several days a week to look like that, and more importantly you would need to be taking anabolic steroids!
- Women will become more toned and slim. Let me start by reassuring every woman that lifting weights will not give you big manly muscles. The reason men’s muscles grow with resistance exercise is because they are responding to testosterone. This is a predominantly male hormone, and women simply don’t have enough testosterone in their system to cause much muscle growth. So however many weights you lift your muscles will never grow like your male counterparts. Occasionally you will see women with muscles like men but they are likely supplementing with male hormones to achieve this. Weight training will however tighten up your muscles and make you stronger which can result in you actually dropping a dress size without actually losing any weight!
- More muscle means more weight loss. Muscles require a constant supply of energy even when they are idle. So if you increase your muscle mass through resistance training you will actually increase your resting metabolic rate resulting in easier weight loss or maintenance. In effect putting on muscle means you burn more calories whilst sitting there doing nothing! You can’t argue with that.
- Increased bone density. As we age our bones get weaker as they become less dense. Resistance exercise actually results in us increasing our bone density and reducing the risk of suffering broken bones such as hips, spines and arms later on in life. Aerobic exercise such as running or walking doesn’t achieve this and is of no use to bone health. It is particularly important when we are young as this is when we have the greatest ability to increase our bone density. Overweight people actually have a better bone density than average as they are carrying around more weight on a daily basis, so light individuals who think they don’t need to lift weights because they already look how they want to actually have more reason to.
So I hope that you now understand that resistance exercise is AS important as aerobic exercise for health, fitness and physical appearance. When putting together an exercise program make sure you make sufficient time for each and you will reap the rewards, both now and in the future. Next time you go into the gym, wander over to the weights section and try a few of the machines (they often have instructions on each one) and as you improve and gain in confidence move onto the free weights. Whatever you do don’t be intimidated by the people you see in that section. They once started in the same position as you and everyone has the same right to be using the gym’s equipment. If you are new to weight training don’t worry about specific plans for the moment; I will go into these in time, but just try things out and get comfortable lifting weights.