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Cardio or Resistance Training: Which is Better for Optimal Health?

You might hear it from a doctor, family member, or even a friend that you should start exercising to improve your health. But what does that mean exactly? How long should I exercise for? Does it matter what type? What if I don’t have a trainer? There is no way I have time for that.

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Today, I’m going to take some textbook-style science from one of the top fitness and wellness organizations in the world, then break it down into a form you can directly use and implement. That way, you can get started right now with polishing up habits that breed good health, well-being, and overall improved quality of life. Does that sound like something you could get down with? Great, then keep scrolling!


The largest exercise science organization in the world, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), has set a standard based on thousands of research studies, professional practice, and continued education. They have identified the dose of quality and quantity of exercise recommended to properly balance benefits and risk, while also enhancing the overall quality of living. Here is what they say;

Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. (Cardiorespiratory Training)

Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment. (Resistance Training)

So there you have it, that is the deeply researched and somewhat-undisputable recommendation to how you need to exercise each week to improve how you live. But now, you have downloaded that information into your human hard drive (a.k.a. your brain), but what the heck does that mean I’m supposed to do?

Terms such as ‘moderate-intensity’, slight discomfort, or perceived rate of exertion are very different for each individual person. A moderate-intensity bike ride for Lance Armstrong is going to be much different than yours, and what flexibility movements that help improve your shoulder health might not work for someone who had a previous surgery. The ACSM is fantastic for establishing what is a recommended baseline, but the story doesn’t end there.

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Just like you can’t buy a wedding dress or a three-piece-suit off of the rack fitting perfectly, you need to alter and adjust the original idea to create the perfect product customized for you (in terms of exercise, this is known as your ‘personalized programming’).

 

The foundation needs to be established for where you are right now, and what you want to strive towards. Those two factors place a large impact in determining what can be the best ways to get there. Before diving deeper into what will help you get from here to there, don’t you want to know what each type of exercise actually is? It is a great idea to understand more about what Cardiorespiratory and Resistance Training actually encompass in a nutshell.


 Cardiorespiratory Exercise Training

150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is recommended, and you can achieve that through either moderate or vigorous intensity exercise. 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity 5x per week, or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity 3x per week. An easy way to determine the difference between low, moderate, or vigorous activity without any machines, monitors, or smart watches is paying attention to differences in breathing, talking ability, and heart rate.

Low-Intensity Activity (~10-35% of maximal output) is not enough stress to notice a change in heart rate and your breathing remains virtually unchanged.

Moderate-Intensity Activity (~40-60% of maximal output) is where you could hold a conversation with a few breaks for an extra breath, and your heart rate is beginning to noticeably increase (maybe even a sweat breaks out by now)

Vigorous activity (~60-85% of maximal output) is that zone where you can’t say more than one or two words at a time, your heart rate feels bumping, and your main focus is breathing in enough air to just keep moving. Also known as, “the yuck” (I love the yuck, read more about my story on how to conquer the yuck here!)

I recommend a mixture of Walking, [Trail]Running, Skipping, Biking, Skiing, Dancing, Hiking, Rowing, Intense Hot Yoga, etc. What do you currently do now that keeps you moving for more than just a few minutes? If it’s something you like, roll with that, and that will open new doors to discover new ones you enjoy.

 

Resistance Exercise Training 

Resistance training means you are using your body in the presence of an opposing external force. This can be a resistance band, barbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, other equipment, and even gravity! Depending on what you want the focus of your training to be will determine what tools you use, and also how many repetitions you will do. To keep it brief and simple, you have three spectrums of how to choose your training type.

Muscular Strength is the ability of a muscle or muscular systems to exert force. Unlike ‘power’, strength training is not focused on how fast you can perform the movement. Its main focus is getting from point A to point B safely, effectively, and with vigor. Anywhere from 1-8 repetitions is a good guide to go by. If it is a more demanding task or higher resistance, I recommend starting lower end of that spectrum, that way movement technique has a lower chance of being compromised from the onset of fatigue.

Muscular Power is the time and rate of the muscles’ ability to exert force. The faster you can move against an external force, the more power your body can recruit and develop. Since you are focusing on the speed of the movement, the optimal number of repetitions each round should be 1-5 reps to maintain that desired speed. 

Although they are very similar, the difference between training for strength versus power is the speed of the movement. Trying to upgrade your maximal deadlift represents a strength focus, whereas upgrading your Kettlebell Swing represents a power focus; the changing emphasis on how quickly the movement is performed will signify what style of training is taking place.

Muscular Hypertrophy/Endurance will train your muscular systems to function for longer periods of time by repeating the action many times when compared to a strength of power focus. For example, a heavy sled push for 20 yards is a strength focused, while going for a 5-mile hike is an endurance focus. Although both have the body move the same way, the size and difficulty of the external stimulus are the prime determining factors. The overall external stressor will be low (slower speed, less weight) because as the number of repetitions creeps up higher, you want something very reasonable you can control for a longer amount of time. Anywhere from 10-20+ repetitions will enhance the body to become more efficient when performing tasks for a longer period of time. 

So…

Muscular Strength training is designed to improve how you generate force to perform a movement with style, confidence, and full intention to proper alignment. Muscular Power training holds the same attributes as muscular strength, but now the faster you can perform that task, the more powerful you are. And Muscular Endurance/Hypertrophy training trains the muscles to perform a task over a long, sustained period of time or completing an action many times; the inverse to muscular power.

But is There One to Rule Them All?

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Now there are more components involved when creating a complete training program that will optimize your lifestyle. Elements such as Flexibility Training, Recovery Techniques, Posture Enhancement, Joint Stabilization, and Mentally Stimulating Movements all are highly important elements in the way I coach and design the training program at Orca Empire Fitness.

Unless you are a highly specialized athlete or currently hold a restriction for certain medical reasons, it is best to achieve a balance of both Cardiorespiratory and Resistance training. That concept is not just limited to fitness but in your overall “scheme of life”. Here, this is what I mean;

Balance is always a great goal. You want to paint a total and complete picture the main focus, supporting details, contrasting elements, and the ability for the artist to see and feel more deeply than what it just looks like is happening. Without having all of those bases covered, eventually, something has to give. And unfortunately, that something is your joints, muscular health, or safety. Many programs focus too heavily on increasing weight, speed, and intensity too often and too quickly. Now don’t get me wrong, I love pushing the envelope to achieve growth, but first and foremost, a balance must be established; you don’t want to start your journey with the scales already tipped in one direction and have a coach that is blind to that! Use multiple methods to generate or restore balance into your exercise and daily lifestyle.

Each week, in the program we have here at Orca Empire, we cover these bases much more individualized customization. Sometimes they are in unison on the same day, like our Density Conditioning style classes, or they can remain separate with our Strength and Technique Day focus. The combination of these different elements presents your human body with a complete upgrade package. Mentally become more adaptable, physically become more resilient,  breaking through preconceived roadblocks and gaining insight into unlocking your path to personal empowerment.


Thank you, and I hope you enjoyed this article! If you want to stay up to date with my coaching, writings, and personal journey, be sure to follow me on social media! Thank you for your support.

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