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A Starters Guide to Exercise (Part 1) - Cardio vs Resistance Training

Okay so you’ve decided to start working on your fitness and are trying to get into a routine of exercise. With the best of intentions you put aside some time in your schedule to go to a gym a few times a week, but what do you actually DO when you get there? When first starting to exercise the choice of what to do with your training time can be daunting. If you go to a gym you’ll be faced with an endless sea of different machines and equipment corresponding to virtually infinite amount of options of exercises you could be working on.

So where to begin? Well you don’t need a gym membership or even much equipment to reach your goals, what is more important is an understanding of WHAT you are doing and more importantly WHY you are doing it! The purpose of this article is to simplify the choices down into clear categories and provide a good foundation for a well balanced exercise routine. So the first decision, Cardio or Resistance (Strength) training?

Let’s get this one out of the way quickly, half of the stuff on a typical gym floor will be cardio machines, such as treadmills, cross trainers, rowing machines. Most gym newcomers will automatically opt for the cardio option because it seems like the easy one not to mess up, just get on the machine and repeat the same simple motion for 10-30 minutes while watching the tv or listening to music. It’s also the reason most people fail to reach their goals and quit within a month or so. Sure being active in any way is better than nothing and may work up a sweat compared to sitting on the sofa at home but it lacks PURPOSE, and therefore is a very short lived habit. Whilst cardio training does have its time and place, (which I will get into in a future article) I think it should be supplementary to a good strength training routine rather than a valid alternative. For the purpose of this article we are going to define cardio exercises as simple movements which are low intensity meaning you can repeat them hundreds if not thousands of times in a row before getting fatigued, think taking a step when jogging or one row of a rowing machine, one of these on its own is of no difficulty, its only when repeated in very high numbers does any kind of challenge present itself.

Strength training on the other hand is categorised as more challenging movements which are high intensity, meaning they are difficult to complete any where between 1 and 20 repetitions. Because it is hard to complete even a small number correctly, in each set we quite quickly reach the point of failure where the muscle cannot do any more of the given activity. This stimulates post-exercise muscle growth which will increase your metabolic requirements, meaning you will not only burn calories during the workout, but you will burn more even when at rest afterwards. If done correctly, Strength Training reduces the risk of injuries by strengthening movement patterns and ironing out weaknesses and instabilities. Less injuries = a more sustainable long term habit. Most importantly, progress is easily measurable from one workout to another. If one week you can only to 5 repititions and the next week you can do 6, then you have improved. Seeing continuous progress over time is the most important factor determining the sustainability of your exercise habits.

When beating your previous scores or successfully achieving something that previously seemed impossible, The feeling of SUCCESS can spread to other areas of your life providing a confidence boost, satisfaction and increased happiness. So now that we have decided work on our strength: where do we begin, there’s still hundreds of exercises to choose from, right? What if I told you there was only really 4 exercises, that would make things a bit simpler wouldn’t it? Well that’s the purpose of part 2 of this article where I will explain “the four essential movements you should be training”. Check back next week to read part 2!