When people join our health club, one of the most common questions I get is: should I lift or do the cardiovascular machines?
The answer, obviously, is both, and the percent you do of each depends upon your health history, goals, and individual tastes.
*If you want a healthier heart, put more emphasis on cardio. You need to raise your heart rate to about 60% of it's max (220-your age is your theoretical max) to start achieving benefits to your heart and lungs. While that can be done through strength training (ask anyone after a set of 20 burpees!), it is easier to achieve and sustain on a machine like the treadmill, bike, or elliptical.
*If a stronger structure is your desire, put more emphasis on lifting. The weight-bearing impact of traditional exercises like bench press, squats, or lat pulldown are excellent ways to build up your bones, and strengthen surrounding tendons and ligaments. Post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible to bone loss, which makes strength-training all the more important.
*To burn a maximum amount of calories, do about a 50/50 mix. Intensity is the key here. An intense 45-minute weight workout will burn more calories than a comparable time on the treadmill or elliptical, if you are going at a pace where you can hold a conversation the whole time. And, of course, the opposite is true as well. If most of your weight-training time is spent talking football or plans for the weekend, you are not burning many calories during the session, and won't be working hard enough for a sustained "after-burn."
While I certainly sweat more doing an intense run rather than the weights, strength-training will keep the body burning calories at a higher rate for up to six hours afterward. With cardio, the extra calorie burn lasts about three hours. Plus, the higher percent of muscle you have in your body, the more calories you burn at rest!
*To prevent over-use injuries, it's best to alternate days. Try cardio on Monday and Wednesday, weights on Tuesday and Thursday, and a mix of short sprints and body weight exercise on Friday. While you are exercising five days straight, you are limiting the repetitive pounding of doing only one activity. Another tip: mix up the cardio machine you do every day, and alternate between machines, free weights and resistance bands or medicine balls on your lifting days.
*Let your mood decide. If I'm in a down or reflective mood, I feel the cardio can bring me up, mentally. When I'm feeling positive and energetic I can hit the weights that much harder.
*Depending on your time allotment, you can combine both in one workout. If you have only three days a week to workout, but can spare at least an hour, try doing the weights and your running or biking in one session. I always like to do the weights first - that way I'm not afraid to hold back when I'm doing my cardio. Other people like doing the cardio first, as it loosens up their body, and the lifting goes that much smoother. I always tell people, "whatever your priority is, do that first." Studies have shown that doing cardio in the beginning results in a slightly higher calorie burn, but again, it's all dependent on how hard you work.
The most important thing is to do some type of exercise. The best exercise is one that you enjoy and will continue to do. Learn all the new things at a gym so you have some variety to choose from, and get to it!