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The Power Combination For Body Composition Change

So you want to lose some unwanted body fat and trim down to a leaner physique. What will be your exercise of choice, cardiovascular exercise or resistance training?

Unfortunately far too often I see individuals make this choice when in reality they should’ve picked both!

Changing your body composition is more than just a matter of burning calories or doing some weight training a couple times a week. A reality that many find out in frustration from not seeing the results they want from their exercise program.

In today’s post I’m going to dig into this issue and provide you with some simplistic advice on how to combine cardio and resistance training for optimal results.

More after the jump…

So why is it that a lot of people choose just one form of exercise?

The biggest reason in my opinion is simply misinformation, but I think it probably does go deeper than that. After being a fitness coach for over twenty years and watching countless individuals make this mistake, I’ve found the reasons can be found in one or more of the following:

The avoidance of one form of exercise, like weight training, out of fear it will make you big and bulky.

Obviously this is more of a concern for women. There’s still a common misconception that weight training is for building muscle and cardio is for weight loss. When will this myth ever die? Ladies take a look around at what the women who have the body you want are doing.

I’m not talking about the twenty something who can eat whatever she wants and does some cardio classes a few times a week and maintains a killer body. There’s a lot you some women can get away with when they’re younger due to hormonal balances and metabolism.

Show me a woman who’s over forty with a lean, sculpted body, and chances are she’s doing some form of resistance training to get that physique. The “cardio only” approach to exercise is terribly ineffective for weight loss and body composition change for most women when they hit their mid-thirties and beyond.

Choosing one form of exercise, like aerobics or cardio, because of the belief it will burn more calories and therefore be the best choice for weight loss.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until I’m blue in the face…exercise is not simply a matter of burning calories. Your diet will play a far greater role in the calorie equation than any amount of exercise you do.

Stop being obsessed with how many calories you burned on the stair-climber or whatever. It’s really not that important.

The body gives up excess fat stores for energy when the conditions are right. There’s a lot at play here with metabolically active lean muscle, hormonal balances, glycogen levels, etc, etc.

In my experience, exercise that creates a metabolic disturbance in conjunction with aerobic activity is far more effective than aerobic exercise alone. This is why I’m such a proponent of burst training and interval training having a role in the overall equation.

Choosing one form of exercise because it provides the least amount of discomfort.

Let’s face it, reading your Ipad while on the elliptical won’t be nearly as discomforting as pushing yourself through a high intensity weight training session. While the old adage “no pain, no gain” is often taken out of context, I will say that if some of your workouts don’t challenge you, your exercise routine isn’t likely to change you.

Nobody said this would be “easy.” How many things that were worthwhile have you ever accomplished that were easy? Changing your shape is going to require some good old fashioned hard work. Know that going in and accept the reality.

If you hate to sweat, feel even a tad bit of discomfort, or aren’t willing to push yourself, don’t expect to see a significant change in your shape. The infomercials will still be there with some quick-fix gimmick that will eventually let you down.

Choosing one form of exercise because of the belief that any exercise done a few times a week should be enough to see a body composition change.

I see this often with individual’s who meet with a personal trainer 2-3 times per week for 30 minute sessions and that’s all they do.

When you add it up we’re talking about 60-90 minutes of exercise TOTAL for the week. Now granted if an individual’s diet is spot on and they’re blessed with a fast metabolism, this may be enough to see results.

However, for individuals who have a lot of weight to lose, are just starting out on an exercise routine, and are likely dealing with metabolic issues, they’re simply going to require more time with aerobic based exercise.

Choosing one form of exercise because that worked for someone you know.

After all, my friend Janice just went to that Zumba class three times a week and look at her! Trying to compare what worked for someone else to what will work for you is an exercise in futility. Everyone will simply be different. The laundry list of individual differences and unique needs makes these comparisons useless. Bottom line is you’ve got to find out what works for you.

I’m sure I’m missing a few others, but you get the point. Decisions made on what type of exercise to do aren’t always made with the end results in mind. Sure, there’s a hope that it will work, but more often than not you’ll find a litany of excuses used to justify why only <fill in the blank> exercise is performed.

