Yoga, Cardio, and Weights, Oh My
March 5, 2012 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Cardio? Yoga? strength-training? Help set me straight.

I have some questions about exercise. Currently I enjoy high-intensity aerobics, like Zumba/BodyJam/BodyCombat classes. I also started adding yoga to this, which I love. At this point I exercise about 6 times a week and am seeing results in the form of feeling and looking better. But I have some specific questions:

1. What counts as "strength training"? In my aerobic workouts I use my muscles a lot and my legs are much more toned than before; is that considered strength training (because my muscles are getting bigger/more toned...)? Is yoga considered strength training (what with supporting your body weight and what not)? Or do I specifically have to be lifting weights for it to be considered "strength training"? If so, what additional benefits would lifting weights give me? It sounds kind of boring to be honest.

2. Is there a minimum amount of cardio I am supposed to be getting per week? Which is "better", yoga or cardio? (by "better", I guess I mean better for overall fitness) Currently I do yoga 2x per week and cardio on the other days. Will there be a difference if I do yoga more or cardio less? (i.e. replace one with the other, not lessen the days I am working out.

I have read a lot of stuff about different kinds of exercise, recommendations, etc, and it seems contradictory at times. if it helps my goals include maintaining my weight.

Thank you!
posted by bearette to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've been doing yoga for 25 years. I feel that it is a strength training practice and a young age and gradually changes over time. That is not to say you are going to get a strong workout from a class.

I am wary of hot yoga classes (Bikram, Hot, etc) Again, feeling is that you want to generate heat from the inside out. Not from the outside in. If you do strong, physical flow class I would recommend this. There is something about developing strength and stamina on your own rather than with a machine. Not that machines are bad. I just like to move and have my body fully engaged in what I am doing. Good for my brain also.

Lastly, there was a thread on Metafilter last week about 4 minute workouts 3x a week is all you need. There was something about Tabeta??? Sprints that I found fascinating. You may want to check this out.
posted by goalyeehah at 8:38 PM on March 5, 2012

MoonOrb's answer is really excellent. I would add that weight-bearing exercise is good for bone density. Most yoga practice includes weight-bearing exercise for the upper body, but work with weights includes even more weight-bearing exercise for the upper body (your lower body is probably fine; most aerobic exercise is weight-bearing lower body exercise).

If I understand you correctly, you're doing 2 days of yoga and 4 days a week of cardio. My understanding is that variety is good for our bodies, so, the "ideal" for your body would probably be 2 days of yoga, 2 days of cardio, and 2 days of weight training. But, the real ideal is doing 6 days of exercise you enjoy.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:00 PM on March 5, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!

I have another question actually-

Does the oft-quoted "30 minutes of exercise daily", refer to aerobic exercise, or any kind of exercise ? (I exercise about an hour each time, but I am still curious).
posted by bearette at 9:21 PM on March 5, 2012

Most classes have a warmup and cooldown, so in a one hour class you are probably working at your peak for half an hour or so. Remember that calorie counts for exercise are for a full hour of exercise, i.e. dive into the pool at 1pm and do laps until 2pm.
posted by benzenedream at 10:34 PM on March 5, 2012

Response by poster: benzenedream: the classes I take are high-intensity for most of the hour (or 50 min, depending on class).
posted by bearette at 11:07 PM on March 5, 2012

For classification purposes, all three are different kinds of exercise, but all overlap.

1) Weight training is strength training, but can be cardio if it's done a certain way (circuit training), but the focus is strength. If you want to get strong, have the best bone density and other benefits of anaerobic exercise - weight training is the best and most efficient way and will take you the furthest to these goals.

2) Cardio, also known as aerobic training certainly can develop your muscles, especially along certain dimensions (endurance), and can increase your bone density depending on the kind of cardio involved, but really those are minor aspects of what you get out of cardio. What you get out of cardio is cardio vascular and pulmonary benefits - aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to do accomplish this goal (CV and pulmonary benefits). Bone density will depend on the exact kind of cardio. F.ex., if your cardio is from biking, you will get very little bone density benefits. If you do running, you'll get decent bone density in your legs and a bit in your spine, but little in your arms etc. For bone density, and for muscle strength (as opposed to endurance), the most efficient is weight training.

