Science Summary: Fitness Gear (Cardio or Weights Part 3)

This post is a continuation on my series through Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? All of the following questions are taken from this book and the answers are paraphrased from the authors words with my interpretations and thoughts added in.

— Scott

Is running on a treadmill better or worse than running outside?

Short Answer: It’s about the same.

Long Answer: A study by the University of Virginia published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2008 concluded that the bio-mechanics of treadmill running were similar enough to the real thing that minor differences such as peak force exerted were inconsequential. One difference present is the lack of wind resistance on a treadmill which can be compensated for with incline. Another difference is in the hardness of the surface which may result in temporary muscle soreness for people accustomed to treadmill running that move to road running.

Is the elliptical machine just as good as running?

Short Answer: Yes, for the sake of cardio but it’s not a perfect substitute.

Long Answer: Two studies published in 2005 found that while participants tend not push as hard without prompting when using an elliptical, they are more likely to say it is easier to maintain a target heart rate with this machine as opposed to a treadmill or bike. Another study by Western Washington University found that ellipticals exert less force on the user and activate different muscle groups than those used while running.

Do I really need specialized shoes for walking, running, tennis, basketball, and so on?

Short Answer: Specialized shoes help performance but may not prevent injury

Long Answer: Countless studies have shown that shoes do have an effect on performance. Shoes designed for a specific activity do take into account the specific motions involved in that activity. In terms of reducing injuries however, there is no research suggesting sport specific shoes are safer. A 2009 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that there were no differences in performance in different types of running shoes (air, gel, or spring-cushioned).

Will barefoot running help me avoid injuries?

Short Answer: We don’t know.

Long Answer: Studies published in support of barefoot running have been either sponsored or conducted by minimalist shoe companies and are questionable in their validity. Researcher Craig Richards published an article in the 2009 British Journal of Sports Medicine arguing that these studies were useless anyways because they looked at bio-mechanical processes and did not address injuries caused by running practices.

Will compression clothing help me exercise?

Short Answer: It will help you recover and might help your exercise performance.

Long Answer: Research has long shown that compression improves blood flow which can benefit muscle recovery post-workout. Claims about endurance and explosiveness however have yet to be proven. A study done by researchers from Indiana University in 2010 found that improvements from compression gear may be a placebo.

Does walking with poles give me a better workout?

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer: A 2010 study done by Italian researchers on Nordic Walking found that when the poles were used appropriately, the increased muscle usage burned 20% more calories than walking without poles at an equivalent perceived exertion level.

Are sports video games real workouts?

Short Answer: They’re better than standard video games.

Long Answer: A 2010 study conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, found that playing video games used 1.2 METs (a measurement of energy expenditure), Wii Tennis used 5.4 METs compared to actually playing tennis which uses 8 METs. While the exact amount of energy used is debated, researchers conclude that “exer-gaming” is better for fitness than tradition gaming but not a replacement for exercise.

What should I do with wobble boards and exercise balls?

Short Answer: They’re good for rehab and building balance in certain populations.

Long Answer: While research does demonstrate a reduction in injury associated with balance training, a 2007 study by the University of Connecticut found that excessive balance raining actually hampered muscle growth and mobility. Additionally, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that athletes using dumbbells did not benefit from balance training which is credited to free weights keeping stabilizer muscles in shape.

Can a mouthpiece make me stronger, faster, and more flexible?

Short Answer: Maybe?

Long Answer: Special mouthpieces are a recent trend and there is still very little research on them. Current studies have been sponsored by mouthpiece manufacturers and have found mixed results.

Is the any benefit to strengthening my breathing muscles?

Short Answer: Most likely not unless you have a special lung condition.

Long Answer: More research is needed, but current studies have failed to find consistent significant results associated with power breathing training.

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