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What’s Better: Cardio or Weights?

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WHY IS THIS SO CONFUSING?!

Ok, so which is it: cardio or lifting weights?

Which of the two provides the better, more effective workout for getting results?!

There is a long running debate between cardio-based workouts (think jogging, boxing, spinning/cycling, treadmills, ellipticals, etc.) and lifting weights (think workouts using weights or other forms of resistance like dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, weighted balls, etc.).

  • If you are new to exercise, you may be wondering if you should focus more on cardio/high intensity workouts or, if your time and attention would be better spent on using weights / strength-based exercises.

  • Comparatively, if you have been at this whole exercising thing for a while, still not clear on the difference and question if what you are doing is truly effective, keep reading.

Today’s blog breaks this all down for you with science-based pro’s and con’s of cardio and weight-based workouts so you can ultimately decide what you want to do as you begin your fitness adventure or, debate what’s next!

**Note: If you have never exercised with weights before you may be thinking to yourself, this strength training / lifting weights stuff is SO not for me! That is reserved for the youthful athlete or bodybuilder competitors.

Good news – strength training is for EVERY BODY and EVERY AGE but, more on that later!

Click the button now to read the blog!


THE LOADED DEBATE

It’s no surprise figuring this all out feels confusing. You likely know people who do both or you’ve spent Googling this.

  • On one hand, you have friends who are die-hard, Jane Fonda loving cardio bunnies. They swear cardio is the only way to go and gush about their fun spin class.

    On the other, some of your friends swear by strength-based workouts and lifting weights. They gush about squats, chest presses, deadlifts (what the heck are those?) and flex so you can see their muscles.

And, let’s not forget the countless other fad workouts and videos posted all over social media and online.

When it comes to understanding which type of workout is better and what YOU specifically need to be doing, let’s first preface by saying, there are pros and cons to each.

Not all exercise styles and programs are created equal.

And that question of “what’s better for me?” is very grey and largely depends on your goals, the results you want to achieve, what you enjoy doing, and what you will stick with.


WHERE TO EVEN BEGIN?

So here you are today, asking yourself where do you start? Or, is what you’re doing most effective?

  • The quick and dirty answer about which exercise style is “better” is this: both cardio and strength based exercise programs are usually necessary when it comes to reaching goals. 

  • The short answer is to work with a coach and/or personal trainer to help you design and implement an exercise program designed for your specific body type and personal goals. 

  • The long answer – that’s where this blog comes into play!

First and foremost, all exercise is good for you with the end goal being optimizing your health!

Exercise is your body’s best form of natural medicine and an important investment in how you not only live today, but tomorrow and for the rest of your life.

Some consider exercise an “added expense” either financially and / or time BUT, if you think about it, exercising is arguably one of the best tools for improving your health, preventing disease and guaranteeing you can enjoy quality of life forever!

If you want to enjoy the rest of your life with the ones you love, exercising needs to be part of your lifestyle -period. With that being said, not all exercise styles and programs are created equal.

The rest of this blog will be spent breaking down the science-based pro’s and con’s of both cardio and weights so you can ultimately decide what you want to do as you either begin your fitness adventure or, decide what’s next!


CARDIO-BASED WORKOUTS

First, let’s start with cardio.  What exactly is cardio?

Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise.  As the name suggests, this involves any exercise specifically targeting the heart and circulatory system. These programs are designed to elevate your heart rate and get your blood pumping over an extended period of time.

Cardio is beneficial because this challenge on your heart and surrounding blood vessels helps strengthen each, allowing your heart to perform more efficiently. Yay for heart health!

Now, it is important to note not all cardio is the same.  Traditionally, “cardio” refers to steady-state cardio like a long run at a constant, generally slower pace over an extended period of time and can include cardio activities like running, cycling and swimming.

In more recent years, HIIT (high intensity interval training), a more non-traditional cardio-based workout, has become increasingly more popular. These workouts are shorter and more intense, requiring increased heart rate and maximum effort for smaller bursts of time.

Let’s now explore the pro’s and con’s around cardio:

PROS:

  • Improved cardiovascular health = increased lung capacity, heart strength and blood flow

  • Increased endurance = able to do to more work with less rest

  • Little to no equipment required

  • Endless options based on what you enjoy

  • Improved speed/athletic performance

  • Promotes weight loss (increased calorie burn)

CONS:

  • Steady-state cardio decreases muscle mass

  • Steady-state cardio requires longer workouts

  • HIIT workouts are extremely challenging/stress the body

  • Increased risk for injury due to intensity (focus shifts on speed vs quality and proper form)

  • Your body stops burning calories when your cardio workout ends

Sure, you will burn calories doing cardio based workouts BUT calories aside….

CARDIO IS NOT EFFECTIVE FOR:

  1. Building muscle! Building strength and increasing bone density as you age is of the utmost importance. Note, the more muscle you have, the more fat your body burns AND the more fat your body will continue burning even during times of rest and inactivity. Looking to get stronger, reshape your body and fit in your clothes better? You are going to need more muscle and less body fat.

  2. Moving better! Cardio does not help your body mechanically move better nor will it help you increase your range of motion or flexibility. Think of the stuff you do every day like getting out of bed, bending over to pick up your kids/grandkids/put on your shoes, or walking up and down the stairs. These activities are not made better by doing cardio since most cardio activities places an additional strain on your joints and ligaments through repetitive motions.

