Meet the experts – cardio vs weights

Meet the experts – cardio vs weights

Elspeth Storrar is a VPT based in Gymbox Old Street who specialises in strength and conditioning. She explains to us the need for a combination of being strong, whilst having a well trained cardiovascular system. "Strength is needed to different degrees to support the demands of an athlete, and it will make you feel amazing and look good naked, too" she says. So no excuses, feel the burn!

I'm a long distance runner who up until about two years ago solely focused on training my cardiovascular fitness (conditioning), tracking my weekly mileage, and monitoring my weight as makers for increasing my performance. This got me to a time of 3 hrs10 for the London Marathon in 2013, but my progress stopped there, my body could not cope with the demands needed as a marathon runner at this level. I just did not have the strength for my body to recover from the training required.

Since then, I have now adopted a 50/50 approach to my training, in terms of lifting and cardio. This is adapted based on my current goals. It’s currently cross country season, so I need to ensure that my legs feel fresh for races at the weekends.

Strength training has helped me in recovery in terms of being able to train more, and I also feel more powerful getting up and down the hills. My current goal for strength is to squat 100kg, double my body weight. I know it will take me longer (perhaps years) as cardio has a strong presence in my training, but I'm interested to see how this will progress my performance as a runner. I hope it will get me through the training to achieve a sub three hour marathon time.

Why you should train your cardiovascular system and lift weights

To summarise, you train your cardiovascular system through increasing your heart rate, it gives us endurance – the ability to do thing for longer periods of time. You increase your strength through a progressive overload of weights and building muscle, which makes you look good too!

In terms of cardio, there are numerous benefits in training it. You'll have more energy throughout the day, and have the ability to train for longer. Apart from its assistance in creating a negative energy balance to assist with weight loss, you won’t see to many physical changes, but you will feel it in your heart.

As an athlete it will make you go faster and for longer if trained effectively. Having a stronger cardiovascular system could benefit your weight training too, it can help you get through a tougher workout in the weights room, you'll have the ability get more done in the time spent there, it will encourage oxygen delivery to your muscles, thus more gains. Being strong can help day to day activities too – from a supporting a correct posture whist sitting in the office, to making the weekly shopping more manageable. Strength is needed to different degrees to support the demands of an athlete. Not forgetting that it will also make you feel good and look good naked too!

Don’t let your excuses set you back

Now let's just discuss a few anxieties which sometimes prevent some individuals from reaching their potential. From the body builders point of view, it is often perceived that cardio will reduce your muscle mass. Yes, this will happen if you spend hours slogging away on the treadmill at a steady rate. For the record this type of training does not benefit everyone. You're just burning calories at non challenging intensity that you're comfortable with. You'll probably spend your time tracking your calories so you will inevitably just put them back on later as a reward to putting up with the boredom. Your objective is to train your energy systems, by increasing your heart rate.

On the other end of the spectrum the endurance junkies fear that entering the weights room will instantly turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger. In reality, it takes a great deal of time and dedication. Focus on improving your power to weight ratio.

Balance is key. What both sides of the camp have in common is that they find the opposing method of training boring – yes it's boring when done inefficiently and lack of progress in gained.

Tips for improving cardio – life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

The main aim is to get your heart rate as high as possible, and sustain it for longer periods of time. Running is the best method for this. However, it can be tough on your legs. Use the rowing machine if your legs are feeling particularly tired. Efficient workouts can be done within 20 minutes. Train hard then go home or head to the weights room if that’s your home. Vary your work-outs from 1 min efforts, 3 minute efforts and 20 minutes flat out. Each interval should be as fast as you can sustain for that period of time. Rest in between intervals just long enough that you have forgotten about the pain of the last interval and go again. Aim to train your cardio 1-5 times a week based upon your goals.

Tips for getting stronger – lift weights with patience not your ego!

Base your training around barbell exercises, bench press, deadlift and squats. Ensure your technique is correct. Here, you may need the assistance of a VPT that specialises in such exercises. Train heavy and once a week for each exercise, ideally on three different days. You should do no more than 5 reps per a set. Once you can comfortably lift for 5 reps with correct weight, increase the weight and reduce the reps. Do no more than 5 sets, after your warm up. Spend the rest of your time building up areas of particular weakness in which will help support you in these movements. Core is often key. Thirdly, focus on any areas in which you want to build more muscle in terms of performance or just for looking good!

Have awareness of your goals and weaknesses and balance your training accordingly

Remember balance is key. Set yourself goals and ensure you put your energies into achieving them not standing in the way of them. If your main focus is strength head to the weight room first and vice versa for cardio. Focus on your input, keep motivated, be patient and the real progress will come.

This is what will motivate you – effective training + patience = progress and rewards.

To follow my journey visit or get in contact for a free consultation to discuss your goals and learn how you can train your cardiovascular system and get strong [email protected].