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Weight training only?

weights versus cardio cartoonI’ve written before about mono exercisers, advocating instead for an account of fitness that includes multiple components. See Is there life after running? and Fitness, yes but fit for what?

It used to be that I spent time with runners who only ran, cyclists who only rode bikes, and triathletes who wildly mixed it up a bit on the endurance exercise front. But none of them, or almost none of them, lifted weights. Maybe on the off season, maybe. But even then only reluctantly in service of their chosen sport.

These days I’m hanging with some weight lifters who eschew cardio. See comics above and below!

Is it really true that the efforts of one work against the other? (Tracy is going to post later about endurance exercise and the goal of fat loss.)

It seems obviously true that at the outer limits it’s true that these goals can compete. Marathon and ultra-marathoners are small people usually. Extra weight, even in the form of muscle, just makes the job harder. Upper body muscles have no place on the bodies of cyclists who specialize in hill climbing.

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times piece on size and athletic performance. Note though that a fair amount of this is self-selection. It’s true that elite runners are small but not necessarily true that running made them small.

“The rules of physics say that distance cycling and distance running are for small people. Rowing and swimming are for people who are big. The physics is so exact that when Dr. Secher tried to predict how fast competitive rowers could go, based only on their sizes and the weights of their boats, he was accurate to within 1 percent.

At first glance, a big rower (and elite male rowers can weigh as much as 250 pounds) may seem to be at a disadvantage trying to row hard enough to push a boat through the water. But because water buoys the boat, weight becomes less of an issue compared with the enormous benefits of having strong muscles.”

The same reasoning explains why elite swimmers are big. Great male swimmers often are 6 feet 4 inches tall, and muscular. And because of the advantage that large muscles give for sprints over short distances, the shorter the distance an athlete must swim, the greater the advantage it is to be big.

Tall swimmers also have another advantage: because swimmers are horizontal in the water, their long bodies give them an automatic edge. “It’s the difference between long canoes and short canoes,” Dr. Joyner said.

Distance running is different. Tall people naturally have longer strides, but stride length, it turns out, does not determine speed. Running requires that you lift your body off the ground with each step, propelling yourself forward. The more you weigh, the harder you have to work to lift your body and the slower you will be.

The best runners are small and light, with slim legs. “If you have large legs, you have to move a big load,” Dr. Secher said. “The smaller you are, the better you are.”

See Bigger is better, except when it’s not

Here’s Fit and Feminist blogging about regretfully losing muscle while marathon training:

I will also cop to feeling frustrated that I’ve lost some of my upper body muscle, even though I made a point to lift at least twice a week and to increase my caloric intake to compensate for the calories burned off by my runs.  In fact, I ended up actually losing weight, which is basically unheard of during marathon training. The fact that this happened has led me to another realization, which is that while I really love and admire well-developed upper bodies and would love to have one of my own, I have come to the realization that I am not one of those people whose bodies can accommodate a lot of running AND have big, beautiful muscles.  So I am still focused on lifting, but it’s also with the understanding that I might not have gorgeous muscles to go along with the strength I build.  *sad trombone*

And for people interested in growing muscle, whether for strength training for body building, it’s true that running, biking, swimming marathon type distances can work against your newly built muscle.

But happily most of us aren’t performance oriented ultra-runners or only interested in the size of our muscles. Most of us are middle of the pack athletes, running middle distances and lifting weights for strength and health reasons. For us, it’s a mistake to be distracted about what’s true for those with single minded fitness goals.

I’m a  Jill of all sports and I’m okay with that even if it means I don’t do as well in any one as I would do if I did only that thing.

See you in the weight room, on the soccer field, out running, biking, or rowing, in the dojo, or on the cross country ski trails!
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16 thoughts on “Weight training only?

  1. This has been on my mind! A couple of people have suggested that I’d be better at CrossFit if I didn’t run off to teach spin classes a couple of times a week. I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten a bit slower on the bike now that I’ve been weight training and doing more CrossFit without daily cardio — I used to run and swim and bike my butt off all year! When I did my CrossFit cert, though, I took away the “fitness is a compromise” idea and decided that even if I’m not the best at CrossFit or at cycling or at whatever it is I decide to do, it’s a pretty fun pursuit to see how well I can do at all of them!

    That being said, I really enjoyed Rachel Cosgrove’s honesty in talking about how training for an ironman affected her body in her article “The Final Nail in the Cardio Coffin” – http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_final_nail_in_the_cardio_coffin – though I think it’s important to remember she is in the business of selling strength and conditioning programs to women!

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  2. Now that marathon training has ended, I’m back to doing a more well-rounded fitness regimen, and I have to say that I much prefer it that way. I’ve talked a lot about this with my husband, basically that it was fine for me to focus heavily on running when I was trying to achieve a specific time goal, but generally speaking I’m a lot happier when I’m doing a variety of things. I feel like more of a complete athlete, if that makes any sense. Maybe why I like triathlon so much?

