Why It Is Critical to Balance Weight Lifting and Cardio
I started religiously lifting weights a little over two and a half years ago. My big push or drag into the gym (past the treadmills) and onto the weight floor was my brother. I had anxiety and self-confidence issues that previously stopped me from stepping into the free weight section. I followed my little brother (who is far bigger than me) like a puppy and constantly worried about form and avoiding what he called “flailing.” Basically, I didn’t want to look like a complete idiot… although I still did, according to my brother.
On the rare occasion when other women snuck onto the weight section, my eyes would laser target them and look for any sympathy or encouragement. I received darted awkward glances in return… it would be months until I learned why. After extensive time in the gym, I became like them. I don’t seek attention or search for stares. I am there for myself. If you’re a woman on the weight floor and you have done your research, you’re in it for the long haul. Not wanting to embarrass my brother, I learned to avoid filling the stereotypes of women in the gym.
When I was new to lifting, I had no real female support. Basically, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to give a flying poop if men or women stared at me. My mission was to do the exact same training routine as my brother. LIFT LIKE A MAN! That first year, my brother semi-patiently taught me tricks about different grips and posture, small tweaks to build mind-muscle connection etc. It all came so naturally to him but it was like a foreign language to me. I eventually did a lot of my own research and branched out from my exact same training method to add muscle movements that worked for my targeted weak areas.
After countless lift sessions, I grew accustomed to the different “types” of men in the gym and how to interact (or not) with them. These are a few types that I have witnessed.
We will start the list with the typical flexers. Flexers go to the gym for one reason and one reason only, vanity. Flexers perform an exercise to get a quick “pump” resting between sets to whip out there phone to take a selfie or express self-love of their gains.
Next we have the socialite, who work out with their bros intensely and enthusiastically, (perhaps with too much enthusiasm) spotting each other to the point where the actual person performing the lift is no longer making contact with the weight. They also enjoy shrieking at the top of their lungs during a lift or in the celebratory moment after a lift to show that they mean business, or possibly it is because of the deadly dosages of preworkout coursing through their veins. Of course you will also find them gabbing and socializing between sets with whomever they deem worthy.
Then there are the noobs who simply have no clue what to do. They seem to be caught in a mindless cycle of performing the same exercises over and over with poor form while constantly darting their eyes towards the biggest dude in the room. They want to improve but are unwilling to do the research or try new things.
You may encounter the anomaly that is “the flailer” as my brother calls it. A newb shares some similar traits to this lifter but a “flailer” is the evolved form. This is a newb who never escaped the their status but has instead embraced it using all the wrong attachments to perform wierd contorted exercises God would cringe at. The flailer loves the cable section and this is where you will most likely spot them performing weird dance like movements. They use the perfect amount of weight to make them swing and levitate in air, slamming loudly every time they come back down to earth. When they use a machine, it will be in the exact opposite way that a normal human would use it and attempt to work a muscle group that the machine was never intended for.
Finally we have the “lone wolf”, the men that put their earphones in, blast music and put in a solid workout. They prefer to be left alone so that they can focus entirely on what they came to the gym to do, workout with a purpose (I guess you can tell which I prefer).
Slowly, I started looking at those working out around me as not men or women, but different levels of experience with moves and exercises I could learn from, or mistakes I could laugh at (I know I am a jerk)
Few women stepped foot into my world at that particular gym, but when they did, instinctively I noticed. I took a great deal of time chiseling my way into this gym’s atmosphere. The regulars knew me, and left me alone with a simple nod of hello. Sometimes a new woman stepping on the floor and causing “issues” could threaten that spot I felt I “earned.” When one woman hogs multiple machines, moves large amounts of dumbbells to random places, or gets in the line of sight between the mirror, it felt like suddenly all women committed the same gym crimes. When I witnessed women filling classic female stereotypes, I found myself greatly embarrased . I would often get angry with myself for not supporting (if even just mentally) other women in my gym trying to lift weights for the first time. After all, I was new at one point and lucky enough to have a gym partner that taught me gym etiquette that otherwise I would have never known.
