Strength and Cardio Training: Should They Mix?

Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. Many people train in strictly one or other, believing that the neglected training style will somehow hinder their progress. Gym myths and misunderstandings just add to the confusion, promoting ideas like “running burns muscle.” Other exercisers simply don’t know how to incorporate both strength and cardiovascular training into their schedule and favor the one they enjoy the most.

Should these two training styles be used together? How?

Myths and Misunderstandings

Usually, people practice cardio because they want to lose weight and lift weights because they want to gain muscle. However, two persistent— and incorrect — ideas have pervaded gyms around the world, deepening the divide between strength training and cardio workouts.

Some people who hope to slim down avoid lifting weights, because they are afraid it will make them too bulky. The truth is that muscle growth is a very slow process, and it requires a well designed program of diet and exercise to be followed for years before you appear “bulky.” On the contrary, proper weight training will increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, which will improve your cardiovascular efficiency and burn more calories and fat in the process.

On the other hand, weightlifters who are looking for bulk tend to fear that cardio burns muscle. This one is more of an oversimplification than an outright myth. It is true that, in extreme cases of over-training, your body will begin to use muscle for fuel. However, your body will only go catabolic, as this is called, when you exercise at a high intensity for more than 45 minutes, exercise every day, or exercise on an empty stomach. Put simply, cardio will only burn muscle when you give it no other choice. Balance, in your training and in your diet, will prevent muscle loss.

A healthy combination of strength and cardio training will allow your body to perform at its best, letting the two systems complement each other rather than compete.

How to Do It Right

Understanding that cardio and strength training don’t cancel each other out is only half the battle: now you have to balance the two properly. Mixing cardio and strength training requires a highly individualized approach based on your goals, body type and chosen sport.

First, you should decide whether your focus is to lose weight or gain muscle. Trying to do both at the same time will most likely slow your progress and frustrate you, and may even lead to over-training injuries. Again, this does not mean that you are choosing one training method over the other; the key is to make them work together.

If your primary goal is to gain muscle, then you should lift three times per week, with two moderate-intensity cardio sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes each on your off days. Lifting and running on the same day not only takes more time, it increases your risk of overworking your muscles, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

Next, you need to consider your body type. Is it easy for you to lose weight or does it feel like a constant struggle? Are you naturally muscular? Your body’s natural tendencies will have a strong bearing on your workout plan. For example, an endomorph —  someone who is natural heavy-set — will need to schedule more cardio days to lose weight, but will likely find it easy to gain muscle with plenty of stored fuel in the body.

Lastly, we need to consider your sport. An endurance athlete, for instance, such as a marathon runner, will need a completely different skill-set than a football player. While both of these examples lean towards either cardio or strength, these athletes can still benefit from both modes of training.

As is the case with many aspects of fitness, balance is the key to mixing both cardio and strength training into your routine. While these two modes of exercise are frequently considered incompatible, when scheduled properly, they will work together to help you reach your fitness goals.

Have any tips on mixing strength and cardio training? Please share them in the comments!

Exercise Recommendations for Cancer Survivors

Getting back to exercise may be the last thing on your mind after cancer treatment — but it may be the best thing for you.

Once, the common view was that patients in recovery should rest and avoid activity. Not anymore. The American Cancer Society recently released new guidelines that recommend both good nutrition and exercise for survivors to reduce the chance of recurrence and increase the chance for disease-free survival.

While this certainly sounds like a good idea, it can be a scary prospect for those who suffer from fatigue, depression or a loss of confidence from cancer surgery or treatment.

I know that after my breast cancer surgery, even walking on crowded streets or into a busy store was frightening, as I worried about getting bumped or jostled where my stitches were. But I did miss my fitness routine.

As soon as my doctor gave me permission to exercise, I headed to a “Renewal” water exercise class for breast cancer patients at the JCC in Manhattan as a way to ease back into moving again. The welcoming warm water and calming exercises left me feeling more comfortable in my body, and helped me heal physically, mentally and emotionally. Soon I was back to my old exercise habits— but five years later, I still attend these weekly classes.

The women there serve as a nurturing support group for me. We all chat about our medications, the occasional health scare and just life in general as survivors. It’s also a time of the week when I get to just “slow down to the speed of life,” as my teacher Teri says. I relax and let the water embrace me, while getting a workout, too.

