Since becoming a fitness instructor nearly thirteen years ago, I'm pretty sure that my students are tired of me preaching the same words of wisdom over and over again in class. From bracing your abs when you lift to putting the weight in your heels when you squat, I really believed my endless instructions and ramblings were probably falling on deaf ears. But when one of my students made a comment in class that proved a point I had been trying to make for months, not only was I flabbergasted, but the entire class got it—they all got it!
Friday morning’s class is a cardio/strength interval class, but over the past few months, I have decreased the amount of traditional cardio and increased the amount of strength training—mostly because I believe women often do too much cardiovascular exercise and ignore the weight lifting aspect of staying in shape. My class is formatted in various ways—circuits, intervals (i.e. Tabata) and HIIT. I have even taken some CrossFit workouts and modified them for a class setting. Because the reps are often low, I always stress using heavier weights which is not the norm for most women. Many tend to stick to five and eight-pound weights and keep the double digit ones as far away as possible. But my ladies have begun to use the heavier ones that are often found only in the weight room. It is great to see them carrying in twelve, fifteen and even twenty-pound dumbbells. I have even noticed some of them going to get heavier weights in the middle of class.
While doing a circuit that included push-ups, kettlebell swings, one-arm snatches and Russian twists, one of my lovely ladies shouted out that she was sweating and working harder than when she does “cardio”. There was a sudden roar of agreement after she made this prophetic statement. It was an “a-ha” moment for them and a proud moment for me as I have been preaching for several months that lifting heavy weights and doing bodyweight exercises is as much cardio (if not more) than running on a treadmill for an hour or taking a cardio-based class.
As you can see from the circuit that we did, there was not much traditional “cardio” work being done. But the circuit was done continuously for twenty minutes straight. The only breaks that were taken were the ones they individually needed to catch their breaths or regroup. By the end of the twenty minutes, we all felt as if we ran a marathon and then some. And the fact that they realized that cardiovascular work does not necessarily mean running, biking, kickboxing, swimming or any of the more traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise was a real eye-opener for them and incredibly gratifying for me.
After the epiphany was made, I told them that this is what exercise is all about—pushing your body out of its comfort zone and really feeling the difference. Even better was the fact that the whole circuit lasted only twenty minutes and they got more out of that than they ever expected. Not only did they get their “cardio”, but they got strength training along with it—not to mention a huge metabolic boost.
My parting words to them that day was that steady-state cardio, like they often do, is great, but it should not be their only form of exercise. I encouraged them that if they are short on time, a quick twenty-minute workout (as they just did) that incorporates heavy lifting with or without any “cardio” exercises will do the trick. After all, it is all about quality, not quantity. That was proven in class as their heart rates were probably higher in those twenty minutes than when they do their usual cardio routine which their bodies have no doubt adapted to by now.
I sure hope these “a-ha” moments keep coming, but for now I am completely satisfied and elated that all their hard work (and my endless preaching) has paid off in a big way. They are not only getting stronger and faster, but they are realizing that it is not how long they exercise but what they do in that time that really counts. Sometimes less really is more!