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Cardio VS weight training – the ultimate showdown

It’s the age old question – when trying to get fit and lose weight, do we weight train or do cardio? Personal trainer Grace Lavinia has what you need to know about cardio vs weight training 

The debate is a constant one: what should we as women do in the gym? The first rule, trust your body, do not overtrain but be prepared to push yourself. The second rule, enjoy yourself, exercise is not supposed to be a chore. Be conscientious, perfect your form and enjoy your journey and changing body.

What will make you feel happy is a strong body that enables you to do all daily tasks with ease, stairs no longer feel like mountains and gentle exercise is enjoyable

As a personal trainer I see women slaving away for hours using cardio machines. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with cardio machines but what results are you really hoping to achieve? Could you jog outside or go for a brisk walk in the fresh air, with your family and friends. I want women to see exercise as a daily, social activity that makes them happier and healthier, not a relentless and boring chore.

Achieving your goals

Every month, set clear goals in your diary about what you want to achieve. Post them at the beginning of the week and never lose sight of them. Keeping to a routine is one of the hardest parts of exercising and precise goal setting is a quick way to make sure you never lose sight. When setting goals be specific, use times, weights, inspiration and anything else to keep your mind on track. Really work out what it is you want to achieve, whether it be competing in a challenge, having fun with your family or fitting back into your favourite dress.

treadmill, cardio v weights
Cardio burns more calories initially and will increase your CV fitness, which is vital for a healthy heart and lungs.

The big question is what to do, to achieve your desired goals.  It is not always about speed – health is your investment and fitness is a balance of strength, endurance and flexibility, not only weight loss. So many women lose weight but still do not feel confident in their bodies.  A lower number on the scales isn’t always the way forward when striving to feel confident and happy. What will make you feel happy is a strong body that enables you to do all daily tasks with ease.

To cardio or not to cardio

If you love cardio, continue, but change it up. Cardio can put lots of strain on your joints from impact, so stick to lower impact types like swimming and cycling to reduce the stress on your knees, especially if you’re new to exercise. Cardio will increase your cardiovascular fitness, which is vital for a healthy heart and lungs. Classes are a great and social way to incorporate cardio into your routine – spinning is a great fat busting class.

 It is weight training where the real transformation will be seen

Steady speed low intensity training is great for weight loss. This could be a 35-40 minute steady paced jog. Fat requires oxygen to be broken down so, a low steady sustainable speed allows your body to intake enough oxygen to break down fat and burn calories.

Cardio will burn fat and yes you will lose weight, but you may just look like a smaller version of your current self. This is because, cardio has been found to also burn muscle as energy – not good news as you get older as age leads to a degree of natural muscle loss anyway. It is with weight training where the real transformation will be seen.

What about weights?

Resistance or weight training should be implemented into your schedule at least two times a week. If you’re unsure on where to start most gyms offer beginner classes or there will be plenty of staff more than happy to show you the ropes. Squats and deadlifts are the most fundamental exercises to master. They will give you the toned, strong look that so many women strive for. Please do not think with this style you will build too much muscle – keep your weights low and your reps high (about 10 reps before reaching your max – meaning, when you can’t do anymore) and make sure you complete four sets of each exercise.

Young woman exercising with barbell in gym.
Try weight train at least two times a week, Squats and deadlifts will give you the toned,
strong look that’s very desirable

If you do not have a gym membership, do not worry, body weight exercises will help and be creative about home made weights. For example, use a two litre bottle of water, a heavy book or anything else easy to pick up and non-dangerous at home.

Our bodies are made to help us in daily life, train in your own safe way and focus on what will make that easier. Join classes in the freestyle area of the gym and work out what specific things you want to find easier. Try to make all the exercises you do multi-directional. For example, if you do a forward lunge with a weight on your back, also do it backwards and sideways. Our bodies are so used to moving forwards, you may be surprised how much harder (and more effective) it is, moving in a different direction to that you’re used to.

The final show down

Cardio does burn more calories than weights while you’re doing it. But here’s the magic – with weight training the calorie-burning effect continues long after you have stopped exercising. This is because muscle is a metabolic furnace, it burns calories even when you’re doing nothing whereas fat is inert. It takes so much energy to repair your muscle fibres and this is done by excessive oxygen consumption to equal the original deficit caused by exercise. Your muscles have worked far too hard for your body to even consider burning muscle for energy. This effect will increase your metabolic rate for up to 40 hours after exercise.

the more muscle in your body as you get older, the better your metabolism will be, better keeping middle aged spread at bay.

Still not convinced about the positive and enhancing effects of weight training? Research has shown that between the ages of 30 – 50 you’ll likely lose 10 per cent of your bodies total muscle. Weight training will counter balance that natural effect and keep you looking stronger and feeling better for longer.  In other words, the more muscle in your body as you get older, the better your metabolism will be overall, better keeping middle aged spread at bay.

Weight training also helps with bone density. When you age your bone density decreases leading to a higher risk of osteoporosis and increasing the likelihood of a fracture. Weight training increases the amount of osteocalcin, a bone growth marker found in your blood.

push up, cardio v weights
Many women shy away from weights thinking it will make them bulky, however weight
training makes you tight, lean and zipped in

It may be that at a particular point in time you want to work on legs, arms or your core. Use that as motivation for a finisher exercise, that point when you think you’re done working out. By squeezing in 3-4 minutes of focused exercises on that body part, you will really feel the burn and that burn normally means visible results will quickly be seen.

A final point to note is a middle ground between cardio and weights, HIIT  (High Intensity Interval Training). If you don’t have time for an hour of exercise, a 15 minute body weight HIIT session, may be for you. It is a series of body weight exercises at a high intensity – as much as you can manage for 30 seconds and then take 30 secpnds off. This will raise your heart rate right up and burn plenty of calories, it will also tone your muscles.

MORE VIDEO: Joey Bull’s HIIT workouts

I recommend a mixture of weight training, cardio and HIIT training to reach most women’s goals of weight loss and strength building. Even if your goal isn’t weight loss, its a great way to have fun, keep it interesting and obtain a healthy lifestyle.

Cardio does burn more calories than weights, but with weight training the calorie burning effect continues long after you have stopped exercising (EPOC effect)

My main recipe for success has been a clean, plant-based diet, regular exercise that I plan a week in advance that I only cancel if I absolutely must. I book in my exercise sessions much like I would meeting a friend or going to an exhibition – you wouldn’t cancel on a friend so why cancel on the gym – it something I find so exhilarating and fun.

If your diet is not right then it will be almost impossible to achieve your goals. Make sure you are eating a balanced clean diet with the occasional cheat, to make the best of all your hard work.

MORE: 6 Clean-eating recipes from Instagram’s hottest health blogger

More from Grace

Are carbohydrates good for you? A personal trainer reveals the TRUTH about carbs

grace laviniaGrace Lavinia
 has a personal motive to continually strive to be healthy. She suffers from a rare blood disorder which although some days can be totally crippling, no longer affects her daily life as she manages it with food, exercise and general overall wellbeing. Grace loves how the health industry is moving and how engaged so many people are with the new found desire to be more healthy.  Visit Grace’s website: or follow her on Instagram @Lavinialifestyle.

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