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Ask The Trainer

Forget elections; let’s have a fitness debate

By Chris Antonio | Oct 20, 2012

By the time this article hits the page, the second presidential debate of the election of 2012 will be history, and the media will have already declared a winner. In the spirit of democracy and free speech, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s Ask the Trainer column to discussing some of the most controversial fitness debates that have been argued in fitness magazines and gyms around the country for the last decade.

Free weights versus machines

Don’t kid yourself; if you’re not lifting free weights, you’re not working out. Don’t get me wrong; I love machines and regularly include them in my routine, but there’s nothing like the sound of iron clanging together as you finish your set, rack the weight and hear your heart pumping through your eardrums. More importantly, the benefits offered by free weights are endless. For example, lifting free weights requires your body to function like an athlete’s, forcing it to use strength, balance and coordination. Also, free weights are more functional, which means they simulate real-life situations much better and recruit more muscle fibers than a fancy machine with weights attached to a cable. In addition, they offer more versatility and greater range of motion, allowing lifters to change angles and hand grips and do ballistic movements such as power cleans, deadlifts and high pulls.

Cardio versus weight lifting

It seems there is confusion in mainstream America as to what type of exercise builds lean muscle and burns fat more effectively, cardio or weight training, but from my experiences the answer is clear, and weight training beats the pants off cardio every time. The fact is, weight lifting builds lean muscle tissue that makes your body burn more calories all day. Cardio burns empty calories, and as soon as you’re finished, the calorie burn stops. Weight training also causes a biological phenomenon called EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC refers to the extra calories that your body must burn for the next 24-48 hours to recover from your workout and is extremely effective in elevating your metabolism and releasing chemicals that repair and build tight, lean muscle.

Marathons versus high-intensity interval training

I’m not knocking anyone who runs marathons; in fact I have great respect for anyone willing to run 26.2 miles for fun, but if your goal is to build quality muscle and burn fat, running a marathon is not the answer. Research has proven that the most effective way to get in shape and burn fat is by doing high-intensity interval training. HIIT means doing shorter, more intense cardio sessions with incremental bursts of speed throughout the session. This allows you to work at a more intense level than you would normally be able to accomplish. A good example of this would be walking for two minutes and then jogging for 30 seconds or jogging for two minutes and then sprinting for 30 seconds. This type of training ensures that your heart rate travels through an entire range of intensities, never allowing it to get used to the workload and forcing continual results. High-intensity interval training can be done with just about any machine or athletic activity including the elliptical, arch trainer, treadmill or jump rope, and the intensity depends on your fitness level, but the results will be more pleasing than with standard cardio work.

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