3) Yoga, can have aerobic benefits (depending on the style of yoga), and can have muscle benefits (depending on the style of yoga), but what yoga gives you in spades is something else that's important: flexibility. Now, both aerobic and strength training can done in certain ways can have some flexibility benefits, but neither is as efficient and goes as far in the flexibility department as yoga. So that's what yoga gives - the cardio and strength benefits of yoga will not be as great as dedicated cardio and weight training provide respectively, but it's unparalleled in flexibility. And one of the hallmarks of aging is loss of flexibility. If you want to hold onto flexibility, yoga is extremely helpful.

So really, you should do all three if you want top of the line fitness. But, if your goal is health and only health for as long as possible and if you were restricted to only picking one of the three, then cardio is going to be of the greatest health impact for a long life. What I would do for greatest efficiency, is to do cardio for minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Add two days of weight training a week, 20 minutes each, and throw in yoga for enjoyment twice a week in a class. But cardio is #1.
posted by VikingSword at 11:37 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

bearette: "Does the oft-quoted "30 minutes of exercise daily", refer to aerobic exercise, or any kind of exercise ?"

That recommendation is primarily based around aerobic exercise; really anything that elevates your heart rate significantly and keeps it there for an extended period of time. Keeping your strength and flexibility up is certainly useful and good for you (especially as you get older), but being aerobically fit is probably the single most important thing you can do for your health. The other side of the coin is it takes relatively little time and effort to maintain enough strength and flexibility to reap most of the health benefits. Maintaining cardiovascular health takes a little more directed effort, unless you already lead a very active life.

(I should also mention that the 30min is on the low end of the recommendations. It's the old issue of getting people to aim reasonably high without discouraging them from even trying. At closer to an hour, you're doing fine.)
posted by vohk at 2:20 AM on March 6, 2012

To make your muscles stronger, you have to continually increase the load on the muscles. Usually this is done by progressively increasing the weight that you lift, by using slightly heaver weights each week. This is what strength training is about.

If you just increase the number of reps each week, but use the same weight/load each time, you will increase your endurance, and burn more calories, but you won't actually make your muscles any stronger once you've adapted to that load.

If your goals include making your muscles stronger, either for appearance or the practicality of lifting things, you should do strength training. Strength training has some benefit for maintaining your weight, as the bigger, stronger muscles you will develop will burn more calories, all day. However it's not that big a benefit for most women, you can probably do without it if you're already doing aerobics and you don't really feel like doing more exercise.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:16 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lifting weights benefits your bone density in a way that cardio does not. It's not just about your muscles becoming stronger, which plainly is true when you exercise them in any manner.

The Mayo Clinic provides a number of examples of what counts as strength training (and its benefits) here.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:05 AM on March 6, 2012

I can see how weight training could appear to be boring, and maybe it is, but like any other kind of vigorous exercise it makes you feel pretty damned good when you're done. It's exciting to see muscles starting to grow and assert themselves in places you didn't have them before. And when you show up and start doing your routine to find that suddenly the weight and rep counts that were kicking your ass two weeks ago don't even phase you anymore you know incontrovertibly that you have grown stronger. It's a good feeling.

Also, when I added some modest circuit training type dumbbell exercises to the pushups and running I had been doing THEN my gut started to slough off in a noticeably fast (and satisfying) way. And I just do high rep fairly low weight stuff, not even the low rep high weight that apparently works even better.

Try it for awhile, you might be surprised to find you like it. And if not, well now you know.
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:15 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with VikingSword -- each type of activity can be what you make of it. You can bet your funky mudra that an ashtanga class can be good interval-ish cardio; similarly my 30 minute yoga home practice has a lot of balances (arm balances, one leg balances) that are great strength training (core, shoulders), as are the triceps pushups for each sun salutation (especially if you do 20-30 over the course of the practice). If you are doing a really calm hatha class, you are still getting the flexibility benefits (which are extensive), but not as much of the strength/balance.

Similarly, as to what's "enough" cardio, 60 minutes half-assing it on the elliptical (doesn't sound like what you are doing) isn't hurting you, but, for example, you could cut it in half and add a sprint interval at the end of every 3 minutes and really get your heart pumping.

It sounds like you are doing a great job.
posted by Pax at 7:16 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

ExRx is a great little site to brush up on specifics.

To be clear on some things, weight training does not mean strength training, you can train with weights and not do strength training*. Getting stronger from an exercise does not mean it is strength training unless the exercise is specifically built around that concept. Yoga is built around the premise of flexibility and has all other kinds of bonus' like getting stronger.

*Which some people find anathema and contradictory in itself, but it's a crazy wonderful world and people have different reasons for doing things.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2012

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