What Comes First: Cardio or Weights? Workout Myths and Exercise Science (Book Summary)

My boyfriend and I finally joined a gym. We’ve been following YouTube videos and online programs long enough and wanted access to more equipment. Plus, getting out of the apartment together and doing something positive for ourselves is feeling great.

Of course, the first thing I’ve done is get a ton of books on exercise science from the library. What Comes First: Cardio or Weights? by Alex Hutchinson appealed to me because I feel like I have a lot of knowledge, I’m just not certain what’s really true.

A few points I learned:

  • First of all, the answer to the title: start with the most important activity – if they are equal, mix it up.
  • High-intensity interval training 7 minutes a week can benefit your body as much as 300 moderate activity like cycling – though, the benefits are mostly from muscles, so endurance is still recommended in the mix to pump the heart.
  • At the same time, more exercise – and more intense exercise – is almost always better: following government guidelines cuts your risk of dying in half, while going further can reduce risk up to 70%.
  • Going too hard, too soon, for too long can cause injury and weaken your immune system.
  • About 20-62% of variation in exercise participation seems to be inherited through personality and physiology, but everyone can reap benefits from exercise.
  • It takes 6 weeks to boost endurance, but health can performance can improve within days, then losses occur after about 2 weeks without training.

More specifically,

  • The differences between running on a treadmill and running outdoors are too small to matter – just set the treadmill to 0.5-1% incline.
  • Weight machines isolate muscles and help keep beginners from making mistakes.
  • Elliptical machines compare to treadmills in the way weight machines compare to free weights – just as good as one another, but different, mainly lower-impact vs. more functional.
  • Aim for 70% aerobic (below 80% of max for 20-60 minutes), 10% anaerobic (above 90% of ma for 0.5-3 minute bursts), and 20% threshold (80-90% of max for surges of 3-10 minutes) – where max heart rate is usually 180-200 bpm for a 30-year old.
  • You likely breathe well naturally for cardio, but may need to focus on exhaling as you lift weights and not holding your breath.
  • Experienced runners naturally learn to take shorter strides so the foot hits the ground below the body, not in front.
  • For 3-4 months, lift weights you can manage for 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps, increasing over time. Work toward something like 4 sets of 20 reps with rests under 90 seconds for endurance. Experiment with variety.
  • You should be unable to lift the weight again when you complete the final set.
  • Strengthen your core (deep abs, lower back, pelvic and hip muscles) with Pilates and functional exercises like hip abductor and flexor.

In terms of flexibility and recovery,

  • Stretching increases range of motion but it hasn’t shown to prevent injuries – warming up, i.e. gradually raising heart rate and practicing the exercise’s range of motion before increasing intensity – does.
  • While stretching after a workout won’t reduce soreness, it is the best time to increase flexibility.
  • Yoga improves strength, flexibility, balance and muscular endurance. It isn’t, however, technically aerobic. At the same time, the breathing and concentration practices benefit overall wellness like stress and sleep.
  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) immediately after soft-tissue injury, then switch to MICE (mobilization) once swelling passes to avoid scar tissue build-up.

And finally, some points on diet:

  • Allow 3-4 hours between a meal and a workout; and, abstain from carbohydrates in the hour before exercise to avoid GI issues.
  • Your body can tell the difference between burning a calorie and avoiding a calorie – only exercise reduces risk factors by improving insulin sensitivity, LDL cholesterol, and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Most people only need 0.8 g of protein per kg of weight, while athletes need up to 1.3. On a low-calorie diet, 35% of calories should come from protein to avoid muscle loss.
  • Unless aiming to lose weight, consuming 20 g within an hour after a workout helps build muscle. Include 1 g of carbs per kg of weight to recharge. This might look like spaghetti with lean meat sauce.
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