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Prioritize Strength Training for Ultimate Fitness
Don't just do cardio to get in shape. Do weights to get in shape; so, you can do your favourite cardio actives, such as running, for the rest of your life! Experience has taught me the wisdom of the words — don't just do cardio (such as running) to get in shape. Get in shape to run!
Too many people rely on running and other forms of cardio as their sole means of exercise. Countless runners and cyclists become endurance junkies who have minimal strength, power and speed. They simply have the ability to exercise for long periods at a slow pace. Believe me, during my early years as a runner I made this mistake big time. I had the endurance to run long distances, but I was not strong. I did hours of mindless cardio on the treadmill, bike and elliptical machine, but I wasn't strong!
Strength and endurance are related, but are not one and the same. I still maintain much of my "endurance junkie" mentality, but I am aware of the problems associated with it and I am trying to take steps to get stronger and faster. To improve my strength and speed I do speed intervals, hills, weights and boot camp classes where I get to flip tires and use a sledge hammer. Hitting a tire with a sledge hammer and pushing weight plates up a hill is my (new) idea of fun!!
I do all of this because you have to be strong to stay injury-free. For example, running is hard on the body. Every time you land, your support leg has to absorb the weight of your body, plus additional impact forces. Your entire lower kinetic chain has to be strong enough to support continuous single leg impact forces far greater than just the weight of your body. If your kinetic chain is not strong enough and you don't give yourself enough recovery time between runs, injuries occur. Your body needs to be strong. You have to strength train! Do weights to strengthen your lower body and core so you can better handle the impact forces that occur while running.
All cardio activities use some muscles more than others. The bike usually causes the upper back and neck muscles to become stiff. Running can cause the hip flexors to become overworked. Therefore, too much of any one cardio activity has the potential to cause muscle imbalances. To avoid imbalances, ensure you adequately recover, cross train, stretch, and strengthen both the muscles required for your chosen cardio activity, as well as the muscles your chosen cardio activity neglects.
Strength train to be a faster and injury-free runner, cyclist, speed walker or swimmer. If you decide to increase your speed, make sure you also increase the strength of your muscles. Your strength always needs to be equal to or greater than what is demanded from the cardio activity of your choice. Build recovery time into your training schedule. If you add faster intervals into your training, allow for additional recovery to balance out the extra demands you are putting on your body. Also, don't forget to stretch.
Kathleen Trotter, MS (Exercise Science), BA (Honours) is an ironman competitor, personal trainer and writer. She is passionate about fitness and health and trains a wide variety of clients ranging from the avid athlete to individuals living with osteoporosis, Parkinson's and scoliosi. For more great articles and fitness tips visit: www.kathleentrotter.com and join Kathleen's newsletter.