This is a pretty old topic by now but it still gets batted around a bit and lots of my clients still ask me this question. Especially when they know I’m a triathlete and they assume I “look the way I do” because of how much cardio I do and they could “never do that”.
Honestly, I have looked this way most of my life, with a few exceptions (skinnier at uni with the nervous stress of vet exams as one example). I don’t just look like this because I either swim, bike or run once and sometimes twice a day. Granted, it does help. However, whether you do weights or cardio, ultimately if you eat more than you expend with regards to energy you tip the balance towards gaining weight or vice versa and lose weight. I could easily be a much heavier triathlete if I wanted to but my natural appetite and way of eating has meant that I just pretty much stay this size and shape. Genetics plays a huge part as always. Wouldn’t we all love our body fat to be stored away from those “troublesome” areas? Life’s a bitch.
Not a terribly exciting or ground-breaking answer. The truth, especially surrounding the subject of exercise and nutrition, is much simpler than people want or think. It is hard to have one without the other. If you are looking for weight loss, weights or cardio doesn’t really matter if you don’t pay attention to your nutrition as well. They go hand-in-hand.
The long answer to this questions is exactly the same as what I put to my clients.
IT DEPENDS ON WHAT MY GOALS ARE.
Contrary to popular belief, if you want to be a long-term triathlete, runner, swimmer, cyclist, rower, or any “CARDIO” labelled sport you need to incorporate weight (resistance) training of some form. Not necessarily all season and lots of sessions but definitely somewhere in the program you need to have some form of strength and conditioning. Be it weights, bodyweight, specific strength sessions within the discipline for example hill reps for running or on the bike, drag shorts or paddles in the pool. It helps create a more injury resistant body, it helps with form and technique, it helps with mobility, agility and flexibility. The list goes on.
I personally hit the weights harder in my off season i.e. the winter months. I do it because I love it but also it helps build a foundation of strength and preps my body for the harder “cardio” sessions to come when my season starts again. Really, I like nothing better than throwing some metal around and seeing the plates stack up on the barbell as I get stronger and hitting out more pull ups than I did last year. These sessions continue but reduce as I go further into my season or depending on how I feel my training is going or quite honestly, depending on how I want to move my body.
The beauty is, regardless of which one I choose, they both keep me active, they both keep my bones strong and the muscles on those bones strong too. Both of which are vital for a hopefully long, happy, active, healthy life. There may be a time in my life where I fancy trying out CrossFit or competitive weight lifting, then of course I’d favour weights (for as long as my body allowed at that volume!). I do what I do because I enjoy it.
FOR MY CLIENTS’ GOALS:
- If you are overweight and wish to look more “toned” - weights or cardio shouldn’t be your main focus. Weight loss would be paramount here so really you could do either just to keep you active but you need to be in a calorie deficit i.e eat a little less and consume more nutrient dense whole foods while still ensuring the room for your faves. Once that is achieved then we can move to the following:
- If you are a little underweight or a healthy bodyweight then incorporating more weight/resistance training will certainly help build a little more muscle for that “toned” look (notice “little” you won’t touch a weight and look like Arnie without years, often decades, of dedication, eating LOADS and often some medical enhancement help (roids)).
- If you are an athlete, then like myself, you prioritise depending on your season, current injury or niggle, or whatever time allows you. A lot of us have busy careers and personal lives. You can’t ask yourself to do everything if you have a 12+ hour working day, 3 kids, holidays, events and it’s always someone’s birthday. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY is integral to success in this scenario.
- If you just want to get a bit fitter and be more active then do what you love and have fun with it.
In conclusion. For the average Joe Lunchbucket, a little bit of both goes a long way but ultimately do what you PREFER and can stick to. It can be yoga, pilates, HITT, aqua aerobics or just simply a walk in the park with your slobbery man’s best friend. There will be plenty of research papers arguing this question for years. Hey, even I might write another article in years to come poo-pooing everything I have just written. For now, this is my current stand-point and belief and it’s working pretty well so far.