Cardio & Strength Training | Personal Trainers Show Us How to Strike a Balance

Personal trainers and fitness professionals often find themselves being consulted on whether there is a certain formula or workout schedule people should be following to get the proper balance of cardio and strength training. While that answer largely depends on individual fitness goals, one thing is for sure: you need to adopt an exercise regimen you can stick with over time.

Fitness activities enhance the way we experience our lives. But with so many people living harried lifestyles and trying to make the time to work towards achieving their fitness goals, it can be difficult to determine how to best invest our time and energy once we can get to the gym.

In a country where almost 60% of the population exercises at a least once a week, it seems that Londoners who want to lose weight are continuing to focus their efforts almost exclusively on dieting and cardio while those who want to build a slim, muscular figure rely heavily on strength training activities like lifting weights or using resistance bands.

While this approach is logical, personal trainers (PT) who are “dialed in” to the new dynamics of modern fitness are telling us that certain exercises once avoided by those seeking to lose weight are now being embraced. For example, strength training activities are rapidly gaining popularity as a weight loss strategy as people discover that muscle mass can be a powerful fat incinerator, and even the trimmest among us wouldn’t be without their cardio because of how useful a treadmill can be for combatting the effects of anxiety and depression.

Clearly, the concepts of fitness amongst society are evolving.

We spent some time mingling with London’s fitness junkies in the Canary Wharf area on the eastern end of town to learn how they’re balancing cardio workouts with strength training. The Wharf area has rapidly gained a reputation as London’s new mecca of modern fitness, showcasing world-class personal training solutions and high-tech fitness centers developed in collaboration with prominent sports professionals. If we wanted to learn the secrets to successfully balancing cardio and strength training, this was the area of London where we could find out.

Cardio. Strength Training. What’s the Difference...?

Cardiovascular exercises, or “cardio,” include aerobic activities like running, biking, or kickboxing that build our endurance and strengthen our heart and lungs. During aerobic exercises, our body's demand for oxygen increases significantly. Strength training exercises are anaerobic activities that increase our muscle mass and strength. Anaerobic activities involve intense muscle contractions that don’t rely nearly as heavily on oxygen as cardio activities do. Weightlifting is often the first thing that comes to mind when we mention strength training, but resistance bands and body weight exercises (push-ups, planks, etc.) are equally as effective at building muscle mass.

Mutually Beneficial

To achieve optimal levels of fitness (and the quality of life that comes with it), personal trainers and fitness experts tell us that some combination of cardio and strength training is essential. When determining how you should balance your strength training and cardio routines, the key is not to consider the two as mutually exclusive. That was perhaps our biggest takeaway from our time in east London: the fact that cardio and strength training are partners, and the two activities are meant to augment one another.

In other words, no matter what your fitness goals, ignoring one in favor of the other means you’re missing out.

Striking a Proper Balance of Cardio & Strength Training

It’s a common phenomenon for personal trainers. A client comes to them with strong cardiovascular capacities and an above average ability to run long distances, but without much of an ability to demonstrate muscular endurance. They just as often see clients that are heavily into strength training activities and have outstanding muscle composition but can scarcely run a mile without experiencing physical duress.

Strength training offers tremendous fitness benefits, but it's just as essential to ensure you’re integrating cardio into your fitness regimen on some level too.

Your goal is to find a balance between the two and develop an exercise routine or fitness program that not only helps you achieve your fitness goals, but it must be a regimen that you will stick with over time.

Before we discuss how to divvy up your time to cover your cardio and strength training, let’s eliminate the number one excuse that personal trainers often hear from their clients; the misconception that you think you have no time…at least not enough to make a reasonable difference, so why bother.

Fact: even as little as ten minutes of any activity that raises your heart rate is enough to maintain your fitness.

Workout Routine Examples

The personal trainers we talked to in London offered up a few sample workout routines that we’ve outlined below. Depending on your fitness goals, and with the proper diet and nutrition, these workouts can help you get the maximum benefit from a routine that properly balances cardio and strength training:

  • If weight loss is your goal, personal trainers recommend adding more strength training activities to your weekly routine; not focusing exclusively on cardio. Three times a week you should focus on doing some type of strength training such as resistance bands, body weight exercises, or even straight up weightlifting. During the same week, include two moderate or low-intensity cardio sessions and then one longer cardio session that’s at a higher level of intensity.

  • If running is your thing or if you simply enjoy cardio activities like biking or swimming, you might do cardio activities five times a week and make it a goal to do strength training activities on two occasions during the same week. The strength training activities can be 15- or 20-minute sessions of doing a series of push-ups, planks, squats, and sit-ups.

  • In a general sense, fitness experts and PTs recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio each week and two days of strength training that covers all the major muscle groups in your body.

Personal Trainers Leading the Way

There’s a reason that people are googling “PT near me” more than ever. Personal training has evolved drastically since the days of the pandemic, and working with a PT is becoming increasingly more popular. A big reason for that is that these fitness professionals are successfully coming up with new and effective methods to work with clients to accommodate their busy schedules. One huge advantage for people who hire a personal trainer to help them come up with a balanced workout regimen is that people are much more likely to stick with their new regime over time if they work with a partner or personal trainer.

And that leads us to one of our most interesting discoveries from our trip to east London. One of the PTs we talked to told us her clients are more or less “emotionally disconnected” from their future selves, and she’s always working to change that. We thought that was an interesting way of describing how society is increasingly seeking ways to get instant gratification. But patience is key when beginning a new routine, and it’s crucial in achieving long-term fitness goals. Research shows that it takes as many as 12 weeks before you begin to see noticeable changes in your body when you begin a new fitness routine.

Persistence is key, and it can be very rewarding…

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