Published January 13, 2013
My previous post addressed some common fitness advice, what they really mean, and if you should ever follow it. Here I follow up examining the relationship between heavy weights and strength and the battle between treadmill and elliptical for burning the most calories.
Advice: “No need to lift heavy weights to get stronger”
This statement continues to make headlines in fitness media outlets. Most people—yes, even men— already lift weight that is too light. People often go through the motions and do the standard 10 to 12 reps when they could push out 15, or even more. But this advice only encourages people to keep doing the same.
Certainly, performing a lightweight squat is better than no squat at all, but if you already do some type of resistance training you have to take this statement with caution.
The fitness headline came out again in a recent study from McMaster University. Researchers found that lifting weights at 90 percent of your 1-RM (one rep maximum) 5-10 times, stimulated the muscles to make new proteins, thus you could build bigger and toner muscles the same as lifting at 30 percent of your 1-RM or around 24 reps.
The experts explained that what is important is muscle fatigue—not number of reps. As long as you can reach that feeling where you cannot complete another rep, you can bump up your muscle mass. This means you can complete 8, 15, or 24 reps with any sized weight so as long as you feel the muscle “burn” by the final rep.
My Advice: The approach that you can lift lighter weights and still build muscle is ideal for elderly people with compromised muscle mass, or those who are recovering from trauma, surgery, or even a stroke. However, if you can lift heavier weights for 8-10 reps, you will build mass whether you are a woman or man.
Advice: “You can get the same caloric expenditure doing the elliptical or the treadmill”
People who take up running to shed pounds may tire of the constant pounding and find the joint-friendly elliptical more comfortable, but does that mean your workout suffers?
A recent study from the University of Nebraska-Kearney had 18 males and females perform two 15 minutes sub-maximal exercise tests on the treadmill and elliptical. Both tests showed the same energy expenditure with no differences between the two exercises.
While the type of machine may not matter, how you exercise does. You have to select the same rating of perceived exertion (RPE) for each. This means that if your workout intensity on the treadmill is about 15 on the RPE scale where you only can talk in short phrases (4 or 5 words), you have to feel the same effort on the elliptical to burn the same calories.
There are some other issues to consider. Experts also think the energy expenditure the elliptical machine presents may not be as accurate as the treadmill. Likewise, if hold on to the treadmill’s side rails, the caloric expenditure may be 25 to 35 percent less than what the screen shows, according to Richard Lopez, Ph.D., professor of exercise sciences at Florida International University.
My Advice: Do the cardio you most enjoy, but realize that whatever aerobic activity you select, you have to put in the effort to see the calorie-burning results. “If a person runs at an RPE of 13, 14 or 15 on the treadmill and a person exercises on an elliptical machine at an RPE of 13, 14, or 15 then his/her caloric expenditure is comparable on the two pieces of equipment,” says Lopez.