PUMPING IRONY: The Cardio Conundrum

After about a 10-day hiatus, I’m finally feeling back in the swing of things. Winter is (very, very gradually) turning into spring, so I’ve been able to resume my walking commute, and last night I hit the gym for the first time in what feels this morning like a long, long time (I’m a little sore).

It’s surprising to me how my body responds to a workout after I’ve been sedentary for a while. Last night on the stationary bike, for example, I was pretty winded after only 10 minutes of moderately fast pedaling. Usually, I’ll push through that stage and do another 10 minutes before shifting into cool-down mode, but I just wasn’t up to it last night. It’s not just that my body wasn’t willing; after a week and a half away from the gym, my mind was a little flabby, as well. That little voice that usually cheers me on just wasn’t as persuasive as usual.

Having said that, I should note that I’m pretty conscious of the signals my aging body is sending me when I’m exerting myself. It’s not like when I was in my 30s, when I would routinely push myself through exhaustion on the basketball court. These days, if I’m feeling winded, I slow down. It would be so embarrassing to have a heart attack in the midst of so many fit people.

So, with an extra 10-15 minutes to burn, I spent more time lifting than usual.

And I noticed that, unlike my cardio collapse on the bike, I didn’t really suffer any major setback by staying away from the weight machines for 10 days. I could pretty much go back to lifting the same amount as I was before, without much struggling.

Of course, my regimen is not exactly Herculean: three sets of 10 reps, working my upper body mostly, with weights ranging from 70 to 95 lbs. (not including bicep curls, where I’m stuck at around 35 to 40 lbs).
This makes me wonder whether strength training, in general, is easier to sustain than cardio training over the long haul. I haven’t been able to find any conclusive evidence, but it appears that muscle mass, once built, may hang around longer than the oxygen-burning capabilities built from regular aerobic exercise.

As Liz Plosser puts it in this piece in Women’s Health, strength training pays dividends long after you leave the gym, because of the “metabolic spike” that occurs as your body works to help your muscles recover from all that heavy lifting. My sense is that acquiring and keeping muscle mass is a lot easier than building cardiovascular resources.

But that could just be me. I’ll get back on the treadmill (or whatever) tomorrow and see if it’s any easier.

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