Cardio Vs Strength Training: Which Is Better for You?
If you’re a fitness enthusiast, then you already know the value of including both cardio and strength training into your workout regimen.
But if you’re a beginner, or maybe returning to exercise after time off, you may be wondering if you should do cardio vs. strength training, what the differences are between the two, and how best to structure your workouts. Let’s dig in:
5 Benefits of Cardio Training
Cardiovascular exercise is an aerobic activity where you raise your heart rate for a sustained period to train the heart and lungs and boost stamina. Think jogging, hitting the stair climber or row machine, swimming laps, or cross-country skiing. Cardio benefits the body in many ways, including:
1. Cardio Training Improves Heart Health and Endurance
Increased cardio means increased aerobic capacity — the amount of oxygen your blood receives and uses. This improved cardiovascular health allows your heart and lungs to move oxygen through your body more efficiently, which increases your endurance to get through longer training sessions.
2. Cardio Exercise Reduces Body Fat
Due to the elevated heart rate and continuous intensity, cardio burns more calories than strength training. This higher calorie burn is why cardio workouts are more often associated with fat loss. That said, there are two types of cardio for fat loss to consider.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): For HIIT workouts, you want to get to at least 80% of your maximum heart rate during the high-intensity intervals and not allow it to drop below 50% for the low-intensity intervals or breaks.
HIIT workouts help you to retain current muscle mass. HIIT fat loss is believed to be related to an increase in hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), a fat-burning enzyme activated by the release of hormones.
Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS): LISS workouts consist of aerobic activities (walking, jogging at a leisurely pace, swimming laps, etc.) performed at low intensity for an extended period. It’s the opposite of HIIT.
Research suggests that LISS workouts may help burn fat at a higher rate than high-intensity workouts. As a result, LISS is often considered better for anyone with significant fat loss goals, especially since it’s suited for all fitness levels.
3. Cardio Workouts Increases Energy
There’s a complex relationship between stress, hormones, and energy. When you do cardio, your body releases stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine). When released in small amounts through exercise, these hormones give your body energy.
4. Cardio Regimens Lower Blood Pressure Levels
Regular cardio activity makes your heart stronger, allowing it to pump blood with less effort, decreasing the pressure on your arteries while lowering your blood pressure. In addition, studies have shown that endurance exercises like running, cycling, or rowing are effective at decreasing blood pressure.
5. Cardio Activity Increases Mental Clarity
The increased blood flow from your cardio routine is good for your body and brain. Improved circulation can lead to better memory, as well as increased alertness and brain function.
5 Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training (often called weight training) consists of exercising the muscles against resistance to increase muscular endurance and strength. The muscles are challenged to overcome forces that come from your workout equipment, be it YBells, kettlebells or dumbbells, selectorized machines, or your body weight. Some of the benefits of strength training are:
1. Strength Training Builds Muscle
Lifting weights builds and sculpts your muscles through hypertrophy, which is an increase in the size of muscles. Weights put more resistance on your muscles, breaking down tissue quickly and triggering your body to heal and build muscle in the process.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that participants increased their lean mass through a weight training program.
2. Strength Training Burns Calories Even After the Workout
While cardio training burns more calories during the actual workout, strength training burns calories long after the workout ends. Your muscle is constantly being broken down and built back up, which requires energy (calories). This after-burn leads to a more significant calorie burn throughout the day.
3. Weight Training Protects Bone Health
Weight training helps to increase your bone density, which strengthens your bones. Stronger bones can slow down or help to prevent osteoporosis, not to mention avoiding breaking or fracturing your bones.
4. Strength Training Prevents Injuries
Stronger muscles support your joints, increase your mobility, and reduce your risk of hip or knee damage or arthritis. Strong joints also prevent injury through better balance, coordination and improved posture, decreasing lower back and neck pain.
A study from the National Library of Medicine showed that strength training reduced the risk of falling by 40% in older people (who are at higher risk of falling).
5. Weight Training Improves Cardiovascular Health
Weight training increases lean muscle mass, allowing your lungs to process more oxygen as you breathe and your heart to pump more blood with less pressure. Lowered pressure on your arteries puts less demand on your heart, reducing heart-related health issues.
If you regularly lift weights, you’ll reap the benefits of a lowered risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Meet HIRT: The Perfect Blend of Cardio and Strength Training
Years ago, gym members had straightforward divisions of cardio vs. resistance training. Today, with the rise of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Tabata training, and high-intensity resistance training (HIRT), the pure distinction between cardio and strength work has blurred. Sweat sessions often combine the two.
So instead of 30 minutes of pure cardio or strict strength, you might do 5 minutes of cardio, followed by 5 minutes of strength. Or you may perform 50 jumping jacks, 15 YBell pick-up cross catch squat presses, 25 burpees, and 15 YBell push-ups.
5 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training
With HIRT, you get all the benefits of HIIT, cardio, and strength training.
1. HIRT Decreases Fat and Increases Muscle
Combining cardio and strength gives you the best of both workout regimens: cardio’s fat loss and strength training’s muscle gain.
HIRT training increases your resting energy expenditure, causing increased fat oxidation. Much like in strength training, HIRT increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption as your body recovers from the workout. So you’re burning more energy and breaking down stored fat while you build muscles.
2. HIRT Enhances Your Cardiovascular Health
A recent study showed that participants who did resistance and cardio training for eight weeks lowered their heart disease risk factors more than those who did just cardio or just strength.
3. HIRT Strengthens Your Bones
By stressing your bones, resistance training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis-related fractures. Several studies have shown that women who do regular resistance training see significant increases in the bone density of their hips and spine.
4. HIRT Takes Less Time
Group classes might last 30 to 40 minutes, but you can achieve a highly effective HIRT workout at home in as little as 10 minutes. It’s all about keeping up your intensity for the elevated heart rate and muscle gain.
If you’re low on spare time, you can still sneak in a quick workout during your lunch break or between household chores.
5. HIRT Is a Sustainable and Fun Workout
Experienced athletes and those new to working out often find that they can commit to HIRT training better than traditional weight or cardio workouts. That’s because HIRT workouts are much more engaging, requiring you to be agile and focused, whether you’re working out alone or with a group.
So Is Cardio or Strength Training Better for You?
For optimal fitness, both cardio and strength work are necessary. But, beyond that stipulation, there’s lots of flexibility in how you put together your workout routine.
Various research draws conflicting conclusions regarding whether it’s better to do cardio or strength training first. Intuitively, it makes sense to perform cardio first if your goal is to improve endurance so you can run a marathon. However, if you want to build strength and muscle, hit the weights first while your body is fresh.
Variety and cross-training deliver the best results, so mix up your routine with multiple modalities when possible. If you like doing cardio workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and strength training on Tuesday and Thursday, do that.
If you do a HIRT workout with YBells twice a week, that counts as both your cardio workout and strength training. Pick other exercise modalities on alternating days, such as yoga or swimming laps for active recovery.
Lots of options exist. What’s most important: get in both cardio and strength, and adhere to regular workouts!
For more than 25 years, Julie King has been a certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer, holding certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the Aquatic Exercise Association and Schwinn/Mad Dogg Athletics. She also has extensive continuing education and instruction experience in PiYo, YogaFit and mat Pilates.
Over her career, Julie has led virtually every class format at commercial health clubs, corporate fitness centers, wellness centers, schools and online. A contributing editor for Club Business International magazine, she has been published in Club Industry, Fitness Management, Club Solutions, National Fitness Trade Journal and Gear Trends/SNEWS.
With a M.S. in Kinesiology and a B.S. in Journalism, Julie is passionate about helping others to cultivate a love and habit of exercise.