A well-designed resistance training workout and program can produce a greater cardiovascular response than traditional aerobic exercise. The trick is knowing how to design and implement it properly and intensely enough to elicit the response. Unfortunately, most gym goers attempt to apply the same techniques or principles they use with cardio exercise to strength exercises...this is a major mistake because the two forms of exercise couldn’t be more different.
If you have followed my previous articles, you know that moving slowly through a full range of motion while performing resistance-training exercises is the safest and most efficient way of gaining lean muscle. But strength exercise is also a safer and more efficient way of improving cardiovascular fitness. Common weight lifting methods include moving way too quickly and, in turn, taking very little time to complete the set...typically with a submaximal effort—anywhere from five to 20 seconds. And these same people take way too much rest in between strength exercises—anywhere from 60 seconds to five minutes.
The “Freeze” Test
When it comes to proper strength training exercise rep speed, momentum is the enemy. A good indicator to determine if you are using the correct rep pace is something I refer to as the “freeze” test.
Simply speaking, it means that at any given moment while performing a strength exercise, you should be able to pause or freeze and hold the resistance statically. Contrary to what most gym goers believe, it is not necessary to move quickly (like traditional cardiovascular exercise) to increase and maintain an elevated heart rate. But it is necessary to maintain constant muscular tension from the second you initiate the set to the second before you end the set!
We’re not doing “segmented” repetitions where you are “resting” in between each rep—allowing your muscles to relax before the set is completed. It destroys the integrity of the exercise, essentially “cheating” and wasting the work you’ve put in during that exercise.
Intensity of Effort
Intensity, as I define it and how it relates to strength training, is the amount of “work” done in a given amount of time. One of the things that determines intensity is effort. So, pick a weight or resistance (some experimentation is needed here) that is challenging but not so heavy that you are not able to control the entire range of motion and get to a total time under load (TUL), reaching momentary muscular failure anywhere from 60 seconds to three minutes.
A common mistake by many fitness enthusiasts when performing strength exercises is having a predetermined number of repetitions in their head before starting an exercise (like 10, 12 or 15). This encourages “submaximal” work...which means that if you stop at 10 reps when you could have done 15, you might as well do nothing. Well, you are burning calories, but metabolically you’re making no impact.
Change your thinking. Be in the moment. The only thing that matters is the repetition you’re performing at this second. This is where utilizing the services of a professional fitness trainer who documents and keeps accurate records in a private workout journal is very useful and can help with overcoming the emotional and psychological roadblocks that sometimes hinders progressing safely and seeing consistent results.
The “Stopwatch” Test
Rest (or lack thereof) is the other thing that determines intensity. Not rest between workouts, no, what I’m talking about is rest between exercises. One should strive to keep the rest between strength exercises anywhere from five to 30 seconds, depending on your current fitness level. The less rest taken, the higher the intensity.
There is a simple test you can use that allows you to really understand how much actual “work” is being done versus how much “rest” is taken in a workout. Take two stopwatches. One is used as a “running” clock that is started when you begin the first rep of the first exercise and stopped when you finish the last exercise. The other watch is a “work” timer. It is used only when you’re performing the exercises—start it simultaneously when you start each exercise and stop it after each completed exercise. You can then figure out how much actual “rest” time by subtracting total time from work time.
Comparing the three numbers can tell you quite a bit. Ideally, if you’re properly performing 8-12 full body strength-training movements in the manner outlined in this article, the total workout time should be anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes. And the “work” stopwatch should be as close to the total workout time as possible. If the two numbers are not close, slowly condition your body by increasing the TUL (and number of exercises) and decreasing the rest time between.
Try this the next time you go to the gym: Start a running clock when you take the first step through the door, and stop it as you exit. Then use another “work” clock only (starting and stopping) during the time you’re exercising. Compare the two. Chances are your “rest” time is more than your “work” time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it is! Again, just slowly work to make your work time closer to your total time.
Another added benefit to performing strength-training exercises as opposed to traditional cardiovascular exercise is that you don’t get the pounding and impact on your joints that those exercises sometimes can cause. But there’s nothing wrong with performing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on opposite days you’re strength training. However, if you’re pressed for time and concerned about getting the most bang for your buck (both aerobically and anaerobically), strengthening your joints and fat loss, you might want to skip the treadmill or elliptical and try a “metabolic” strength workout instead.