If what you’re doing for exercise is working for you, there’s no need to read any further. However, if you’re not happy with the changes in your shape that you’re seeing from your exercise routine, it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing.

In all my years coaching and consulting with personal training clients, I can tell you that the best combination of exercise for body composition change is…

Cardio PLUS Resistance Training

Variety really is the key to a balanced fitness regiment that will produce a change in body composition. If you’re meeting with a personal trainer 2-3 times a week for resistance workouts or doing it on your own, great, keep it up. Resistance training is an essential piece of the fat loss puzzle.

However, if you’re not doing much, or any, cardiovascular exercise, you’re going to want to make the time to do it. I’m a big believer in 30 minute workouts, heck I’ve built an entire business model around it. Unless you’re a competitive athlete or bodybuilder, there’s simply no need to spend any more time than 30 minutes with resistance training if you’re doing it right.

Burst training and metabolic circuits are ideal for resistance training and can be done in 20-30 minutes. However, if weight loss is a primary goal you’ll want to spend an additional 20-30 minutes (before or after) your resistance training doing aerobic exercise.

Aerobic or cardio exercise should also be completed on the days in which you’re not doing resistance training. The time spent on the workouts will vary depending on the intensity, fitness level, and other variables, but you’re looking at 30-60 minutes of cardio work on in-between days as well.

The best way to approach this is committing to 30-60 minutes of exercise 5 x per week if weight loss is your primary goal. If you don’t have an hour to commit each day, block out 30 minutes. Even 30 minutes done 5 x week can produce results if you’re willing to work hard and increase the intensity of your workouts over time.

If you don’t have 30 minutes to commit to exercise, 5 x week, you’re going to have to make sure your priorities align up with your expectations. Doing 30 minutes of exercise 2-3 times per week won’t be all that effective for a body composition change unless your diet is spot on.

Once again, more advanced exercisers, already lean individuals, etc, may be able to make this work. Just don’t expect it if you’re 20 or more pounds overweight and somewhat deconditioned.

Research seems to confirm this idea. A recent study found that obese individuals who participated in 30 minute aerobic exercise plus 30 minute strength training workouts, lost nearly four times more fat than those who just did hour long aerobic exercise at a similar intensity.

There’s little denying the effectiveness of strength training plus cardio in my opinion. I’ve seen this combination work to produce scores of body transformations at my Charleston personal training studio. It’s rare that you see someone lose 20 pounds or more and make a significant change in their shape with just a few resistance workouts each week.

Bottom line is if you’re not doing resistance training, start doing it. Two to three times per week at 30 minutes per workout is suffice.If you’re not doing aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, start doing that as well. Even 30 minutes a day for 3-5 times a week can be enough to tip the scales the way you want it.

Granted, all this is contingent on your diet. Although it should be obvious, it bears repeating that no amount of exercise will make up for a crappy diet. Get your diet in line and things will fall in place even with moderate exercise.

A properly designed diet will have far more impact than any amount of exercise you could do. I’ll go so far as saying it’s 70-80% of the equation.

At the end of the day just make sure your expectations are aligning up with what you’re willing to commit to doing with both diet and exercise.

If you won’t make the necessary changes in your diet, spend the additional time doing cardio or resistance training, you’ll only have to look in the mirror to identify the excuse for why you’re not seeing results.

It’s not rocket science folks, changing your shape requires effort and commitment with your diet and exercise. What you see in results will be in direct correlation to what you’ve put in.

Sometimes what you’re doing simply needs tweaked. That’s where the counsel and advice from a knowledgeable fitness professional can help.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Once I started listening to what my personal trainer has been saying all along, it all started to click.”

Be willing to take a long, hard, honest look at the decisions you’re making with diet and exercise. If you’re not happy with where you’re at, simply be willing to make a change. Critique your excuses to determine if they’re legitimate or not. Ask yourself, “how important really is it to see the results I want?”

Make up your mind, get someone to hold you accountable, then go for it! There’s no stopping you if the desire is high and you’ve got the right information. After that it’s all a matter of do or do not.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Fitness Training.