Over the past few years, the world has seen a major switch in its approach to a healthier, more active lifestyle. And there’s no doubt, the huge rise in superfood-filled Instagram feeds and celeb-approved fitness fashions have played a key role in this nationwide transformation. But now we’ve got the kit and fuel sorted, the question on many people’s lips is: ‘what kind of exercise should I do?’ For women in particular, the desire to burn fat (and experience those feel-good endorphins) while maintaining a feminine figure means they stick solely to cardio; avoiding weight training due to the belief that it will cause them to ‘bulk up’.

Well ladies, we are here to set the record straight. With the help of two of London’s most popular fitness trainers, it’s time to rid the female population of the stigma against lifting weights.

A former professional dancer turned personal trainer (based in London’s Chelsea) and now an established ultra-marathon runner, Annie Foulds has more than 15 qualifications in all aspects of fitness and sports nutrition, making her an all-round authority on this hottest of topics.

Cardio VS Strength

Annie explains, “Cardio (cardiovascular) exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up, makes you feel sweaty, and gets more oxygen pumping. For example, running, cycling, swimming, and spinning.” As for weight or strength training, Annie describes this as “any exercise that helps the different muscles in your body become stronger and more powerful. It can be using weights or your own bodyweight during press-ups and squats, or can be resistance-based, using different bits of kit like elastic gym bands or fit balls.”

Most people are aware of the benefits of cardio training, which Annie lists as including “improved circulation, sleep and energy levels, heart and lung health, and reduced anxiety,” as well as the obvious enhanced fitness levels. What even the keenest of treadmill fiends may not know however, is that “weights or strength training is more effective for fat loss than cardio alone. If you want to help tone muscles and strengthen bones, strength work is vital.” Annie goes onto reveal, “The best results come from increasing your metabolic rate, which is what weight training does.”

So what is the answer?

“Metabolic conditioning,” responds Annie. “Combining cardio and strength exercises is effective for fitness and fat loss, and saves time too! It’s a much shorter workout thanks to the intensity.”

Similar to much-hyped HIIT workouts, Annie explains, “Metabolic conditioning is training your body to work at high intensity for a short period of time, followed by a short recovery period.”

One good option for this is undoubtedly the much talked-about ‘best workout in the world’ – Barry’s Bootcamp. Chatting to their Master Trainer Anya Lahiri (who is also the brain behind bringing the workout to London) about what she has to say on the topic, she reveals, “The cardio we do at Barry’s is amazing for fat burning and all-round heart and lung health, and the weights not only increase muscle mass but prevent osteoporosis in later life.”

She continues, “We have numerous clients who, before Barry’s, were solely focused on either running or lifting, but by combining both in our classes they have seen amazing results, not only losing fat but increasing muscle mass; which raises their metabolism.”

Renowned as one of London’s toughest trainers, Anya is a self-confessed Barry’s addict who lauds their combination of both cardio and weights as having totally transformed her physique.

“Before Barry’s, I used to spin a lot and run in the gym but I never really lifted weights. Like a lot of women, I thought it would bulk me up,” reveals Anya. “I started Barry’s in LA and saw results that I had never seen from other exercise classes – it was literally love at first squat. I have never been this fit and my body composition has completely transformed. I now have a lower fat percentage and increased muscle mass. And I can see my abs!”

To her former self, and to all those women who fear weight lifting, Anya says with passion, “It is IMPOSSIBLE for a woman to bulk up by lifting the weights we encourage at Barry’s. We simply do not generate enough testosterone. It may initially seem like your arms are getting bigger but generally, that’s the muscle building under the fat, and once that has disappeared through cardio and a faster metabolism (created by increasing muscle mass), everything will appear more toned.”

So what are our experts’ go-to strength moves? “Squats or dead lift exercises,” suggests Annie. “I always recommend starting with your legs because they’re the largest muscle group which take the greatest effort and energy.”

She continues, “My body feels more solid and stronger when I lift weights. I’ve been running marathons for over 13 years and I love how light my body feels. The best way to train is to mix it up: conditioning and cardio.”

Similarly, Anya’s recommended at-home workout includes “using your own body weight as resistance for moves such as push-ups, planks and dips, combined with HIIT moves such as mountain climbers and burpees.”

Well, that settles that! For health benefits and a sculpted physique, keep pounding that treadmill or spin bike, but make sure you pick up a dumbbell or two post-sweat. No bulk, just tone.

words by Zoe Louise Cronk