“How often do you work out?” is a common question many healthy people get in daily conversation. Some people have a daily workout plan, while others workout multiple times per week. Whatever your frequency, be sure to include a mixture of both aerobic exercise and strength training in your overall health plan. They both have their benefits and work together to help you achieve your goals. And it is also very important to not go too hard, too fast – you can end up hurting your body more than you are helping it.
When we start any new exercise, whether it be aerobic or strength training, our body makes changes so it is easier for us to do it the next time – so it’s not so stressful on the entire body. This is called stress adaptation theory or General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), the process which the body responds to and adapts to stress. By understanding how your body reacts to the stress of training, you can better fine-tune your workouts, getting better results without pushing your body to the point of exhaustion.
For resistance exercise, it’s very explicit—forcing contractions of your muscles end up causing you to get stronger and bigger muscles. Let’s take one classic strength training exercise, the bench press, for example. As a person’s body performs more repetitions, moving solidly into the resistance phase of GAS, the exertion causes fatigue within the muscle group. Stop at the first sign of soreness and your performance will not improve. However, push yourself beyond in a safe manner, and you will be able to lift more weight and more repetitions as you develop.
And as you gain more muscle, your Resting Metabolic Rate increases. Those muscles that you pushed to the max in your resistance training workout will burn more calories over a 48-hour period as they repair themselves, increasing their size and power.
When it comes to someone who has really worked on aerobic exercise – think of a marathon runner – they are lean and fit. As they run longer and longer distances, they continuously push their body – and get the runner’s high – an increase of dopamine in the brain. But too much aerobic exercise without strength training can actually lower muscle mass. Usually, marathon runners have great leg muscles but are lacking in upper-body mass and overall body fat. Because they have focused so much on their running, they have less body fat to burn. Their body has adapted to reducing the upper-body muscles they aren’t stressing along with any extra body fat – a lighter body is easier to move down the running trail than a heavier body. The athlete who constantly runs actually has a lower RMR – burning fewer calories – than someone who is doing only strength training.
In order to get a good balance for your body type, you need to combine both aerobic and strength training. This allows you to obtain the right RMR to burn enough calories to get – and maintain – a healthy weight for you, while building and maintaining an optimal muscle mass. Yes, it is a balancing act. Working with a training professional who knows the benefits of a combined strength training program and aerobic exercise program to increase muscle mass without stunting muscle growth is essential.