When you enter the gym, it can feel like you need to choose a team: Team Treadmill or Team Deadlifts.
Team Treadmill only stroll over to the weight room for space to cool down, and Team Deadlift only do a jog to warm up.
But I’m here to tell you – you don’t have to choose, and in fact – you shouldn’t!
Cardio and strength training both have a place in your regimen. Doing one and not the other misses out on major benefits that are unique to each.
Below, I’ll be detailing all of your options so you can make an informed routine that helps you get fit, shed pounds, and reach your goals in an exciting and effective way.
What is Cardio?
Why Cardio Is Best For Weight Loss
Cardio training, also known as aerobic exercise, is any rhythmic activity that raises your heart rate for at least ten minutes or more.
The stronger your cardiovascular system is, the more efficient your body will become at providing oxygen to your muscles. This enables your cells to burn more fat during exertion and while at rest.
Cardio workouts burn more calories than other training options, meaning you’ll be able to achieve a diet deficit more easily.
To begin using cardio for weight loss, find out your ideal exertion level by using a heart rate chart. Usually, it’s around 70 percent of your maximum exertion.
Benefits Of Cardio
From a brisk walk outside to playing your weekly sport, cardio can be done almost anywhere. There are many options for cardio exercise, making it easy to adjust to your specific health and fitness needs.
Moderate cardio is less intense on the joints and can more easily be done for longer periods of time. High exertion cardio can build muscle, endurance, and stamina. (1)
Regardless of which you do, cardio reduces high-blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems like blocked arteries. Cardio can also increase the feel-good chemicals in your brain that will put you in a better mood and help you respond more efficiently to stress.
Given the same amount of time and effort, the calories burned during cardio exceed the number burned during strength training.
Best Cardio Exercises For Weight Loss
- Running - Running is a great option because it can be done on the treadmill or around the neighborhood. Running is sufficiently difficult to get your lungs pumping, but can also easily be adjusted to jogging or walking to match your fitness level. Two types of treadmills you can buy: Compact and Folding.
- Jumping Rope - The combination of using your arms to swing the rope and your abs and legs to jump makes it a challenge for glutes, quads, and your core. Because good form is important, jump rope should be used for short periods of time. Pair it with weighted jump ropes to make it even tougher.
- Stair Climber - Stair climbing is a highly efficient energy burner while also being low-impact on joints. This machine activates your glutes, thighs, hips, and abdominals. Most workouts take a while to ramp your heart up to its optimal levels – but this will get you there in less than two minutes.
- Cycling - Cycling is a great alternative to running. It uses the same muscle groups while having less impact on joints. If doing indoor cycling, resistance can be easily changed to manage difficulty. If you enjoy it, it’s a great option for the gym as well as casual weekend recreation.
- Rowing - No part of you can escape the full-body movement necessary to row. It’s is more challenging than walking but lower impact than running, and burns more calories per hour than any other commonly used aerobic exercise. Bad form on the rowing machine can cause strain or injury, so ask for guidance before using.
Related: What's the best cardio machine?
What is Strength Training?
Why Strength Training Can Help with Weight Loss
Cardio may build some muscle in the beginning, but many routines focus on the lower body.
Strength training gives every part of your body attention – building muscle and power in a way cardio never could.
Strength training can include lifting weights to workouts that use your own body weight and gravity against you.
They can be incorporated into your exercise routine to build muscle mass and burn fat. It requires good form, which improves your posture in and out of the gym. It also increases endurance, builds stamina, and reduces chance of injury.
Muscles burn more calories than other types of tissues – even while at rest. Therefore, weight lifting for weight loss is a great investment in your health for the long-term.
Benefits of Strength Training
A study by The European Journal of Applied Physiology revealed that your metabolism will work harder for anywhere between 14 to 38 hours after the workout. (3)
Lean muscle mass and bone density naturally decrease with age. However, weight training can help preserve and increase your muscle mass. Strength training also supports bone density, balance, and strong connective tissues.
There are also hundreds of ways to mix up your routine, keeping it interesting as well as challenging for your body.
Strength and weight training can be combined, rotated, and you can use different equipment to do similar things. With cardio, increasing your speed is often the only way to keep it challenging.
Best Lifting Exercises for Weight Loss
- Squats - Squats involve lowering your rear while keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, your back straight and your knees aligned with your feet. Go low as if you are going to sit in a chair. Once there, stand back straight and repeat. Squats primarily build your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and lower abdominals.
- Barbell Deadlifts - Spread your feet to shoulder-width apart and grab the bar using an overhand grip. Keeping your back straight and chest out, lift the bar until you are standing straight. This exercise works your entire body including your legs, glutes, and back.
- Russian Twist - Sitting with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent, take a small weight and alternate it from your left to right side. The twisting motion is highly effective at exercising the entire abdomen and back. Core exercises improve balance and stamina.
- Inverted Rows - Place a bar on a rack at waist height. With heels on the ground and hands shoulder width apart, lift your chest toward the bar, bending your elbows out. Hold, then extend your arms straight again. This exercise tones your rhomboids and trapezius as well as improves grip strength.