For some people, cancer can actually kickstart some new habits, especially if they never exercised or focused on diet much before. As always, talk with your doctor about any changes you plan to make in your eating and exercising habits to keep excess weight off. Studies of several different cancers have found that being overweight after completing treatment was associated with shorter survival times and higher risk of cancer recurrence.

The best way for those not used to working out to start a healthy fitness program is to check out the gentle yoga or stretching classes many hospitals or cancer centers offer their patients. This is a good way to ensure that you are active safely and effectively, and get exercises specifically tailored to any new limitations you might have. For example, breast cancer patients may want to do certain exercises to strengthen their arms and reduce their chances of getting lymphedema.

If you don’t feel like leaving home just yet, check out the recommended exercises on the American Cancer Society website. There are numerous free specialty videos on YouTube, and there are also DVDs for sale, like those at or

If your energy levels are not up to what they once were, do not fear. Start slow and hopefully with time you will be able to do more and more. Set small, realistic goals so you will feel positive about your accomplishments. Every short walk you take and weight you lift will help improve muscle strength and balance, improve your general well being and help you thrive as a survivor.

The bottom line: get up and go!

What did you do to get back into a healthy routine after cancer surgery or treatment? What keeps you motivated? Let us know in the comments.


Living With Flat Feet

It may surprise you to learn that we are all born with flat feet. The arches on the insole of the human foot are caused by a tightness in the tendons that hold the foot together. From birth until about three years of age, these tendons are loose, allowing the entire foot to contact the floor.

For most people, these tendons tighten up by adulthood and give the foot a normal arch. In some people, however, these arches never form. In others, aging, injury or illness can force the tendons to loosen again and cause flat feet later in life. Although many people live with this condition, flat feet can make exercise — particularly walking or running — extremely painful.

Larger Effects

It’s easy to forget the broad consequences the state of your feet can have on the rest of your body. The commonly overlooked truth is that if our feet aren’t behaving properly, then neither are our ankles, knees, hips or back.

Many of these problems are connected to the fact that people with flat feet tend towards overpronation, meaning that they roll their ankle far inward immediately after their heel hits the ground. In addition to causing unnatural angles in these other joints, and a pain in the feet themselves, flat feet may also make walking more physically demanding. One study published in the medical journal Prosthetics and Orthotics International found that people with flat feet actually work harder and consume more oxygen when walking than people with normal arches.

Diagnosing Flat Feet

The most basic test for flat feet is to simply look for an arch. When standing with your feet flat on the ground, the insole of both feet should not touch the ground. An easy way to look for this is to wet your bare feet and walk on cement, or another surface where your footprint will be easy to see. The resulting print should show that your insole is not touching the ground.

There are also two types of flat feet, which will determine the best course of treatment. Once you know whether or not you have flat feet, you will have to decide if they are flexible or rigid. It’s best to rely on the trained eye of a podiatrist to spot whether or not an arch forms when you stand on your toes. If an arch does form, your have flexible feet. If it does not, they are rigid.


Flexible flat feet can usually be improved with arch-supporting orthotics that will give your feet the arches they’re missing. These can either be custom made or bought overthecounter.

For those with flat feet, as for any athletes, shoe choice is very important. If you have flexible flat feet, you will want to find “selective stability” or motion-control shoes that will provide plenty of support in your arches and correct your stride. Motion-control shoes are especially important if your feet overpronate, meaning the foot rolls inward as it lands. To test this, examine the soles of your old running shoes. Overpronators will show increased wear on the toes and inner edges.

In many areas, there are specialty running stores that carry the types of shoes flat footed runners should seek out. It is also possible to have your gait analyzed to see if there are any abnormalities such as overpronation in your stride. Typically physical therapists, athletic training experts or orthopedic doctors can administer an analysis for you.

Rigid flat feet can be more difficult to treat and usually require the attention of a podiatrist. Depending on the cause of the rigid flat feet, surgery may be necessary.

Listen to your body and be aware of your stride. With the proper attention and equipment, flat feet don’t have to slow you down.

Do you have tips for living with flat feet? Share them with us in the comments!

Is Marriage Really Good for Your Health?

wedding ringsMarriage is good for you, according to numerous studies. I know for a fact that it’s good for providing love, happiness and companionship — but on my recent 27th wedding anniversary, I set out to discover just how good marriage actually is for my health.

