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Which type of exercise is best for you?

Exercise. When you hear that word, what comes to mind? Maybe some heavy lifting? Running on a treadmill? Dreadful exhaustion? Whatever the case may be, there are so many more options than what may meet the eye at first. This can be both a great thing and can also make things a little overwhelming at first, where do you start? What is the perfect exercise for you?

First, let’s take a look at what the main goal is. 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), exercise is defined as “a type of physical activity consisting of planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to improve and/or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.” To break this down, this means that you have to plan it around a goal, it must be structured to achieve this goal, and you have to consistently work at it in order to reap the benefits. For example, a world-class powerlifter isn’t going to spend a lot of time running miles and miles. Running is excellent cardio and having good cardiovascular endurance has many, many health benefits but it just won’t meet the goals of this specific athlete. To put things into a more realistic perspective, a new momma who has to lift and carry her baby everywhere may find that a quick strength training routine benefits her a little more than the low to moderate-impact cardio workout that the mom who has to chase her toddler or elementary-age child around will. Both mothers would greatly benefit from strength training and cardio but certain exercises help accomplish one goal more than the other would.

Before talking about the benefits of a specific exercise, first things first- we need to figure out what our goal is when exercising. We do this by creating SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound.

An example of a SMART goal; I want to be able to run a full mile, in less than 10 minutes, by this time next month. Once you have your goal you can start planning the best way to approach it!

Strength Training vs Cardio

Strength training, also known as resistance training or anaerobic exercise, can be done using your body weight, resistance machines, and/or free weights. The technical term of strength training comes from Newton’s second law of physics where he defined how forces are made. Anything that produces forces, pushing something, pulling something, lifting something all fit into a good strength training program (who knew physics would actually come in handy after all)!

Examples of strength training include:

  • Squats
  • Barbell bench
  • Free Weights
  • Pushups, and the like.

When you incorporate these kinds of exercises in your routine you’ll not only feel better but you decrease your risk for cardiovascular diseases, decrease your body composition, and increase your overall lifespan. A proper workout where you practice correct form – making sure to start slow and gradually increase repetitions and amount of times you workout throughout the week – will help you look and feel like a rockstar! 

Cardio, also known as cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory, or aerobic exercise, can be anywhere from walking/jogging, rowing, swimming, cycling and more. When it comes to getting your cardio in, you have to be creative, some like running and some hate it, and that’s okay. Whether your hiking, biking around your neighborhood or swimming this summer,  there is definitely an aerobic exercise that works best for you! A good cardio workout can increase the way your body uses oxygen, makes your heart stronger, burns calories, and increases your lung capacity. These all take part in keeping you stronger and healthier for a longer period of time, just in a little bit different way than strength training.

High Impact vs Low Impact

Now that you understand the basics of a strength training workout and a cardio workout, let’s talk about the impact they have on your body. A low-impact workout is one that doesn’t put as much pressure on your joints. Things like yoga, swimming, cycling, and body-weighted exercises don’t put as much strain on your body because there are not as many outside forces working against you. These types of workouts are safer and more effective for those who are just starting out on their fitness journey. This gives you the opportunity to recover faster, learn proper technique and form, and will give you an overall greater experience in the long run. You know what they say, slow and steady wins the race and working out is no different.

A high-impact workout means that you are kicking things up a notch. We’re turning that jog into a run, turning that squat into a jump squat or adding more weight to your workouts. Many people think that high-impact means quicker results and shorter workouts. While this is partially true, high-impact workouts should only be done when you have great form and even better cardiovascular and muscular strength. If you’re anything like me, you like to jump into a program full force and that’s great- keep up that awesome attitude and you’ll accomplish any goal you set your mind to. But remember, that higher impact exercise means higher risk, especially at the beginning. So slow it down, learn the form, build the strength, and tackle that hill when you’re ready!

When it comes to working out for your health, as long as you are following proper form and gradually increase the reps and sets of your workout, your health and energy will benefit greatly but it’s hard to stick to a program that’s not giving you the specific results you want. Spend the afternoon thinking about your SMART goals and try to make them lifestyle related and not physique related. Instead of working out to fit into that dress in the corner of your closet, think about working on upper body strength so you can lift your kids or grandkids; instead of worrying about the scale, start walking on the treadmill or jogging down the street so you can keep up with your energetic toddler or teen. You and your family are worth working on each day, so get out there and get moving the way you want to!