  3. Alleviating body aches and pains! If your knees, shoulders and / or back feels cranky, stiff or tight all the time, cardio is not your friend and will not help ease the pain because you are overusing the same muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. It’s like playing a record on repeat over and over and over again. In time, this leads to wear and tear and will put you at a much higher risk for injury.

SUMMARY: Overall, cardio workouts are a quick and generally easy way to burn calories and lose fat in the short term. However, our bodies are quick to adapt and because of this, will require different forms and increased challenges to continuing seeing results.

What are these increased challenges I speak of?! KEEP READING!


STRENGTH-BASED WORKOUTS

Next up, lifting weights (also known as strength training).

This style of exercise refers to any form of physical activity using external resistance. This could include using weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, and your own bodyweight. Other forms of resistance include bands or weighted medicine balls – lots of different tools and toys!

**It is VERY important to note that exercising with weights is NOT synonymous with lifting super duper heavy weights. This is not about being a bodybuilder or a power lifter. The term “heavy” is relative to what you can do safely. Maybe that’s using 10 pound weights or 50. Either way, you do YOU because it’s more about using resistance and less about how “heavy” you go – let me explain:

Here’s what happens to your body when you add any form of external resistance:

  • Using resistance causes small tears in your muscle fibers requiring your body and brain to make your muscles bigger, stronger, faster, and primed to deal with the next set of challenges provided by this type of training. 

  • Not only do your muscles prepare and step up to the challenge, but your bones also become stronger and denser.  Win-Win! 

Now, let us talk about the pros & cons of exercising with weights / added resistance:

PROS:

  • Increased strength – Getting stronger translates into making every day life EASIER! Unloading groceries- no problem! Need to carry your grandkid or toddler in one arm and push the stroller with the other-you got this! Taking the trash out or carrying that heaping basket of laundry upstairs – easy, peasy!

  • Body Composition –If you are wanting to feel more confident and comfortable in your clothes, strength training is a more effective method for reshaping your body, leaning out and building visible tone and definition.

  • Improved bone density – Who wants weak bones – not you! As you age, especially you ladies reading this, you lose muscle faster and are more prone to decreased bone density (not a good thing). Resistance /strength training helps prevent and slow the progression of osteoporosis and osteopenia.

  • Reduced risk of injury- This type of exercising helps your body move better, mechanically speaking, by strengthening your muscles groups and taking unnecessary stress off your joints and ligaments.

    • Cardio is more repetitive motions and typically over-uses the same muscle groups for an extended period of time.

    • If you’ve been an avid runner your whole life, you’ve no doubt experienced issues with your knees due to the constant high impact pounding of those muscles and joints.

    • Adding resistance training actually helps strengthen those muscles and joints and prevents further injury.

  • Increased metabolism – Strength/resistance training like we said, is more effective for building muscle mass. How does this help your metabolism? The more muscle your have, the more fat your body will burn AND will continue burning up to 36 hours post workout!

  • Increased range of motion + flexibility – This goes back to the mechanics of your body. Resistance helps you build and increase your range of motion and flexibility, and both these things translate into enhancing your daily, function movement patterns (sitting, standing, walking, kneeling, bending, rotating, pushing, pulling) so you are a well oiled machine!

  • Alleviates body aches and pains If your knees, shoulders and / or back feels cranky, stiff or tight all the time, adding weights and various other forms of resistance will help alleviate these aches and pains.

CONS:

  • Requires precision and coaching to ensure you are moving properly and performing each exercise with the very best technique and form

  • Potentially less calories burned during a workout when compared to intense cardio

  • Equipment is needed (i.e. weights, machines, bands, balls) to complete these exercises

SUMMARY: Strength/resistance training helps you build an overall better foundation for living healthy, happy and strong. These exercise programs make your life easier and better by helping you move better and pain free, boosting your energy levels and if your goals are more interested in a physical transformation, is more effective for reshaping your body, whatever that means to you.

Above it all, strength training makes your STRONGER, more resilient and is the most effective way for building muscle and a faster metabolism in the long-term because the more muscle we have, the more fat our bodies burn. And, will continue burning up to 36 hours even when resting!

Who doesn’t want to continue burning fat while laying on the couch binging Netflix?? Count me in! 


OK BUT…WHICH IS BETTER FOR ME?

Now that we have went over the pros, cons, and benefits of cardio versus strength workouts, which one is “better”?

The answer is a little bit of BOTH! 

While cardio allows us to potentially burn more calories during a workout and is an excellent way to improve heart health, it also decreases muscle mass and isn’t sustainable over time due to increased risk of injury.  

Strength training builds muscle mass increases metabolism, burns fat, strengthens muscles and bones, and prevents injury but doesn’t burn as many calories during a workout or help as much with aerobic conditioning/activities.

Keep in mind, there is more to fitness than just calories. At Results Fitness, we see exercise as means to building that better life and teaching you how to create a healthier lifestyle both in and outside our studio. Calories is a very small piece of that puzzle.

Ideally, we all want to lose body fat but keep our muscle to maintain physical strength.  While cardio may allow us to initially lose weight, loss of muscle mass may go along with it.  Strength training is what you need to keep the muscle you have (while building more) and also losing fat. 

We may see cardio and strength training as two separate exercise regimes but when paired together, this dynamic duo provides the best overall results.  Finding an exercise routine combining both either on separate days or, during the same workout is your ticket for living longer, healthier lives. 


 

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