Move Well

Can’t Do Cardio? Start With Strength.

By Katryna Starks

Getting fit involves 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day, but that could be difficult for some. If you find that you can’t walk, run or perform aerobic exercise for that long, it may not because you’re out of breath, it could be that your muscles are tired.

Our muscles are capable of great strength, but only when they’re used. On an average day, we have enough muscle strength to get through that day and not much more. So, for instance, if you work at an office, then your muscles are used to sitting most of the day and not being used. When you get up and try to walk or run for 20-30 minutes straight, your muscles aren’t used to that activity and duration, and they tire out quickly. The tiredness you feel and the inability to complete a workout can be discouraging, and people often quit soon after they start. So how do you get around that? Don’t worry about cardio for a while. Start with strength.

Strength training is usually performed with machines or dumbbells. Ad advantage with dumbbells is that you can work out at home, whereas machines are usually only at a gym. With strength training, you don’t have to work out for 20-30 minutes at a time. Just 5 or 10 minutes will do if you’re a beginner. The goal with strength training is to actually push your muscles to fail. That’s because when muscles fail, they tear. When they rebuild, they become stronger, enabling you to do more. In strength training, muscle failure is not working out until you can’t move – it means to work until you can no longer keep perfect form. So, for instance, if you’re performing a bicep curl (weight in hand near your knees, lift weight to your shoulders and lower) and you can’t get the weight up to your shoulders anymore without resting or wobbling, then you have worked your bicep muscle to failure.

If you work out at a gym with machines, the machines or the gym trainers will guide you to an appropriate weight. If you have dumbbells, it’s good to use a weight that you can lift 8-12 times. Traditional strength training involves working one muscle at a time, in alternating sets. That means you would work on your biceps for 12 repetitions, then move to your legs for 12 repetitions, then back to your biceps again after they have rested. A newer form of strength training is called functional exercise. In functional exercise, you use the entire body to perform movements that mimic the types of movements you do in real life. Dumbbells are involved because machines don’t usually have settings for functional exercises. These involved not only lifting, but squatting, twisting and balancing. Several of these are incorporated into each move. For instance, a traditional bicep exercise is the curl, described above. A functional full-body exercise would involve a squat (sit back without a chair and then stand straight again) and then a bicep curl once you’re standing. Full-body exercises work more muscles at once, so they can allow for very short workout sessions.

If you want to try a home strength program, there are several good ones on DVD. Ones I recommend are:

The Firm: Tough Tape 2

Jari Love

Supreme 90 Day

After a few weeks or months of strength training, your muscles will be strong enough to hold you through 20-30 minutes of cardio exercise. Once you can do cardio, you might find that you like it. Then, you’re on your way to a lifetime of fitness!

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