The Correlation Between Marriage and Health

Lots of research suggests that married people live longer, enjoy a more satisfying sex life (despite the common cliches and complaints on the subject); experience less stress; live a healthier lifestyle and have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression than singles. A 2008 study by Swedish researchers found that marriage or having a partner cut the risk of developing dementia in half when compared to those who live alone. Another recent study done by Emory and Rutgers Universities found that married people who undergo heart surgery are more than three times as likely as single people to survive the next three months. It’s hard to measure the specific health impact of bringing your spouse chicken soup, listening to them complain and encouraging them to get well. Whatever the reasons, though, this study highlights the important role of spouses as caregivers during a health crises.

Another great bonus of having tied the knot: compared to singles, married people are less likely to smoke, drink heavily or use illegal drugs, according to studies compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Perhaps we marrieds are used to exhibiting a higher rate of self control, or maybe it just helps to have somebody keeping an eye on you.

The Exceptions

One area where marriage appears to actually harm health is the waistline, with both men and women gaining weight after they tie the knot, compared to their single counterparts. I guess we’re spending more time on the couch together watching movies instead of out at the local bar dancing, and what shows up on the scale doesn’t seem as important once we’re no longer on the market. So we’re happier, healthier… and heavier? I’ll still take it.

Of course, you have to take statistics with a grain of salt: there are plenty of healthy singles out there, and everyone’s individual situation is different. You also have to remember that we’re generally talking about happy marriages — a bad, stressful marriage isn’t healthy for anyone.

Dr. Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and author of “The Case for Marriage,” describes wedded bliss like this: “Marriage is sort of like a seat belt when it comes to improving your well being. We can put it in exactly the same category as eating a good diet, getting exercise and not smoking.”

Buckle Up

The bottom line appears to be that a good marriage really is good for your health. So here’s to happy marriages and long, healthy lives together. Put on those seatbelts and get ready for the adventure! Happy Anniversary, honey!

Do you agree that marriage is good for your health?  Let us know what you think in the comments.


Improve Your Breathing, Improve Your Performance

Blinking, the beating of your heart, swallowing – these are all things we do countless times a day, often without even noticing. In fact, the average person breathes over 20,000 times in a single day.

Breathing in particular has been the focus of many forms of traditional medicine and exercise over the centuries: yoga, tai chi, pilates and others all place strong emphasis on proper breathing techniques. Some peoplefind the idea of “proper breathing technique” a bit ridiculous, considering how naturally it comes to us. However, emerging research suggests more and more strongly that these ancient practices may have been on to something. There are real benefits to relearning how to breathe.

The Mechanics of Breathing

Like every function of our bodies, particularly those we don’t directly supervise, the mechanics of breathing are surprisingly complex. During inhalation, the diaphragm in your lower abdomen and the external intercostals between your ribs all contract. The diaphragm descends, creating more room in the thoracic cavity while the intercostals lift the ribs up and out. All this new space creates a pocket of lower pressure in your lungs, and air from the atmosphere floods in to fill the void. To exhale, these muscles simply relax, allowing the pressure of the thoracic cavity to return to normal.

The problem is that, especially during exercise, people tend to place the emphasis on the intercostal muscles - or even recruit their shoulders in breathing - rather than allowing the diaphragm to do its job. This results in a less efficient breath, meaning that more work is done for less reward.

Benefits of a Good Breath

The idea that a slow, deep breath can be beneficial is definitely not new. At same point in their lives, most people have likely had to stop a take a deep breath just to calm down. The important part is that it works - but there’s also a large, ever-increasing body of science to support and explain the benefits of proper breathing.

Al Lee, co-author of Perfect Breathing, told the American Council on Exercise that “by using conscious breathing in all your pursuits, you will improve nearly every aspect of your life.” Just like any muscle, the diaphragm can be trained and strengthened to work more efficiently. This kind of training will increase your mental focus. It will also increase the amount of oxygen that reaches your muscles and, as a result, improve their overall performance.

One study that provides powerful evidence for the efficacy of training your diaphragm showed that athletes who followed the program were able to perform at the same level while consuming 10 percent less oxygen. The athletes also experienced an overall performance improvement of between five and eight percent, cutting three to five minutes off of a 60-minute running race.