I started trying to take note of why I felt so keen on observing women’s behavior on the weight floor and why it should matter to me. Similar to the typical workout types of men in the gym, my brother and I came to the conclusion that the same goes for women. Over the years and after working out at several gyms we noticed three categories of women (I am sure more exist but these are the three that we consistently could pick out). The following is a slightly exaggerated breakdown (So don’t take it too personally):
- Cardio bunnies- Spending the entire workout on a cardio machine. There are two types of cardio bunnies. One does extreme cardio where you can hear their breath throughout the entire gym, even in the locker room. The second does cardio half-assedly, careful not to break much of a sweat. Their eyes are glued to their phone or maybe even a book (yes, I have witnessed this). They will always have their hair and make-up done perfectly.
2. #Instahoe gym edition- Every day is a leg day routine focused on the glutes for these girls. Photos and videos are recorded by friends from just the right “sexy” angle to increase followers and comments. A majority of the workout is spent on the phone tweaking filters and hogging the squat rack. Their finely developed posterior chain is undeniable, however, If you were to look at their top half you would assume they have never touched a weight in their life.
3. Women who lift weights and incorporate some cardio- These women balance cardio routines with targeted lift sessions. They are not there to flirt, be embarrassed by how they look, or post endless buttocks pics (the occasional is fine- you work hard for those gains). They do their own research, ask questions and learn from those around them. They are there to improve and achieve the goal physique they have in their mind.
Regardless of what type you fall under, if you’re in the gym, that is a GREAT start! Here is a breakdown of some of the characteristics, benefits, or negative health implications of each female gym goer. Also included are some quotes from women in the fitness field.
1. Cardio Bunnies
Why do women limit themselves to the cardio section?
Intimidation can chain women to the treadmill
One reason, according to Vanessa Eggenschwiler, an advocate for women’s lifting, is that men are objectifying women in the gym leading us to shun the weight section.
“This objectification keeps us women away from the gym. That is, we stick to the rooms where there is a shortage of men. Most evidently, this means the cardio rooms. This is where we women get our bad reputations. Men mock women who stick to the elliptical or the stair master.”
Because of this objectification and unwanted stares, our health is harmed. We limit ourselves and our potential. I am still trying to get my mom off the elliptical for a short lift but that invisible wall between the “women’s section” and the “Men’s section,” is so burned into her routine.
According to Radhika Sanghani on WebMd,
“Women feel judged and unwelcome in the weight section… Friends tell me the thought of men staring at them has put them off trying anything but the treadmill in the gym… It seems that, in the gym, women are either seen as attractive, pitiable or plain annoying.”
Ignorance and myths hinder women from changing up their routine
The myth abounds that a woman lifting weights will turn her into a massive hulk like machine that is no longer her ideal body.
This is simply not the case. To achieve massive BULKY proportions takes specific training paired with diet and YEARS spent training in the gym. The average women lifting weights will find the benefits are a toned figure, curves in all the right places and a higher metabolism and calorie burn throughout the day.
Kellie Davis, from Body Builders addresses the common misconceptions and lists 8 great health benefits for lifting weights.
“Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the horror stories: lifting heavy weights makes women bulky, it’s dangerous, it’s bad for your joints, and once you have muscle, you can’t stop lifting or it will all turn to fat. It’s all BS, and it feeds into stereotypes that are keeping too many women from experiencing the profound benefits of resistance training.”
Cardio Burn Out – Get off that machine and lift a weight!
Vanessa Eggenschwiler wrote a great post stating what happens if you ONLY do large amount of cardio:
Aerobic exercise like an hour long treadmill session tends to burn both fat and muscle. Strength training is actually the best way to lose all that stored fat you want gone. The amount of muscle you have actually determines your resting metabolic rate. So, you definitely do not want to be burning those muscles off. You want to be gaining them.
In fact, hours of endless cardio that is not strategic (like HIIT cardio) has a multitude of negative health implications. Some of them I found surprising. For example, overdoing cardio can actually lead to overeating munchies at night, an increase in free radicals, damage to your metabolism and more!
2. #Instahoes Gym Edition
If you follow fitness on Instagram, you have most likely scrolled through several glute workout routines with fantastic looking women in leggings or extremely short shorts (I dare say underwear).
