Cardio vs. Strength Training
When it comes to losing weight there is a pretty broad mix of different things people tell you to do. Some swear that cardio is the only way to get thin. Others maintain that strength training (weights) is the way to go.
But who is right? And what should you be doing?
Unsurprisingly, the answer isn’t simple. The results you desire dictate the kind of exercise and how much of it you should undertake.
Before we begin, what do we mean by cardio, and what do we mean by strength training?
Cardio = cardiovascular exercise. This is any exercise that increases your heart rate dramatically. Examples of cardio are things like running, rowing or using an elliptical machine.
Strength Training = exercises designed to build strength and stimulate muscle development through the use of increasing resistance, for example, lifting freeweights or using resistance bands. An intense strength training session could count as a cardio workout if it raises your heart rate enough!
To Build Speed and Strength
Cardio: Exercises such as running should help strengthen leg muscles and increase speed and fitness levels, allowing you to exercise harder, burn more calories and build more strength.
However, your body is great at adapting to change. Just pacing out those 10 miles a week on a treadmill isn’t going to be enough. Your body will get used to the exercise and you’ll quickly find yourself plateauing.
In order to continuously see results, you need to push your body outside its comfort zone with speed training cardio workouts. These can jump-start your metabolism, help burn fat and increase endurance.
Strength Training: As the name suggests this is about building strength. If you want to be faster and stronger, you’re going to want stronger muscles.
More than that, strength training allows you to work muscle groups all over your body, most importantly your core and back muscles. This will help you better support your body weight and maintain good form, resulting in more powerful muscles.
To Burn Calories
Cardio: For burning calories and reducing body mass, cardio has the upper hand. However, it’s not quite as simple as burning off the pounds.
It has been found that people who ostensibly do just cardio burn large amounts of muscle mass along with the fat.
Strength Training: This doesn’t burn as many calories, but it does promote the development of muscle mass. This is important because muscle mass, even when idle requires more fuel for everyday functions than fat does. So, by building up muscle you will burn more calories over time.
It also takes energy to repair the muscles you break down during training. One thing to remember: muscle weighs more than fat. So, if you want to lose weight and only care about what the scales say, adding muscle will slow that process down.
If your goal then is to lose weight quickly, a cardio-heavy exercise regime is going to be best for you. However, if you want to keep the pounds off, you need to put on some muscle at the same time.
The right exercise can help you improve your quality of life. Cardio is proven to help with a number of ailments, including, but not limited to, helping blood pressure, strengthening your heart and helping with osteoporosis.
That being said, it’s not all good news. Exercises like running, are incredibly hard on your joints and can lead to straining ligaments, wearing out cartilage and other permanent injuries that you might regret in later life. One suggestion we would make is to choose low impact cardio exercises like swimming.
For back health, resistance and muscle training are vital, particularly when focusing on your core. For those suffering from back problems, regular strength exercises can help minimise the effects of these problems on your daily life, while also stopping the build up of intra-abdominal fat.
Exercising for just 15 – 20 minutes a day, no matter what it is, will help increase your serotonin levels and help your brain produce endorphins which will massively improve your mood.
On top of this, getting your heart rate up helps increase your energy levels by increasing blood flow to your muscles. A short cardio workout will stretch your muscles and break down any lactic acid in your system, reducing stiffness and aching.
Personally, if I am experiencing high levels of stress, I find a high-intensity strength workout consisting of lifting implausibly heavy things helps to vent my frustrations and clear my head.
Cardio: Regular cardiovascular exercises can help keep your body in shape and perform to its best ability.
However, the repetitive nature of doing cardio alone (that is, without combining it with any strength training) can put serious pressure on your joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons, and potentially result in injury.
Strength Training: Functional strength training teaches your brain how to handle muscle contractions that are quick enough to prevent or minimize injuries.
If you choose exercises that work your core, improve your balance and force you to bend at multiple joints, you are actually protecting your body. Think lunges, rows, squats and pull ups!
Simply put, if you want to lose weight, cardio burns more calories. Yet, as I hope I have made clear, this isn’t so cut and dry…
Cardio doesn’t do a whole lot for your muscles, in fact, a cardio-heavy exercise regime will reduce muscle.
Strength training on the other hand will help you build muscle, which, in the long term will help you burn more calories. ‘For every 3 pounds you gain (of muscle) you can expect to burn an extra 120 calories a day without moving.’
As you get older, resistance training becomes more important, as it improves muscle strength, suppleness and bone density. This will help keep you healthy and mobile and enjoy a better quality of life.
The best solution then is a clever combination of both cardio and strength training. This will help you slash calories, but build muscle at the same time leading to a leaner, stronger you.
Bernard Gutin, Paule Barbeau, Scott Owens, Christian R Lemmon, Mara Bauman, Jerry Allison, Hyun-Sik Kang, Mark S Litaker; Effects of exercise intensity on cardiovascular fitness, total body composition, and visceral adiposity of obese adolescents, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 75, Issue 5, 1 May 2002, Pages 818–826, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/75.5.818