Cardio myths are abound.
Many wrongly believe that if they don’t burn at least 500 calories during their workout, they haven’t done enough. Others mistakenly believe that they can eat what they want after their cardio sessions and still lose weight. And then there are others who believe that cardio is more important for weight loss than strength training.
But this isn’t always the case. In fact, there is a new “definitive study” that comes out almost daily claiming that cardio is better than strength training or vice versa. The healthiest workout routines incorporate a variety of exercises to give your body the range of physical activity necessary for weight loss. But the specific exercises you choose to perform regularly will depend on your goals and health-related needs.
So, which is better: Strength training or cardio? That depends on your specific objectives.
Cardio: Best for Losing Weight
If your primary goal is to lose weight, cardio is the best option.
Cardiovascular exercise is defined as any physical activity that elevates your heart rate, increasing oxygen in the bloodstream. As your heart begins to beat faster, blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs will increase as well. Common forms of cardio include cycling, aerobics, swimming, running, and even brisk walking.
The benefits of cardiovascular exercise are numerous and varied and include:
- Weight loss – Aerobic exercise is most beneficial for weight loss, particularly if you’re looking to decrease fat.
- Increase stamina – If you’re easily fatigued by physical activity, cardiovascular exercise can help increase your stamina.
- Decrease illness – Cardiovascular exercise is known to activate the immune system, making you less susceptible to common viral illnesses. This can keep you cold- and flu-free!
- Manage chronic conditions – If you suffer from high blood pressure or high blood sugar, cardiovascular exercise can help you better manage the condition.
- Increase heart health – Your heart is one of the most important organs in the body and as such, you should keep it healthy! Aerobic workouts strengthen your heart while keeping your arteries clear of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol).
When you’re trying to lose fat and burn more calories, you should aim to increase the intensity of your aerobic activity to 70-85 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Doing so will increase your metabolic rate before and after training while increasing stamina and preventing common conditions that result from age, like osteoporosis.
If you’re new to cardiovascular activity, there are a few guidelines you should follow as you get started:
- Begin gradually – If you are significantly overweight or haven’t engaged in cardiovascular activity for quite some time, it’s best to begin slowly. Walking is a great way to get started and you can burn up to 400 calories per hour.
- Stay within the target heart rate range – While there isno truth behind the “fat burning zone”, staying within a specific range ensures your body is working at full capacity.
- Don’t overdo your workouts – It can be tempting to go for longer and to engage in cardio sessions more frequently. However, doing so can actually work against your weight loss goals. Doing more than is recommended can cause injury or slow your metabolism because you will begin to burn muscle instead of fat.
Remember, cardio is just one aspect of a weight loss program. You should use aerobic activities to burn fat and improve your cardiovascular health but you should also consider strength training for a comprehensive approach to health.
Strength Training: Best for Building and Toning Muscle
Although cardio burns more calories per minute than strength training, it is still an integral component of any healthy weight loss program. Although cardio is great for losing weight, it does little by way of muscular benefits.
As such, it’s important to focus on strength training as part of your workouts to ensure you’re building muscle and toning your body as you lose fat through cardio activity.
There are several benefits of strength training, including some that apply specifically to weight loss:
- Maintains weight loss – As if it wasn’t difficult enough to lose weight, it’s even more challenging to keep it off. And while cardio helps you lose weight, strength training keeps it off. In fact, studies show that those who follow a weight-training routine 3 times per week increase calories burned during normal daily activity. This makes it simpler to maintain your current weight and sustain weight loss.
- Prevents disease – Strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of bone fractures. Strength training also aids in glucose control for those with diabetes.
- Burns calories – Strength training leads to more calories burned both during and after workouts (much like cardiovascular exercise). The body uses more calories to maintain muscle than fat. Additionally, strength training can boost your metabolism.
When you’re ready to incorporate strength training into your routine, here are some helpful tips to keep you healthy and prevent injury:
- Learn about weight training – Correct form is essential for strength training. Improper use of weights can cause injury and push you further away from your goals.
- Keep it simple – Don’t focus on multiple muscle groups every day. Instead, choose a program that focuses on one major muscle group for each workout. This will make it simpler to stay on track.
- Give yourself time to adjust – If you’ve never trained with weights before or have done so infrequently, there is an adjustment period. Start with machines for stabilisation and work your way up to free weights.
Your Best Solution: Focus on a Program That Incorporates Both Strength Training and Cardio
With several similar benefits and a handful of complementary benefits, strength training and cardio are both great to use when you want to burn fat, lose weight, and keep it off.
Many find interval training beneficial as well. Interval training means exercising at a moderate pace for a set period of time, then increasing the pace for a short period of time and subsequently returning to a more moderate rate. By repeating this process, you can change your heart rate and achieve a better cardiovascular workout.
There are countless ways to perform interval training as well: On a bike, Stairmaster machine, elliptical machine, walking, jogging, or even alternating cardiovascular and strength training workouts on back-to-back days.
So What Comes First: Cardio or Strength Training?
Just because you’re completing different workouts doesn’t mean that you should keep your workouts separate. In fact, it’s safe and effective to perform both cardio and strength training workouts on the same day. However, the order you perform them in does matter.
These two types of physical activity impact the muscle cells in distinct ways. Because of this, it’s best to perform each workout on separate days. But if you must do both at the same time and are trying to lose weight, research suggests strength training should precede cardio.
One reason for this is because strength training can help you feel stronger for your cardio after. Additionally, studies suggest that aerobic exercises can negatively impact strength development, particularly when such exercises are performed before lifting activities.
Determine the Best Workout Option for Your Objectives
No matter what your goals, it’s important to determine which workout option suits your objectives best. This makes it all the more important to understand the benefits of each form of exercise, how each supports weight loss, and how to combine the two should you need to.
Remember, your workouts should always reflect your objectives. By planning accordingly, you can shed unwanted pounds and create a program that works long-term for your needs.