Ask an Expert: Incorporating Exercise into a Busy Schedule

Q: I always seem to find an excuse not to exercise. What are some easy exercises I can do to incorporate fitness into my busy schedule? — Sherry

Great question – and one that almost everyone can relate to. The big thing to remember is that scrimping on time doesn’t mean sacrificing quality in your workouts. Research shows that 10 minutes of exercise is enough to improve strength, endurance and flexibility. You can even use these 10 minute sessions throughout your day to add up to a full 30 minutes or more! The key is to include exercises that address all three areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Here are a few suggestions:

  • It’s easy to squeeze in a little extra cardio using your home fitness equipment while watching television or waiting for the water to boil while you’re cooking dinner. If you find yourself having an extra few minutes to spare, include intervals after a 3-5 minute warm-up to really get your heart pumping.
  • Bodyweight exercises, such as squats and lunges for the lower body and push-ups, planks, and chair dips for the upper body will hit all of the major muscle groups and don’t require extra time to prepare your equipment.  You can work up to 20 reps of each and add additional circuits as time permits or set a stopwatch on your phone and complete as many reps as you can within 60-90 seconds (depending on your schedule), then move to the next exercise in a circuit style.
  • Yoga Sun Salutations are also a great way to finish or end your day and address all three components of fitness. You can add in a few postures targeting the hips, shoulders, and low back to help you sleep, or  balancing postures, such as tree pose and Dancer’s Pose to ground you and improve your concentration as you head  into your day.

One of the biggest challenges to any exercise program is fitting it in, so include reminders in your schedule or set an alarm on your phone or computer as you make these fitness breaks a part of your routine. Before long, you’ll be seeing big fitness gains from your “no time” workouts.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

Ask an Expert: When Should I Strength Train?

Horizon Fitness Indoor CycleI know I should incorporate more strength training into my exercise routine.  Is it better to do it before or after my cardio activity? -Stacey

You’re right, it is important to include strength training into your regular exercise routine.  It will aid in balancing the strength and mobility in your muscles and joints, improve metabolism by increasing active lean muscle tissue and even help improve your cardiovascular performance.  That being said, here are three answers to your question.

When you perform strength exercises, the goal is to break down the muscle tissue by repeating the exercise until you’ve reached momentary muscular failure.  That sounds scary, but all it really means is that your muscles get activated and then fatigued by the repetitive resistance of the exercise.  That breaking down of the muscles is what encourages growth and development through rest.

Performing the strength exercises before the cardio activity will allow you to perform the strengthening exercises on fresh muscles as you won’t be tired from the cardio activity.  This is especially important if you’re new to strength training and learning how to perform each exercise.  However, it’s important to make sure your muscles are warmed up ahead of time, so you could include a short 5 minute cardio warm up, then strength train and follow with the rest of your cardio routine.

On the other hand, if your cardio is primary – say, if you’re training for a triathlon or running event and you need to get in a solid workout – then getting in the cardio workout first and then following up with the strength training will be a better option.

Finally, to toss in another option, you can weave it into your cardio and create what I call a “circus workout” – where you warm up on cardio, then hit a strength exercise or two, then 5 minute of cardio, then strength again, followed by cardio.  You’ll feel the excitement of being in the circus with all the movement! Plus, it’s fun and before you know it, you’ll be cooling down thinking… when can I do this again?

There are benefits to weaving in strength training into your cardio routine, the key is to try each of these to see what works best for you.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Strength and Cardio Training: Should They Mix?

woman doing a push up at home

Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. Many people train in strictly one or other, believing that the neglected training style will somehow hinder their progress. Gym myths and misunderstandings just add to the confusion, promoting ideas like “running burns muscle.” Other exercisers simply don’t know how to incorporate both strength and cardiovascular training into their schedule and favor the one they enjoy the most. Should these two training styles be used together? If so, how? Let’s dig in.

Myths and Misunderstandings

Usually, people practice cardio because they want to lose weight and lift weights because they want to gain muscle. However, two persistent— and incorrect — ideas have pervaded gyms around the world, deepening the divide between strength training and cardio workouts.

Some people who hope to slim down avoid lifting weights, because they are afraid it will make them too bulky. The truth is that muscle growth is a very slow process, and it requires a well designed program of diet and exercise to be followed for years before you appear “bulky.” On the contrary, proper weight training will increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, which will improve your cardiovascular efficiency and burn more calories and fat in the process.

On the other hand, weightlifters who are looking for bulk tend to fear that cardio burns muscle. This one is more of an oversimplification than an outright myth. It is true that in extreme cases of over-training your body will begin to use muscle for fuel. However, your body will only go catabolic when you exercise at a high intensity for more than 45 minutes, exercise every day, or exercise on an empty stomach. Put simply, cardio will only burn muscle when you give it no other choice. Balance in your training and in your diet will prevent muscle loss.

A healthy combination of strength and cardio training will allow your body to perform at its best, letting the two systems complement each other rather than compete.

How to Do It Right

Understanding that cardio and strength training don’t cancel each other out is only half the battle: now you have to balance the two properly. Mixing cardio and strength training requires a highly individualized approach based on your goals, body type and chosen sport.

First, you should decide whether your focus is to lose weight or gain muscle. Trying to do both at the same time will most likely slow your progress and frustrate you, and may even lead to over-training injuries. Again, this does not mean that you are choosing one training method over the other; the key is to make them work together.

If your primary goal is to gain muscle, then you should lift three times per week, with two moderate-intensity cardio sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes each on your off days. Lifting and running on the same day not only takes more time, it increases your risk of overworking your muscles, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

Next, you need to consider your body type. Is it easy for you to lose weight or does it feel like a constant struggle? Are you naturally muscular? Your body’s natural tendencies will have a strong bearing on your workout plan. For example, an endomorph —  someone who is natural heavy-set — will need to schedule more cardio days to lose weight, but will likely find it easy to gain muscle with plenty of stored fuel in the body.

Lastly, we need to consider your sport. An endurance athlete (such as a marathon runner) will need a completely different skill-set than a football player. While both of these examples lean towards either cardio or strength, these athletes can still benefit from both modes of training.

As is the case with many aspects of fitness, balance is the key to mixing both cardio and strength training into your routine. While these two modes of exercise are frequently considered incompatible, when scheduled properly, they will work together to help you reach your fitness goals.

Have any tips on mixing strength and cardio training? Please share them in the comments!

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