Some argue one is better than the other, but is that true?
We all know that person who go to the gym daily to spend 60 minutes on the elliptical and never touches a weight.
On the other side, there is the person who lives in the weight room and doesn’t do any cardio. They get winded coming up the stairs.
In this article we’ll look at the benefits of both options, but you should be doing BOTH.
You don’t need to be 100% team cardio or 100% team strength training.
Knowing which type of workout you should do will depend on what your goals are with health and fitness.
Are you trying to lose fat? Build muscle? Improve your athletic performance? Improve your mental health and overall wellbeing?
Are you training for a marathon or triathlon? Are you prepping for a weight lifting competition? Do you want to lose weight? Are you just wanting to be healthy?
So, is cardio better than strength training or is strength training better than cardio?
How do you know which is better for your goals?
The answer is, both are great for you and they each have different benefits.
I used to be 100% team cardio. I would go to the gym, do 60 minutes on the elliptical, 20 minutes on the stair climber and finish it off with a 5 mile run later that day. 🤪
Then, I discovered the joy of strength training. It was fun. It was actually changing my body. I was getting more muscle. I felt stronger.
I still love cardio. I did a full ironman a few years ago, regularly run marathons, etc. But, I’ve found a balance between the two types of exercise. Depending on what my goals are, one will take more priority than the other.
So let’s dive in, but first, here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be reviewing.
- What’s the Difference: Cardio VS. Strength Training
- Benefits of Cardio
- Benefits of Strength Training
- So, Which is Better For Me?
What’s the Difference: Cardio vs. Strength Training
Both cardio and strength training have their benefits, but what is the difference between the 2 types of exercise?
Cardio is short for cardiovascular conditioning. It’s an aerobic exercise that uses oxygen to increase your breathing and heart rate.
You’re moving your body, breathing faster, and increasing your blood flow. You can maintain this level of activity for an extended period of time.
Examples are walking, running, cycling, swimming, hiking, or Sweating to the Oldies with Richard Simmons. 😉 (anyone else’s mom have these videos growing up?)
Strength Training (weight training or resistance training) is an anaerobic exercise.
This includes lifting dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and/or using weight machines.
Anaerobic exercises break down glucose for energy, without relying on oxygen like cardio does. More energy is used in a short amount of time.
This is more of a short, intense activity that has you working to the max and can’t be sustained for long periods of time.
Benefits of Cardio
Heart Health and Endurance
Cardio can improve your heart health. Incorporating cardio into your routine will reduce your risk of heart diseases, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and even some types of cancers.
Cardio will boost your aerobic capacity (how much oxygen your blood gets and uses) and allows your heart and lungs to more efficiently move oxygen through your body.
This will give you some more endurance that will help you get through long workouts or everyday activities like walking up the stairs, playing with your kids, etc. without huffing and puffing.
Your body will burn energy (calories) to power through it. How many calories per workout will depend on your weight, the duration of the workout, and intensity.
You’ll burn more calories during a cardio workout vs. a strength workout.
The key word is *during*. We’ll touch back on this more in the strength training section.
Obviously if you want to become a faster runner or complete a marathon, you’ll need some running cardio to improve your performance.
The more your run or bike or swim, etc., your body will adapt and become more efficient at it, increasing your endurance.
Combat Stress and Boost Confidence
Runners high anyone? Honestly, that’s 99% of the reason I love to run! That feeling of joy and accomplishment after you complete a run, swim, etc. is one that keeps me coming back for more!
The rush of endorphins you get from accomplishing a good cardio workout will leave your with higher self-esteem and more confidence.
Cardio also elevates your serotonin levels in the brain.
Serotonin a key neurotransmitter that is involved in improving depression and anxiety.
The effects of aerobic activity often show up before we‘ve even finished our workout, and just 15 minutes of exercise a day can significantly boost your mood.
Honestly, this is my #1 reason to enjoy cardio.
Benefits of Strength Training
Muscle Gains and Strength
You will build more muscle with strength training.
Strength training works your muscles against resistance. And by stressing your muscles, it stimulates them to grow and become stronger.
If you are looking for that “toned” look or want bigger muscles, strength training is the way to go, NOT cardio.
An important note, if you’re worried about “getting too big”, don’t worry. It takes A LOT of concentrated effort to get huge muscles. So, don’t worry about that! Hitting the weight 3-4 times a week, on a good program, will help you get a nice shape to your muscles and achieve a “toned” look.
Another benefit of growing muscle and strength is it can help prevent injury. So, even if you are a runner…actually especially if you are a runner, strength training should be included in your training to help prevent injury. It’ll also make you faster. 😉
A lot of people who are trying to lose fat or lose weight think cardio is the way to go.
They might haaaate running, but they think that is what they need to do in order to lose weight.
You can definitely burn more calories during a cardio workout compared to a strength training workout, but that’s only *during* the workout.
Strength training will have you burning calories throughout the day.
The more muscle mass you have vs. fat, the faster your metabolism will be. Or the more calories your body will burn when at rest.
Strength training = increased lean muscle mass = higher metabolic rate = more calories burned.
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so the more you gain, the more calories you’ll burn – and the more likely you are to keep fat off. Dr Leigh Breen
If you’re trying to lose weight and be in a calorie deficit, this will help you out a lot!
Weight bearing exercises helps promote good bone health.
My mom’s doctor has recommended her to start doing weight bearing exercises to help prevent osteoporosis.
Numerous studies have shown that strength training can play a role in slowing down bone loss and even help build bone.
In short it’s because as you put stress on the bones, it puts bone-forming cells into action. As a result, stronger, denser bones.
This is a benefit even before you get super old! Think of it as less chance of fractures and bone breaks.
Combat Stress and Boost Confidence
Just like cardio, strength training can decrease cortisol levels and increase serotonin.
That drop in your cortisol levels can also help you sleep better.
Seeing yourself get stronger, being able to lift heavier, and mastering different lifts can also boost your confidence.
Accomplishing anything challenging and working hard will boost your confidence.
So, Which is Better For Me?
If you are training for a marathon, triathlon, etc. you’ll obviously want to prioritize cardio (running, biking, swimming) over strength training.
However, I also recommend at least 2 days of strength training to be included to your plan. This can help prevent injury and help you increase your overall strength.
If you’re focus is fat loss, muscle gain, strength gain, I’d recommend a larger focus on strength training.
I recommend 3-4 days of strength training, hitting the major muscle groups twice a week. The quality of your strength training program is important as well.
It should be targeted towards accomplishing your specific goals and include progres overload.
Progressive Overload is when you gradually increase the weight, frequency, or number of reps.
Cardio should still be included and that could be less intense like walking or whatever you like. I like to include cardio on the days between strength training.
In conclusion, both cardio and strength training are important and beneficial to your overall health. It’s a matter of finding a balance between the 2. And that balance will depend on your goals.
Hope this helps!
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