The psychologically calming effects of deep breaths also shouldn’t be ignored. Being mentally focused yet relaxed will help you to both enjoy your workouts more, and perform better during them.

How to Breathe Properly

While breathing itself comes very naturally to us, it may take some practice before you can comfortably incorporate proper breathing techniques into your workout. To practice, start in a quiet, comfortable environment and make sure that your nostrils are clear so that you can easily breathe. It’s important to always breathe through your nose at a regular, natural rhythm when practicing.

Traditional fitness wisdom, and especially yoga, encourages an “in through the nose, out through the mouth” breathing style. Conflicting information regarding this method circulates in the fitness community, though clearly it has its place during exercise. Everyone has probably experienced the urge, at the end of an intense workout, to gulp in air through the mouth — but while this will provide you with more oxygen, the air will be drier, unfiltered and cooler than if you were to inhale through your nose. People with respiratory issues, such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, will especially benefit from the warm, moist, clean air that comes in through the nose.

When you’re first working on this technique, you should inhale for two counts, hold the breath for two counts and exhale for four counts. As you become more and more comfortable with this slow, measured breathing, try using it during a workout. If you’re walking, use your steps as counts. Cyclists can use pedal strokes.

Eventually you should be able to start increasing your counts while keeping the same ratio. Your exhalation should always be the sum of your inhalation and hold. Learning to control your breath will help you to strengthen the muscles involved, and even improve your overall performance.

Have you used this kind of respiratory training? If you have any tips or suggestions, please share them in the comments!


10 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Exercising in the Heat

Like many athletes, I spend each winter counting down the days until spring. I am not a fan of running or biking in the cold, so the warm weather is always a nice welcome. But before too long, summer comes — and I’m complaining about the heat!

Exercising in the summer is more than just uncomfortable. It can be downright dangerous if you don’t take measures to protect yourself.

This doesn’t mean you have to confine your workouts to the indoors from June through August in order to exercise safely. Instead, simply follow these tips to stay comfortable - and safe - during a hot summer workout:

1.   Get your sweat on in the early morning or late evening. Don’t exercise at midday, because that’s when temperatures are at their highest and the sun’s hot rays are at their peak. You’ll stay much cooler during your workout if you either set your alarm a bit earlier or wait until after dinner to be active.

2.   Drink before you’re thirsty. Staying well-hydrated is the secret to avoiding dangerous heat-related conditions. Drink up before you’re thirsty, because our thirst sensation generally doesn’t appear until we’re already a bit dehydrated. Ideally you should drink a glass or two of water before you head out to exercise, drink more after every fifteen minutes or so of activity, and keep hydrating once you get home. When you exercise intensely, or for an extended period of time, drink a sports beverage to replace the salt and other electrolytes you lose through sweat.

3.   Shield yourself from the sun. Sunburn inhibits your body’s ability to cool itself. Lather up with SPF 15 sunscreen or higher thirty minutes before you plan to head outdoors. Wearing a hat and sunglasses will also protect you from the sun’s harmful rays.

4.   Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Moisture-wicking apparel will help you stay cool and dry, and lighter colored clothes help reflect heat better than darker clothes.

5.   Seek shade. If you’re a road runner, the summer is a perfect time to try trail running. The shade from the trees will keep you cooler than the open, baking road.

6.   Take plenty of breaks. Rest early and often, and take breaks whenever you need them. In hot weather, it’s always better to err on the side of caution than to push yourself too far.

7.   Gradually get used to the heat. It typically takes 10 to 14 days for your body to get used to exercising in a new climate. Start by working out for short time, at a relatively low intensity. Hold off on doing long, hard workouts until you’re better acclimated to the hot weather.

8.   Check the weather forecast. If it’s going to be a real scorcher, do not exercise outside. It’s not safe - or smart - to push yourself through an outdoor workout when a heat advisory is in place.

9.   Know when to stop. If you have muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache, dizziness, and/or confusion stop your workout right away. These are signs of heat-related illnesses which can be life-threatening if not caught in time.

10. Have a Plan B. If the heat is too much for you on certain days, stick with indoor workouts. Exercise in an air-conditioned environment such as a gym or yoga studio. Or, consider purchasing a piece of fitness equipment so you can be active in the comfort of your own home. Check out this LIVESTRONG elliptical for sale.

What’s your favorite time of year to exercise? What are your tips for beating the heat?