Both cardio and strength exercises are very popular and useful tools in various workout routines. However, it can be quite difficult to decide which is the most effective workout for you, especially if you’re just starting.
For instance, cardio enthusiasts claim that you’ll lose weight by burning calories when you increase the heater. On the other hand, weight lifters believe that increasing muscle mass is the best way to get rid of excess body fat since it makes you burn more calories throughout the day.
Seeing that this debate doesn’t seem like it will come to end soon, which method is more effective; cardio or strength training? Worry not! In this article, I’ll show you the general recommendations and varying benefits of each form of workout. Hopefully, this will help you have a great starting point for your fitness journey!
What is Cardio Training?
As the name suggests, cardio training is an aerobic activity that primarily works on the cardiovascular system, which is made up of blood vessels and the heart. Aerobic means that the exercises use oxygen to increase your heart and breathing rate continuously throughout the workout.
Running is the most popular form of cardiovascular activity. However, any activity that increases your heart rate and makes you breathe faster & harder counts as cardio. There are various types of aerobic/ cardio exercises such as Steady-state cardio and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training).
Steady-state cardio refers to activities like elliptical vs treadmill training. Typically, it’s any form of exercise that will keep your heart and breathing rate within a steady range during the workout. According to the CDC, steady-state cardio is usually performed in a moderate range or about 64 – 76% of your maximum heart rate.
On the other hand, High-Intensity Interval Training combines high-intensity activity with short rest segments. As a result, these exercises are usually shorter in duration compared to steady-state cardio. More notably, this type of workout requires you to work at a high-intensity level of around 77% – 93% of your max heart rate.
Benefits of Cardio Training
- Improves heart health & endurance
Cardio workouts are intended to elevate your heart rate and make you breathe faster. As a result, your body uses oxygen more efficiently as it tries to get more oxygen from the blood. At the same time, this keeps your heart pumping strongly and efficiently, particularly when you need endurance. In addition, cardio exercise boosts your aerobic capacity and allows your lungs & heart to move oxygen through the body more efficiently.
This will also offer other benefits like improved blood flow, reduced cholesterol & blood pressure, strong heart & blood vessels, and reduced resting heart rate. Over time, doing cardio exercise reduces the risk of diabetes and various cardiovascular conditions like stroke, heart attacks, heart disease, etc.
- Burns calories faster
The body uses up energy to power it through when burning calories during any exercise. More importantly, your body weight will determine how many calories you burn during the workout. Another notable benefit of a cardio workout is that the body burns more calories during the exercise than you would during a strength training workout.
According to a report published by Harvard Medical School, a 115-lb person burns about 372 calories when running for 30 minutes at an average pace of 10-minute-per-mile and 112 calories when lifting weights for the same amount of time. Also, the same person can burn 391 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous stationary cycling.
Most cardio exercises only need free time and a pair of running shoes. This makes it a budget-friendly workout option since almost anyone can run or walk without fancy fitness equipment or a gym membership. Alternatively, you can do steady-state cardio using various fitness equipment like treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, etc.
What is Strength training?
Also known as weight/ resistance training, strength training refers to any anaerobic exercise that involves lifting weights such as kettlebells, dumbbells, barbels, or using weight machines. Unlike cardio training, anaerobic workouts break down glucose into energy without relying on oxygen.
In essence, strength training involves moving your body against resistance tools like barbels, weight plates, resistance bands, kettlebells, etc. As a result, this makes your muscles stronger and helps you build more muscle. Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and lunges are also very effective exercises for building strength.
Benefits of strength training
- Ideal for building muscles
Strength training is one of the best workouts for building muscles. According to a 2012 study, people who took part in a resistance training program gained lean muscle mass.
- Burns calories throughout the day
While cardio workouts will help you burn more calories, strength training keeps your body burning calories throughout the day, even after the workout. This is because strength training builds muscles, which helps to increase your resting metabolism. Moreover, muscle helps the body burn more calories when resting than fat does.
According to a small 2001 research comparing resting metabolism, strength training increases the resting metabolism for both men and women. Specifically, the training increased the rate of resting metabolism by 9% in men and about 4% in women.
- Reduces the risk of injury
Lifting weight is known to increase your bone density, which makes your bones stronger. So, if you do strength training like lifting dumbbells, you’ll get stronger bones over time. Even better, this helps to prevent osteoporosis, fractures, and breaks. Moreover, strength training develops stronger mussels, which supports your joints and reduces the risk of shoulder/ knee injuries and arthritis.
Cardio Vs Strength Training; Comparison
According to research conducted by several scientists, you can use body weight to estimate the number of calories burned during various types of workouts, including strength and cardio training. For most exercises, the number of calories you burn will depend on your body size and the intensity of your workout. All in all, cardio training burns more calories per session than weight training for almost the same amount of effort.
For instance, a certain study shows that a 160-pound person can burn up to 250 calories after jogging at a moderate pace for 30 minutes. Moreover, if you run at a faster pace of 6 mph for 30 minutes, you can burn around 365 calories. On the other hand, weight/ strength training for the same amount of time will help you burn between 130 and 220 calories.
Interestingly, while weight/ strength training doesn’t usually burn as many calories as cardio training, it offers other important benefits. To start, strength training is more effective at building muscle than cardio workouts. As a result, these muscles burn more calories at rest compared to other tissues like fat, helping you burn more calories every day. On the same note, building muscles increases your resting metabolism, which refers to the number of calories you burn while resting. This simply means that weight training will help your body keep burning calories for days or hours even after the workout.
Which workout is more effective; cardio or weight training?
Both cardio and strength training can help you reach a calorie deficit to lose body fat and burn more calories every day. However, a cardio workout is more effective than strength training at reducing body fat since it burns fat faster and burns more calories during exercise. On the other hand, weight training is more effective than cardio in building muscles, improving metabolism over time, and burning more calories throughout the day, even when resting.
Interestingly, you don’t necessarily;y have to choose weight or cardio training for your fitness and weight loss goals as you can simply do both! Combining weights and cardio is one of the best ways for enhancing your body composition. Best of all, combining weight and cardio workouts into a comprehensive workout program will improve your cardiovascular fitness, help you build muscle, and lead to weight loss.
While there are notable differences between cardio exercise and weight training, both forms of workouts can help you become fitter and healthier. So, instead of leaning towards one exercise, it’s best to include both in your exercise program as they will improve your health and body composition.
If you choose to do both exercises, you have to decide whether you should do cardio before weights and vice versa. According to a 2014 ACE study, doing cardio after weight training helps you burn calories with less effort. The research shows that doing cardio after weight lifting increased the heart rate by 12 beats per minute compared to doing cardio alone. In addition, weight lifting before cardio is a better strategy if you want to build strength. However, if the goal of your training program is to improve endurance for an upcoming run, it’s best to do cardio before weights.