There are certain things in life where you naturally feel you have to pick sides. Sweet vs. savoury, starters vs. puddings, Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez vs. Hailey Bieber, horror movies vs. rom-coms, rowing vs. running and, at the top of the list, (for fitness fanatics, anyway) weights vs cardio. That’s the one where people bump heads a lot, which can make it pretty daunting for anyone looking to improve their fitness game and smash their goals as two different camps try to tell you which is best.
That’s why we’ve decided to dive into this argument and find out whether one really is better than the other, or if these two forms of exercise can come together for the greater good and take your fitness journey to new heights. Let’s do this:
The Difference Between Strength Training and Cardio
You don’t need to be a professor of sports science to know that cardio and strength training are very different forms of exercise, but it’s actually what they do to your body that makes them so different.
Starting with strength training, which can be anything from lifting weights to embracing resistance, is all about focusing on your anaerobic activity (aka exercises that are done with sudden short bursts of energy and don’t require much breathing). That might be lifting free weights, doing pull ups, working out with kettlebells or squatting in front of a weight machine ready to lift your max. All of these anaerobic exercises work by breaking down your body’s glucose and turning it into energy, without relying on oxygen like cardio does.
Cardio (which is short for “cardiovascular conditioning”) is the opposite in that it’s an aerobic activity, meaning it requires oxygen to increase your breathing and heart rate. We’re talking about things like running, swimming, rowing, cycling, zumba classes, circuit sessions and anything else that makes you breathe harder and faster, your heart rate increasing as you go.
Benefits of Team Cardio
Enhanced Endurance + Stronger Heart Health
The major benefit of cardio is your heart health. By improving your endurance and stamina, you’re also improving your heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen around your body. It’s about boosting your aerobic capacity (how much oxygen your blood carries and uses) and helping your heart and lungs to be more efficient at moving oxygen through your body. Not only will this help you train for longer, it will make day to day life a whole lot easier too.
Burn More Calories When You Workout
When you exercise for any duration, your body is using up your energy stores to power through and complete whatever task is in front of you, whether that’s running a 5K or smashing one of our circuits. As such, cardio will see you burn a lot more calories during your workout than you would when strength training. In fact, 30-minutes of strength training will burn around 112 calories compared to 375 calories when running a thirty-minute 10K.
Way Faster Weight Loss
For a lot of people that attend our all-inclusive fitness retreats, the main aim is to reduce their levels of visceral fat (aka belly fat). That’s where good old fashioned cardio comes in. It’s the queen of burning fat and speeding up your weight loss dreams, much more so than plain old strength training. Simply put, cardio kicks butt when it comes to shedding fat and body mass.
Benefits of Team Weights
Get Those Gains
For those who think strength training is all about those muscles, you’re wrong. Weights still burn a bunch of calories, it’s just really-really good for building muscle. After all, there’s a reason you don’t see many jacked endurance athletes (Ross Edgley being the ridiculous exception). So in the same way cardio is great for weight loss, strength training is epic for lean muscle mass (translation: getting ripped).
Burn Calories, All Day.
Here’s the thing: while cardio workouts will help you burn more calories during your sweat-soaked sessions, strength training will keep those calories burning throughout the day. How is that freakin’ possible? Well, thanks to the muscles you’re building, you’re also increasing your resting metabolism, which is simply your ability to burn calories while resting/binge-watching Netflix. In fact, according to a recent study that compared the resting metabolism of people who focussed on strength training over cardio found an increase in resting metabolism for both genders.
Injury Prevention For The Win
One of the more unsung benefits of lifting weights is its role in increasing your bone density. Yepp. The moment you start curling dumbbells, hitting those battle ropes, or bench pressing a bar, you’ll find yourself on the highway to stronger bones, not only helping you to prevent things like osteoporosis happening, but also reducing your chance of enduring any breaks or fractures. And if that’s not quite enough, stronger muscles will also support your joints better by supporting them, reducing your risk of knee, elbow or shoulder injuries, including arthritis.
The Big Benefits of Choosing Both Cardio + Strength
Swap Fat For Lean Muscle Gains
By combining strength training and cardio, you can get the best of both worlds: fat loss and muscle gain. It’s going to take a little more time to incorporate both, but it’s time well spent if you want less fat and more muscle.
You can’t totally rely on the number on the scale to track your weight loss if you’re strength training and incorporating cardio, because muscle has greater density than fat.
Way Better Heart Health
If cardio is good for the heart, a combination is epic for that almighty organ of yours. In fact, a study done a few years ago showed people who do a mix of strength training and cardio for no less than 8 weeks will be a lot more resilient against the risks of heart disease than those who did just one or the other. Basically, your heart will thank you big time for combining both forms of exercise, which is exactly why all of our workouts, circuits, sessions and priorities at our fitness retreats involve a combination of strength and cardio.
Look After Your Mental Wellbeing
Ask any runner why they love pounding the pavement and taking on the trails so much and they’ll tell you it’s the endorphins. It’s the way they feel mentally during and after each run that makes them stick with it. Well, it’s not just running that reaps those rewards; it’s exercise in general. By combining cardio sessions with some strength work, such as resistance training, you’ll find yourself improving your resilience against both anxiety and depression. Now imagine that cardio and resistance training was taking place on a beach, like all of our bootcamps, and you’ll see why so many clients refer to us as a fitness and wellness retreat.
Cardio After Strength: The Secret To Fat Burning
In case you’re wondering what order to do things in – cardio and then strength or vice versa – we recommend hitting the weights first and then tackling a cardio session in order to burn more calories with less effort. It’s also the better strategy for anyone looking to build strength.
The only reason to swap these around and do cardio first is if your fitness goal is based around better endurance, say if you have a long-distance run coming up. In that instance, the best strategy is to go for a run or a swim or a row and then compliment it with strength training.
To Summarise Everything:
Cardio burns more calories during your workout, and burns fat faster, making it great for weight loss.
Strength training is awesome at building muscle and then burning more calories throughout the day (even when resting).
Cardio is essential for building a healthy heart.
Combining both cardio and strength training is the ultimate solution when it comes to fat loss, muscle gain and heart health.
Doing cardio after a weights session will boost your weight loss even more.
Thanks for reading our guide to choosing cardio or strength training to meet your fitness goals. For more information, fitness tips and nutrition tricks, follow us on Facebook and Instagram.