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  3. I am glad you posted this. Being new to sports (again) I have been looking around a lot on the internet. I was surprised by the, well, I would call it the extreme opinions about what to do (and what to do). Like weight training only.
    I like variety. I am still figuring out how and what to do. Swimming, cycling, spinning, dancing, maybe each of them just for once a month, combining with weight/strength training. Maybe do a start to run-clinic for a few weeks or months. Focus on bootcamp for a few months. Then do something else. I don’t know what. Probably I will be still figuring it out when I am 80 years old. And that will take quite a while.
    I was having doubts about this approach. Will I be good at anything? But maybe that is my goal: to try as many tranings and sports as possible.

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    1. I think that’s a terrific goal. I even keep a list of things I want to try when I stop doing some of the things I do now…

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  4. Such an interesting topic, and one I worry about often, and wish I didn’t. In our quest to “mix it up” and to keep us motivated and challenging outselves, we end up changing what we look like. And sometimes those changes and shifts are a surprise, and unsettling. I have been thinking about the seasonality of workouts and the mindset shift we need to have on body expectation and one of these days will do a full post on it. It’s the one draft I have had out there that I haven’t figured out how to write yet. Thanks as always for a great post!

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  5. I’ve probably said this here before, but there is a distinction that comes up in knitting (!) that seems relvant here. People will talk about process and product knitters. Product knitters are about producing knit goods. It’s all about the finished product. Process knitters are more about the knitting itself. They try new patterns, new techniques and new yarns all the time. They might have a ton of different projects going and not finish nearly as many. That’s how I feel about athletic endeavors–I’m a process athlete. I am just not *that* interested in how fast I’m going; I’m more interested in how it feels to be going. I like to keep learning new things and playing around.

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    1. I love the knitting analogy. As an avid knitter, I tend to strike a balance between process and product. I don’t really care how long it takes me to finish something and I often have different projects on the go, but I do love the finished product as well. I’m the same about my activities. Process matters, but so does product. I didn’t realize this until I did a race where they didn’t have timing chips! I really wanted to have an official time (whatever that time may be). So: part process, part product.

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  6. Unfortunately, it’s true. You can’t have it all. This is difficult to accept if you’re performance-oriented! I struggle with this alot. I watched the movie, Rush with my wife a few nights ago. I liked it far more than she did. She said something in the context of discussing the movie that really got my attention. She said, almost matter-of-factly: “Yes, but winning in itself is rather an empty thing.” Not the way I was brought up to look at the world! But there is some truth to it. I’ve always hated losing more than I’ve ever liked winning. I’ve always been more afraid of losing than I’ve ever wanted to win. Losing makes me feel terrible. Winning – it’s good, of course, but it’s sort of fleeting and maybe finally, even a little empty, although you sleep really well after a win. My wife informed me that as I’m somewhat humble about winning and not very narcissistic, of course I don’t love winning (narcissistic braggarts she says are the only people who really love winning), and that the reason I’ve gotten good at the things that I do is more because of my fear of losing. ***sigh*** Maybe trying all sorts of things in life and in training and in sports just for the thrills and the adventure and for health reasons is actually living in a more balanced way and without fear. Maybe we don’t always have to win or be somehow en route to winning. Lots for me to think about anyway – and these actually are the things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully recover from having not to lose – but maybe I can make some headway, and get some peace and balance along the way.

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  7. While for long distance running or cycling you don’t want as much mass in the upper body, it’s important to maintain some muscular strength and endurance to maintain proper form for the duration of your event. As a marathoner, I’ve learned the value of strong upper back muscles between miles 20 and 26. I’m not a cyclist, but I have friends that bike long distances and they’ve said the same thing applies in their sport as well.

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  8. Right nutrition plays crucial role. When you are working on your fitness and weight loss goals, your body needs lots of energy in order not to be exhausted. At the same time you should avoid overeating. I was recommended to take dietary supplements developed for the U.S. Army – Military Grade Nutritionals. I must say, the result was awesome! I feel energized even after highly intensive workouts, my pounds go off much easier, and now I am in the best shape of my life. Will definitely go on like this.

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  9. The first comic really hit the nail on the head for me. I laugh when my trainer has us “do some cardio” after/between our weight training exercises. As if my heart isn’t pounding and the sweat isn’t already pouring off my body! Maybe at some level, weight training isn’t much cardio, but not for me right now.

    I’ve been struggling with weight loss and failing for so long now, that lately I’ve decided that focusing on getting stronger is the only way I’m going to make a big difference. I may eventually still weigh what I weigh, but my hope is that more of it will be from muscle and less from fat. Doing cardio only, or mostly, isn’t going to get me there. I am already and will continue to include weight training in my workouts.

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