There is a mixed reaction to this dramatic increase in glute workouts. Regardless of opinion, there exists reasoning behind this phenomena:
Men tend to focus their attentions and social media posts on their upper body. While women display more pictures and receive more comments on lower body posts.
According to Carol Sorgen there is a rationale behind these focus areas in training when interviewing a Pilates instructor she wrote:
“Men also tend to have better upper body strength than women. ‘But that is where their vanity lies, and they work harder to keep those areas of their body better defined…women also tend to have better lower body strength, but I think that has more to do with wanting to keep our tushies and legs in shape…'”
Of course there are extremes. If a woman only does intense glute exercises, they will become disproportionate. On the plus side, leg days are great calorie burners and cardio in themselves!
3. A balanced confident woman in the gym
Once women get the nerve to break free of the “cardio only” mentality, we actually have some strengths going for us. We tend to be more balanced in our approach to fitness. Carol Sorgen supports this:
“Once they get past their initial reluctance, women tend to have a balanced approach to fitness… Their workouts are more likely to include a mix of cardio, strength training and mind-body practices such as yoga or Tai Chi.”
Benefits of balanced cardio/weight lifting
There are great reasons for balancing cardio with weights:
- It slows muscle loss from aging and increase connective tissues
- Decreases the chance of injury and increases bone density
- Weight lifting sustains weight loss, burning calories hours after your workout is complete
- Rebuilding muscle lost by dieting and increases the metabolism
What Women In the Fitness Industry Have to Say
Women challenge the status quo in the gym daily and try to encourage others to pick up weights and improve their health and self-image too. One such woman is Kait Cavers, a coach and mentor who vlogs her personal journey and goals for everyone to see.
I asked Kait her thoughts on the types of women she notices in the gym and for any advice she may have. I was curious to see if she noticed the same trends that my brother and I found.
This was her advice for women stuck in the cardio bunny phase:
“I feel there’s just a general lack of understanding of the benefits of weight lifting. Many women strive for a streamlined “toned” look to their physiques; but, will often steer clear of the weights for fear of gaining too much muscle mass or looking “bulky” (which simply isn’t possible for women without the use of PEDs). In reality, lifting (NOT cardio) is actually what helps create that beautiful “toned” look!”
I was surprised to learn that Kait had been on the never ending cardio wheel too-
“When I first began my fitness journey, I too was stuck in the cardio cycle – and wondering why I wasn’t getting the physical results I wanted. It wasn’t until I began lifting that I started to see positive changes to my physique – not to mention, I was able to EAT MORE while dropping inches from everywhere on my body. Win/Win!” My advice is – hire a PT or a Coach! Have someone create a lifting program tailored to your specific goals – and run through it with you a few times until you’re feeling comfortable enough to take it in to your own hands. Lifting is going to do more for your physique (and general health) than cardio ever will! Cardio has its place within a program, but the focus should (almost) always be on lifting!”
I asked Kait how she deals with the pressures of the gym and specifically men in the gym:
“No matter the gym, no matter the clientele, we’re all a little shy when we’re just starting out (men included). I’ve never had an issue, or felt pressure training with men (I’ve made a lot of great friends with the guys in my gym!). I believe we all have a right to be there, we all have a right to be using the equipment, and we all have a right to be taking up space. If you’ve paid for a membership at a gym, you have just as much right to be there as anyone else. Sure, you get some lurkers (true of anywhere you go if you’re a female!) but if you can learn to ignore that and focus on yourself – everyone (other women too) in the weight room eventually becomes white noise. “
Here are Kait’s honest thoughts about the gym version of a #Instahoe
Again, I feel everyone has a right to be in the gym, doing what they want (as long as you’re following gym guidelines and acting/dressed appropriately). If it’s something you don’t agree with (on social media) you can choose to not follow. Honestly, if it gets more women lifting, if it gets more women in the gym, if it gets more women inspired and motivated – I’m all for it. Props to these ladies who are body-confident and owning that!
Now when I step into the gym, I try to understand all the different types of people I meet. In the end, everyone who is in the gym’s four walls made the effort to get there for their health. They made the first and hardest step. Now I would love to see more women on the weight floor learning as we go just like any man, working on ourselves and our goals. Less cardio, more weights ladies!