I admire those people who go to the gym on a near daily basis and do their rounds, station by station, lifting the iron. The people who take their weight training seriously are easy to spot: Their lifts are precise, their form perfect and their physiques show it.
But when it comes to cardio, many of these same people treat it as an afterthought, going through the motions on the elliptical or bagging it altogether.
Let me say from the outset that you can develop an impressive physique without doing much cardio. Bodybuilders and powerlifters do it all the time.
But let me add that I think a vigorous cardio regimen should be a part of everyone’s training routine. I believe when it comes to cardio, running still stands atop as the best form of cardio in terms of bang for the buck.
Many weightlifters would balk at this statement. After all, has anyone seen a runner with thunderous thighs?
Understandable. It’s very hard to develop an athletic frame, not to mention a beefy one. But there are plenty of reasons why weight lifters should run.
The cardio benefits are second-to-none. Yes, there are a lot of ways to get your cardio in. Aerobics classes, boot camps, exercise machines and any number of P90X/Insanity/Crossfit routines all come to mind. But the facts are this: Running burns more calories per hour than just about anything else out there. And where a steady-state run might fall short of some of the more exotic programs out there, interval runs and runs mixed with walk/sprint segments more than make up for it. Running keeps your heart elevated, works some of your largest muscle groups (quads, hams, glutes and calves) and involves almost all of your body. Compare that to any cardio machine, and running wins out.
Running strengthens your legs. Any weightlifter and bodybuilder will tell you that legs are the hardest things to work. Strength gains are hard won. So give yourself a boost. The repetition involved in regular running is akin to thousands upon thousands of reps in which your leg muscles are propelling your body forward. Do this long enough, and those muscles will get stronger. Steady-state runs will get those slow-twitch muscles beefed up while sprint and hill work will blast the fast twitch. I speak from personal experience here. When I started running regularly, my lower body lifts got a significant boost. For bodybuilders, muscle development will also get boosted in terms of symmetry, as running tends to elongate the quads and hamstrings while helping develop calves that pop.
Running will help develop your cardiovascular network, which will increase your overall capacity to build muscle, strength and performance. It’s been proven that the body will grow out its network of blood vessels when an increase of capacity is called for. In heart patients, it’s been shown that capillaries feeding the heart will actually grow around a blockage when the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen. Similarly, a healthy body shown to have a need for a greater capacity to supply oxygen to its tissues will respond by building out its blood vessel network. The heart will get stronger, too. More oxygen going to your muscles means an increased capacity for work. Translated: Your body will be able to lift more, and it will also be able to support more lean mass. In addition, that bigger cardiovascular “engine” will help your burn more calories, which can help you get leaner.
A running habit will help you create a sustainable fitness lifestyle that can keep you able-bodied well into old age. In the same way that lifting can lead to increased mobility in old age, a running habit can help sustain healthy heart and lung strength for the long term. When you get to an age where you’re no longer competing, you can still be lifting, running and living large when people 20, 30 or more years your junior are struggling to keep up.
In my last post on this subject (why runners should lift), I noted that there are exceptions and the same is true here. Bodybuilders and figure competitors who are nearing their competition dates will need to dial down their cardio in general (it becomes more of an extreme diet things at that time). It’s also true that running longer distances on a regular basis will hinder development of leg mass (the best endurance athletes tend to have lighter frames as the body adapts to their activities’ requirements).
But the thing I come back to is that millions of athletes over the years can’t be wrong. Football players, basketball players, boxers, wrestlers, and soccer stars for generations have all had to run laps to get in shape. Members of the military likewise run often to stay in keen condition so they can more effectively defend our country.
If you are serious about improving your performance in the weight room, in competitions and on stage, don’t eschew your cardio. After you’re done throwing around the iron, lace up your shoes and hit the trails. And then watch yourself get stronger.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088