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Get Pumped

Could the secret to a smaller waist be bigger pecs?


(Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)  

If there were a temple consecrated to the pursuit of that sweaty sect of spiritualism known as cardiovascular exercise, surely such a temple would look like an Equinox gym, with its multiple cardio studios and an exhausting schedule of trendy classes. So you would expect that Harvey Spevak, its CEO, and his wife, Rhonda, the director of Trip Equinox, would be the king and queen of today’s cardiocracy. But aerobicrats they are not: When push comes to shove, they do not head for a spinning class, or to any of the myriad running machines, but to the weight floor—to push and shove.

Spevak, while careful not to dis cardio, says he’s put more and more weight training into his schedule. “Speeding up metabolism to maintain my weight, more strength, more stamina,” he says, “and I get a greater stress release than with cardio.” The ultralean Rhonda has slashed her cardio to 10 percent of her workout. “I don’t spend nearly as much time in the gym,” she says.

The basic science behind a high-weight-training regimen is pretty simple: Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism.

But just as it’s hard to accept the idea that carbs, not fat, might be the worst offender in one’s diet, many people, especially women, find it hard to shake the notion that a few biceps curls will turn them into Vin Diesel. “It’s such a misconception,” says Rhonda. “When I first started, I said to my trainer, ‘I don’t want to get big,’ but it’s not possible to get as big as some of those people without help.” (That is, steroids.)

Even if cardio fans grudgingly admit that muscle-heads may have a point, they insist cardio should stay in the picture. “If a trainer told me he could get me fit just by lifting weights, I’d tell him he’s dead wrong,” says Michael Henson, who oversees group exercise at the Sports Club/LA in Rockefeller Center. “Cardio improves your overall body composition and your ability to lose weight. It decreases fatigue, hypertension, depression. Cardio gives you a feeling of emotional health that weight lifting doesn’t.”

In contrast to the implied shallowness of bodybuilding, cardio, in all its self-immolating glory, is often held up as morally superior—exalting endurance over superficial considerations like pec size. “There’s this punitive mind-set,” says Lou Schuler, author of The Testosterone Advantage Plan, which extols weights over cardio. “It drives me crazy, the idea that exercise isn’t supposed to be fun.”

Brent Bouchez, a Manhattan advertising executive who had struggled for years to lose a minor spare tire through cardio, and who finally got rid of it recently through weight training, wholeheartedly agrees. “There’s no need to be snobbish about it,” says Bouchez. “The truth is, your looks say it best—and my trainer got three new clients after people came to the beach house this summer.” Spiritual, perhaps not. But nothing succeeds like success.


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