- Twisting Lunges - Extend your arms straight out. Lunge with your left foot forward, and swing your arms to your right side – being sure to twist your abdomen. Stand straight and move arms forward. Lunge with your right foot and swing arms to your left side. These lunges work your glutes, engage your core, and improve hip flexibility.
HIIT - Another Option for You
What Is High Intensity Interval Training?
High intensity interval training (or HIIT), is a type of cardio that alternates between periods of intense exercise, and less-intense recovery exercise. Using HIIT for weight loss can be an efficient way of jumpstarting your metabolism.
The rapid ramp-up and brief breaks causes your body to enter a different metabolic pattern that can result your body burning calories at a higher rate for up to two or even three days later. Because the high-exertion periods require 80-95% of your maximum effort, it is not recommended to do this type of exercise daily.
HIIT reduces insulin resistance, improves cardiovascular health, and trains your body for endurance and recovery better than consistent-rate cardio. If you’re low on time, HIIT is the best way to burn calories quickly. The Kettlebell is one piece of equipment that's been popular with HIIT workouts.
Here's a more in-depth guide on HIIT.
Best HIIT Exercises for Weight Loss
- Burpees - Lower your body as if beginning a squat and put your hands down flat to jump backwards to extend your legs behind you – entering a plank position. Lower your body onto the ground, then extend your arms again so your chest is raised. Jump your legs forward into a crouch, stand straight, then jump with your arms extended above your head. This full body move builds endurance, and spikes your heart-rate into the fat-burning zone.
- Jumping Jacks - While jumping in place, alternate between jumping with both arms and legs out, and both arms and legs in. Lift arms high and spread your feet so you gain the full effect in your shoulders and hips. This no-equipment move can be easily added to any session to lose body fat around your core and improve balance.
- Alternating Spider Climb - While on all fours in a push-up position, begin to crawl by moving your right knee and left hand forward, alternating with your left knee and right hand. Move forward several steps, then move backwards by using the same movements reversed. This strenuous move sculpts your legs, shoulders, and back.
- High Knees - Bend your arms forward and drive your right knee to meet your right hand. Quickly alternate to your left knee meeting your right hand. This exercise targets your quads, glutes, and hip flexors.
- Jump Squats - This effective exercise begins in squat position, where you’ll then stand and jump. Upon landing, lower back into the squat position, using your arms keep momentum and balance. You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by including a step stool or hold hand weights. This set can help build muscle and power in your legs, as well as improve ankle strength and support high-impact exercises in the future.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Lose Weight?
How much exercise you need to lose weight depends primarily on your diet, activity levels, current weight, and age.
To know how much cardio to lose weight, you need to exercise enough so that the total calories you burn are less than what you consume.
You can use cardio to reach the optimal level of exertion that burns fat during your exercise.
You can also focus on building muscle, so your metabolism stays elevated and working long after your workout is complete.
If you closely manage what you eat, you may be able to do less exercise and still reach your health and fitness goals.
The Role of Diet
Diets play an important role in weight loss.
By shifting your meals to include more fiber and protein, you’ll encourage a healthy GI tract, muscle growth, and you’ll stay full for longer.
No matter how many hours you spend in the gym, if your diet has the wrong balance of macronutrients, you will have a very difficult time reaching your desired physique.
Choose nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and whole grains to more easily maintain your caloric deficit and lose body fat.
Staying hydrated also plays an important role in keeping your metabolism working, and can act as a natural appetite suppressant.
How Do They Work Together?
The key to getting the most out of cardio and strength training is to use the two types of exercise together because the result is an overall increase in fitness.
When your muscles get stronger, your body can work harder. That means you can get the most out of your cardio. The more efficient your cardio, the more muscle you are going to be able to build.
Building your muscles will also help protect your body from injury during high-intensity cardio sessions. It can help give you a better sense of balance and strengthen your bones against fractures.
Combining cardio and strength training can also help you make more positive changes in your body. While aerobic exercise is excellent for weight loss, adding strength training will help you lengthen and shape your muscles.
Cardio vs Strength Training: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, your body can benefit from cardio training, strength training, and HIIT in different ways.
Stop dreading an hour on the treadmill or your next set of boring bicep curls. Each exercise style has its unique benefits, and you’ll need a combination of them all to shed pounds, and achieve a fit and toned body.
- Cardio improves stamina and burns energy proportional to your effort, making it easier to meet your deficit target.
- Strength training builds muscle that creates a toned body and improves general health.
- HIIT burns significant energy in a short amount of time, and keeps your metabolism working long after you finish.
Mix up your exercise routine to gain the maximum benefits of each style, while also keeping your routine interesting and challenging.
- Health Essentials, Cleveland Clinic, From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout (Infographic), retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/head-toe-benefits-cardio-workout-infographic/
- Chris Iliades, MD Medically Reviewed by Samuel Mackenzie, MD, PhD, 7 Ways Strength Training Boosts Your Health and Fitness, retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/add-strength-training-to-your-workout.aspx
- Mark D. SchuenkeRichard P. Mikat, Jeffrey M. McBride, Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management, retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00421-001-0568-y?LI=true
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