Not sure whether you should lift or leg it? We weigh the options against common fitness goals from fat loss to tone and strength.

Cardio for fat burn


“High-intensity interval training is the ideal method to burn fat, as it burns large amounts of energy during the exercise, then requires huge amounts of energy during the recovery stage,” says exercise scientist Johann Ruys.

Perform steady-state cardio for at least 45 minutes to effectively tap into fat stores and HIIT workouts for 30 minutes to get results.

Weights for toning


Endurance specific weight training provides the muscle targeting required for adequate toning, without the fear of creating a physique-competitors muscle-size.

“For pure toning, endurance training is best. It harnesses more energy burn but also stimulates your ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres, which do not dramatically increase in size,” says Ruys.

Think two to three sets of an exercise, with upward of 12 repetitions at each. Ensure short rests, approximately 15-30 seconds between sets, for maximum muscle stress.

Cardio fitness

Like any muscle, the heart gets stronger as you train, with training requiring an elevated heart rate for longer or more intense periods – something not as common during a weights session.


While any type of cardio-style fitness training will act to improve VO2 Max, higher intensity training will allow for an increase in fitness in a shorter amount of time, according to Ruys.

“High-intensity intervals are great for building fitness, while steady-state cardio is great for building endurance. When it comes to high-intensity intervals, be sure to play around with work and rest ratios to avoid a plateau and to find what works best for you,” he says.

Anaerobic threshold running involves running at a pace of about 85-90 per cent of your maximum heart rate, for about 30 minutes.

Improving speed


While sprint training will always be the most efficient exercise for improving speed according to Ruys, plyometric training – which utilizes your own body weight and the elasticity of your muscles to produce power – can also add to its effectiveness.

Plyometric training involves body-based and explosive exercises, such as box jumps, to help create powerful muscle contractions and should be performed at (or above) our lactic threshold. In other words, push until your feel the burn. Just be sure not to over do it.

Weights for strength training


For pure strength training, utilise three to five sets of an exercise with one to six repetitions at each. This means the weights should be heavy enough, that you can only just complete the sixth rep. Rest times between sets should be around two to three minutes, to facilitate recovery and improve performance.

“Because strength is so neurologically demanding, it requires larger rest periods,” says Ruys.

Strength-focuses trainers tend to split their training into muscle groups – for example, legs Monday, back Tuesday and so on – to allow adequate recovery time.

For flexibility

While many of us are still bogged down in old stretch-hold-release habits, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) has been shown to achieve much greater flexibility results. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that PNF stretching produced 100 per cent more muscle response and 89 per cent more joint range motion than a standard stretch and relax routine alone.

PNF involves stretching a targeted muscle for about 10 seconds, before contracting the muscles in the opposite direction, and then holding the original stretch for a further 15-20 seconds.

“By flexing the muscle opposite the muscle being stretched, it helps to overcome the protective effects of the stretch reflex, whereby the body attempts to prevent excessive stretching from occurring to avoid injury,” says Ruys.

“Yoga has got to be one of the best forms of flexibility training, incorporating core stability and strength with tough flexibility sessions,” suggests Ruys.

Full article by Katelyn Swallow.

Read more about the benefits of strength training.