Book Review: Cardio or Weights?

Part of what I love about running (a large part, if the truth be known) is experimenting with various training methods, diets, etc. It fascinates me to see what effect these “technologies” have on my performance and my health. The tricky part, of course, is sorting out the signal from the noise. There are a lot of theories out there, and it’s difficult to know how to make sense of their claims. I know I’m not the only recreational athlete who feels this way.

Cheer up! Alex Hutchinson has come to our rescue, with his book “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?” The book’s sub-title, though a bit of a mouthful, explains in a nutshell its essential thrust. It is “Workout Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.” Hutchinson, as it happens, is eminently well-qualified to offer an opinion. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia and a Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge. He represented Canada internationally as a distance runner from 1997 to 2008. He’s currently senior editor at Canadian Running, a columnist for the Globe and Mail, and a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics. Hutchinson also posts regularly to Sweat Science, one of the best exercise-related blogs I know of.

In Cardio or Weights?, Hutchinson shows that a fair chunk of the conventional wisdom on health and fitness simply isn’t scientifically sound. Instead, he looks at real, honest-to-goodness scientific research around questions like: Should I exercise when I’m sick? Do I get the same workout from the elliptical machine that I get from running? What role does my brain play in fatigue? Will running ruin my knees? To lose weight, is it better to eat less or exercise more? How should I adapt my workout routine as I get older? Does it matter what I’m thinking about when I train? Will drinking coffee help or hinder my performance?

This is a fun book as well as an informative one, whether you dip into it in search of answers to the questions you’ve always wanted answered, or whether you read it all in one big gulp (as I did). Your assumptions and beliefs will be challenged, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll awaken to the sometimes extraordinary lengths scientists will go to to uncover the good stuff.

Given the astounding amount of bafflegab athletes have to deal with, coming from our peers, self-proclaimed “experts,” various training programs, even respected coaches, this book is a godsend. There’s a lot of bad science – and even anti-science – in sport today, and it’s only by looking deeply at real science, as Cardio or Weights? does, that we can become better athletes. Thank you, Alex Hutchinson!

Five stars and a tip of the barefoot hat to this one. Buy the book. You won’t regret it.



  1. Well, I just ordered a copy from Amazon – I’m very much looking forward to reading through! Thanks again for the review; at least I know it’s well worth a read!

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