Trader Joe's or Whole Foods? And when it comes to getting the body you want: strength training or cardio? Back when you carpooled in Ma's minivan, men went to the weight room and women hit Jazzercise. But recently, taking a cue from athletes, many fitness gurus insist that strength training is where it's at. Some even suggest ditching cardio altogether.
To resolve the strength vs. cardio conundrum, we culled research and chatted up experts to find out how each would fare in a head-to-head matchup (don't worry, nobody's going to bite anyone's ear off). Whether you want to get buff, torch calories, or run your fastest mile ever, we've decoded which discipline you should devote your sweat to — and created a workout that's perfectly proportioned to give you all the benefits. Now, let's get ready to rumble...
Cardio's edge Calorie for calorie, cardio has a slight advantage. You'll burn 8 to 10 calories a minute hoisting weights, compared with 10 to 12 calories a minute running or cycling, says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., director of research at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.
To KO Fat — and Keep It Off...
Strength's edge Lifting weights gives you a metabolic spike for an hour after a workout because your body is trying hard to help your muscles recover. That means you'll fry an additional 25 percent of the calories you just scorched during your strength session, Westcott says. "So if you burned 200 calories lifting weights, it's really closer to 250 overall." And if you lift heavier weights or rest no more than 30 seconds between sets, you can annihilate even more.
And there's more good news when it comes to iron's fat-socking power. "For every 3 pounds of muscle you build, you'll burn an extra 120 calories a day — just vegging — because muscle takes more energy to sustain," Westcott says. Over the course of a year, that's about 10 pounds of fat — without even changing your diet. Yes, please.
Cardio's edge The head-clearing effects of, say, swimming or playing tennis show up faster than it takes to get a brow wax. Just 15 minutes of aerobic activity two to three times a week can reduce anxiety significantly, according to a 2005 study in the European Journal of Sports Science. Go at it 3 to 5 days a week and you can cut fatigue by nearly 50 percent. "Cardio elevates serotonin levels in the brain, a key neurotransmitter involved in improving symptoms of depression," says Madhukar Trivedi, M.D., director of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Mood Disorders Research Program and Clinic.
To Squash Stress...
Strength's edge A big question mark. Scientists note promising results on the mood-altering effects of pumping iron. But more research is needed to nail the intensity and duration necessary to match cardio's benefits. So, for now
Cardio's edge Sports psychologists have been studying the effect of aerobic activity on self-confidence for decades. And they keep coming to the same conclusion: Runners, cyclists, swimmers, and other athletes have high confidence levels because of the sense of accomplishment they feel each time they cross the finish line — even when they bring up the rear.
To Love Standing Naked in Front of the Mirror...
Strength's edge Think you look hot immediately after a workout? It's not your imagination. Blood has rushed to your muscles, making them swell and appear more toned. Beyond vanity, you feel confident because you just pressed some major poundage. In 2006, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario tested subjects' body image — how they felt about others checking them out, and how satisfied they were with their own appearance before and after 12 weeks of strength training. The women made significant improvements, and they were particularly influenced by the physical results of increasing the amount lifted. So try this: Keep a log of how many sets and reps you complete and how much weight you're hoisting for each move. Every 4 weeks, go back and review your first workout. Feel the rush of pride, then strut your stuff.