Exercise variety can maximize your health returns and reduce your risk of injury. On the flip side, focusing on one modality at a time can enhance your sport or exercise-specific performance. So, the decision is yours. Without further ado, let’s look at the pros and cons of focusing your physical efforts on endurance training, high-intensity interval training, Pilates, yoga, light weightlifting, and heavy strength training.
Pros – Endurance training is when you exercise in an aerobic zone. This includes a wide range of movements and sports, from walking to riding a bike, and more. Generally speaking, when you’re exercising in this zone, you can sustain your effort for longer periods of time, possibly even while carrying on a light conversation. The ability to sustain energy in this zone means that you can oftentimes handle both longer workouts and more frequent endurance workouts. Either of these scenarios can help you stick to a training plan, burn calories and improve cardiovascular health. Endurance training is great for fat burning and individuals of all fitness levels.
Cons – Although endurance training usually yields fat-metabolism for fuel, too much of this exercise can also deplete muscle stores. This can happen when individuals overtrain, do not supplement their exercise with proper nutrition, and/or do not balance their regimens with strength training. Also, in recent history, there has been some evidence that extreme endurance exercise training may cause abnormalities in the heart. Hey! What do ya know? You don’t have to make yourself feel guilty for not being an ultra-marathoner!
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Pros – HIIT is an awesome, time-efficient way to get in your workout. It involves high-intensity bouts of exercise interspersed with moderate to light-intensity exercises for recovery. Not only is this exercise format a time-saver, but it also causes Excess Post-Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC is a term used to describe the extra oxygen that your body demands and consumes following rigorous exercises. While consuming this extra oxygen, your body’s metabolism is elevated. This means that you’re continuing to burn calories for as much as 36 hours following a HIIT workout! Not bad, I must say!
Cons – There is no standard formula for a HIIT workout, even though there are some commonly used routines (for example, a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio). This means that you could walk into an exercise class and be asked to perform any number of different exercise regimens. While this keeps things fresh and full of variety, it also means that unqualified fitness professionals could lead you – and your body – astray. This is especially true if you’re a beginner or have a low level of fitness since HIIT is very intense, putting individuals at a higher risk for injury if left unsupervised or asked to perform exercises to the point of fatigue (which causes many people to lose form). My advice: trust your gut. Always recognize your right to step out of class or choose an exercise modification that better suits your needs, if you’re not comfortable.
Pros – Yoga is one of the oldest exercise practicies, dating back at least 5,000 years ago! Something with staying power like that is bound to be worthy of our attention, right?! Various yoga disciplines and formats can be great for different goals. You can attend a class that focuses on breathing and find that it helps you with stress management and mental clarity. You can also attend a power yoga class to exert some energy, challenge muscles and improve flexibility. Specific poses can improve your balance, core strength, hip flexibility, shoulder stability, and more.
Cons – The trickiest thing about yoga is finding a class that suits all of your physical, mental and spiritual needs. Certain westernized yoga practices focus more exclusively on the physical, while branches of Ashtanga yoga and Hatha yoga may take you a bit deeper. Some people love repeating mantras, learning sanskrit and being encouraged to do service yoga, while others just want to zone out during some sun salutations. Whatever your yogi-cup-of-tea, keep at it until you find one you love! A little research on the formats never hurts. One last thing worth noting though; you won’t have the same muscle and cardiovascular gains doing yoga as you will in other exercise formats. In fact, some people increase their risk of injury by doing prolonged stretches too often. So, since yoga is all about union and harmony, try to find some balance between your yoga sessions and other exercises each week.
Pros – Pilates traditionally focuses on the core muscles, so anything between your hips and neck. This means that you will be extra vigilent in your awareness about proper posture and core control during one of these workouts. Pilates can be done on a mat, with or without props, and on specialized machinery (most commonly the reformer, cadillac and barrel). If you’re looking to achieve spinal alignment, Pilates is for you! If you’re eager to reduce back pain or increase your core strength, give it a try!
Cons – Several traditional Pilates disciplines focus on the same exercise series for every workout. While these exercises can be scaled for your fitness level, you may reach a plateau after regularly performing them. Some people feel that they don’t get great weight-loss or strength gains from Pilates. Thus, it’s important to get individual advice from your instructor on how to get the most out of each movement and/or how to find a new, more challenging (or less challenging) class. Another drawback worth noting is that it can be difficult to find affordable options for exercising on Pilates-specific equipment. Group classes on reformers are becoming more common and help reduce the costs of participation when compared with paying for one-on-one instruction, but they can be hard to find depending on the diversity of options in your neighborhood.
Pros – Light weightlifting is a great way to workout on days when you don’t have a lot of energy or if you’re new to exercise. Lifting light weights will pump blood to your muscles and stabilize your body. It may also give you a little cardiovascular training effect. Lighter weights are also great if you’re recovering from an injury, tapering down your training regimen, or in need of practicing exercise form/technique before graduating to higher weight classes. These weights may be little, but they can lead to strength! Plus, little dumbbells are kinda cute, right?! Or is that really weird of me to say?…
Cons – While lighter weights are certainly the way to go when you’re learning a new exercise, they aren’t what you need forever. Unfortunately, a lot of women get into a comfort zone with 2.5-15 lb weights and fear that grabbing heavier weights will cause them to bulk up (which is not true…just read the next section below!). This can hold women back from gaining more muscle and reaping greater metabolic and strength benefits. Interestingly, only 10 reps or less is considered strength training – and that’s 10 hard reps, not casual ones. So, if you’re looking for more gains, you can’t pump out 15+ easy-to-moderate reps with five pounders forever. I know, I know, they’ll miss you too!
Heavy Strength Training
Pros – Strength training with weights that feel subjectively heavy to you is an excellent way to stimulate your body to adapt. It can lead to muscle gains, bone mass gains, increased metabolism, decreased risk of injury, improvements in joint health, and more! Strength training is an anaerobic activity. In other words, your body uses different energy for this exercise when compared with endurance training, which is aerobic (see explanation above). Perhaps the biggest bonus to strength training is the impact on your physique. That’s right, this exercise format more than any other can help you feel amazing in a strapless gown or bikini. Time to make friends with the barbell!
Cons – Strength training is very technique-intensive. Without proper form you can easily go wrong in this exercise category. Also, various weight-lifting methods can be complicated to understand for the non-professional. Split training, progressive overload, periodization, and other approaches can feel confusing. This can discourage people who are looking for something effective and straightforward. Thus, if you’re interested in strength training and you’ve never worked with a professional, I suggest that you invest in a few training sessions and make your goals clear to the trainer you’re working with. He or she will respect your desire to get a “crash course” in weight lifting basics so that you can practice them on your own. The trainer can also help decipher what kind of regimen will be best for your body, goals, time commitment, and schedule.
Pick your exercise poison and enjoy! Just keep in mind that even if you’re an awesome marathon runner or a heavy-weight champ in the gym, you will need to build in what’s called taper or recovery weeks where you exert less effort and allow your body to restore. Generally, if we don’t balance out our training a little bit, the pendulum is liable to swing in a direction away from optimal performance (often into injury or fatigue).
Have another exercise format (or sport) you’re wondering about?! Fire away in the comments section or email me directly via the Contact form! I’m happy to answer questions about kickboxing, tai chi, skiing, cycling, contact sports, and more!
Yours in health and wellness,