Cardio vs Strength Training - What They're Not Telling You

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: June 19, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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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.

Quick Summary

  • Cardio, characterized by rhythmic activities raising heart rate, is highly effective for weight loss due to its calorie-burning efficiency.
  • Strength training focuses on building muscle across the body, enhancing posture, stamina, and reducing injury risk, complementing cardio's benefits.
  • A study by the European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that metabolism remains elevated for 14-38 hours post-strength training, unlike with cardio.
  • Incorporating both cardio and strength training offers a balanced approach to fitness, maximizing health benefits and achieving a well-rounded physique.

What is Cardio?

mountain-top

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

I've experienced the versatility of cardio firsthand. Whether it's a brisk morning walk or a weekend soccer game, I've found it easy to incorporate into my daily life, suiting my varying 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.

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 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 [1].

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

best-cardio-exercise-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.

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What is Strength Training?

Topless-Man-In-Grey-Shorts

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 and 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 the 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

man-pulling-a-rope

A well-designed strength and weight training program increases your Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC.

In contrast, your body stops burning calories at an elevated rate soon after a consistent cardio exercise ends.

A study by the European Journal of Applied Physiology revealed that your metabolism will work harder for anywhere between 14 and 38 hours after the workout [2].

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.

Also Read: Strength Training for Triathletes

Best Lifting Exercises for Weight Loss

best-strenght-and-lifting-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

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.

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 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 [3].

I've found HIIT sessions to be incredibly efficient, especially on busy days. The post-workout energy is unbeatable.

Best HIIT Exercises for Weight Loss

men and women working out with HIIT

 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

If you want your own personal workout plan, you can try a fitness tracking app to get started paired with either a weightlifting tracker for your lifts or a cycling tracker for your HIIT cycling

How Much Exercise Do You Need to Lose Weight?

people in gym

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

Woman-Measuring-Her-Waist

Diets play an important role in weight loss.

While exercise has dozens of health benefits, at the end of the day, it is just a piece of the weight loss puzzle.

According to Esther Avant, a sports nutritionist and personal trainer, what will give you the biggest bang for your buck as far as fat loss goes is the combination of diet and exercise, be it cardio or strength training

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.

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.

Here are 20 foods to add in your diet so you can start losing weight.

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How Do They Work Together?

man-doing-dip-exercises

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.

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.

Elle Mace, clinical weight loss coach, suggests gradually combining both exercises not just to lose weight but also to help with body shape and definition.

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.

In my fitness journey, both cardio and strength training have been essential. They complement each other perfectly for a holistic health benefit.

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.

For an added boost, consider incorporating powerful pre-workout supplements into your routine. This supplement can improve strength and endurance, pushing you through intense workouts and reaching new heights.

References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2062750/
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-001-0568-y
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6763680/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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One thought on “Cardio vs Strength Training – Pros and Cons

  1. I love reading this article! I didn’t know this until now. Keep it up!

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