(FL)Question: What is the proper balance of cardio vs. strength training for women? Is there some formula like x minutes of cardio/week and y minutes of strength?
How do you decide whether you should use your precious workout time for cardio or for strength?
Answer: The cardio vs. strength training debate has raged on for years and the reason it’s unlikely to ever be answered decisively is because it’s highly dependant on your individual goals.
With that said most women I speak to want to lose fat and sculpt their bodies so I’ll assume that you’re asking from that perspective.
It’s great that you acknowledge strength training as an important part of your workout program, many women I work with insist on only doing cardio because they “don’t want to get big”.
Despite the fact that a woman’s body doesn’t have the hormones to support building lots of muscle women are still scared of lifting weights when they shouldn’t be.
Coupled with this fear of weight training is an overreliance on cardiovascular training, the logic being that exercise burns calories and burning calories equals weight loss. Whilst this is true, using exercise to burn calories is a flawed strategy as it actually burns a lot less calories that you’d think.
With these misconceptions out of the way we can start to look at the tools you have available in your fat loss arsenal and how long you should dedicate to each type of training.
Your Fat Loss Toolkit!
Successful fat loss diets spare lean muscle mass while allowing you to drop fat. Badly constructed fat loss diets eat into muscle as well as fat.
A lot of women probably don’t care as long as the scale goes down and sure, you’d lose weight but you’d just be a smaller, lighter version of what you see in the mirror already.
Losing fat exclusively allows you to get stronger and maintain your muscle, this makes you look lean and toned. This is the key to a feminine, sexy physique rather than the “skinny-fat” look evident when a person loses muscle and fat.
Excessive cardio is a guaranteed way to eat into muscle so it’s for this reason I always champion focussing most of your time on strength training.
Losing fat is optimally achieved by being in a calorie deficit; the most effective way to do this is via dietary restriction. Track your food intake and ensure you’re eating fewer calories than you need each day.
In summary, whilst both cardio and strength training have a tonne of health benefits, weighing them up in the context of fat loss, strength training trumps cardio for one important reason:
Resistance training maintains your lean body mass
So Why Do Cardio?
Women tend to have stubborn fat on their thighs and hips and even during a calorie controlled diet this fat can be had to shift!
Cardio can be useful to shift stubborn fat but I would usually save it until near the end of a diet when fat loss is slowing up. After a prolonged period of dieting your metabolism will slow down making it harder to drop fat, save cardio then
How Much Time Should You Dedicate To Cardio & Strength Training?
We’ve established that strength training is key to fat loss rather than simple weight loss, but how much time should you dedicate to it and what about cardio?
Well, the first thing to make clear is that your exercise frequency should go DOWN during dieting. This is the opposite of what most people do, but then most people are trying to reduce calories through exercise which we now know is flawed.
The truth is you need to workout LESS as your body cannot recover due to the reduced food intake so you need to ensure your workouts are brief, but effective.
My advice for women is to do something like my 3day workout routine focussing on compound movements, or if you don’t have 3 days available do two full body strength training workouts each week, each session lasting around 45 minutes.
Your strength sessions need to be quick and effective to get the job done in the limited amount of time you have available.
I wrote about the types of exercises a strength workout should consist of in workout frequency and with the limited time available you should read it to ensure your strength training workouts deliver the most bang for your buck!
Focus on the key lifts outlined in the article and you’ll be able to get an effective workout in no time.
Your cardio training should supplement your weight training, not interfere with it therefore it’s important you try to keep it separate.
For this reason I always keep cardio on separate days to weights, usually in the morning on a rest day. If you have no choice but to do it on the same day then do it after your weights session.
Never do cardio before a strength training workout, it will only sap your strength and make you weaker.
If you have less than two hours per week
With time this tight I would recommend two full body workouts each week with each session taking only 45 minutes. Leave cardio and let your diet take care of the fat loss.
Two hours per week
The same two full body workouts but followed with 15 minutes of high intensity intervals. Think 60 seconds jogging, 30 seconds sprinting, repeat until 15 minutes are up.
More than two hours per week
I recommend the 3day workout routine or the two full body workouts and I’d add low intensity cardio on rest days 2-3 times per week. Walking on a treadmill on an incline for around 45 minutes would be fine.
If that’s boring for you do the high intensity intervals mentioned above but be sure to do them on rest days and no more than twice a week.
Intervals and low calories aren’t very compatible so I’d be careful to limit them or see how you feel and adjust as required.
I hope that answers your question Amelia.