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The Great Debate: Cardio or Strength Training?

It is indeed a great debate. Cardio or Strength Training? Do you believe that one is superior to the other?

Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. More often than not, people favor one over the other. Gym myths and misunderstandings just add to the confusion, promoting ideas like “running burns muscle” or weight training makes a woman “bulky.” Other gym patrons simply don’t know how to incorporate both strength and cardiovascular training into their routine.

The fact is, one is not better than the other. If you are looking to improve your overall health and build a better body, there is no better combination. Together, they will set you up for success both inside and outside of the gym.

Cardio, Cardio, Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise does so much more than just burn fat and calories. Research shows that daily cardiovascular exercise makes your heart stronger so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood. It increases your lung capacity, helps reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and is linked to a decreased risk of some cancers. Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure and can raise HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. It can also reduce stress, help provide a better night’s rest, prevent osteoporosis, improve your mood, alleviate symptoms of depression or anxiety and give you more confidence in how you look and feel.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week (30 minutes per day, 5 times a week) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Are you getting enough physical activity in each week?

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women? You’d better get moving! Regular exercise can lower your risk of heart disease and improve factors linked to cardiovascular health. Cardio is any exercise that works your heart and gets your heart rate up. When we jump on a treadmill our heart starts pumping faster and our breathing accelerates. As we breathe faster, we increase the amount of oxygen in our blood. As our heart beats more quickly, our blood flow increases and our capillaries dilate allowing oxygenated blood to move towards working muscles. Over time, the heart becomes stronger just like any other muscle. With this strength comes efficiency as oxygen is delivered more effectively, hemoglobin levels rise, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance improve, and mood-enhancing endorphins are released.

Fitness young man using rowing machine in the gym

Building a Better Physique

It you only do cardio, it’s time to step off the treadmill and into the weight room! If building muscle is one of your fitness goals, weight lifting has to be incorporated into your routine. A cardio workout may burn more calories than a weight-training workout, but your metabolism will stay elevated for longer after a weight-bearing workout.

As we age, we lose muscle mass. In fact, we can begin to lose as much as three to five percent per decade after the age of thirty. Unfortunately, this loss of muscle can result in a decrease in overall strength. This unfavorable combination can lead to poor balance and coordination, decreased mobility, and a greater risk of falls – resulting in fractures.

Strength training can turn you into a superhero! It’s known for its ability to build lean muscle mass and increase the strength of connective tissue, muscles, and tendons. When you do any form of weight training (including using your own body weight), you overload your muscles, causing little tears in your muscle fibers. Our bodies repair these tears when you’re resting, and this helps muscles grow in size and strength. The result is thicker muscle fibers and greater muscle mass.

It’s not just about becoming a muscle-bound mass of a human being. Strength training can improve motor performance, decrease the risk of injuries, help maintain weight loss, reduce the symptoms of many chronic conditions, and improve stability, mobility and balance. It also improves your ability to perform daily activities. You will be able to work harder and longer with ease. By building lean muscle mass you can boost your metabolism and burn more calories over the course of the day. Furthermore, picking up those weights a few times a week has been shown to not only slow bone loss, but reverse bone loss and improve bone density. 

In Conclusion:

You should exercise because it’s good for you regardless of how you’re doing it. Even the guy in the squat rack doing bicep curls is doing more for himself than the guy sitting in front of the TV!

Can you lead a healthy life when only doing cardio? Most likely. Can you do the same with strength? Sure, probably. As is the case with many aspects of fitness, balance is the key to mixing both cardio and strength training into your routine. While these two modes of exercise are frequently considered incompatible, when scheduled properly, they will work together to help you reach your fitness goals.

So, what’s the bottom line? While there’s not a one-size-fits all prescription for success, keep moving, keep grinding, and keep up the great work! Your heart, health, and muscles will thank you. Good luck to you.

Jennifer Nastasi Guzelak
I have been a personal trainer for over seventeen years and I absolutely love what I do. I honestly feel that I have one of the best jobs out there! The most rewarding part of my profession is helping one of my clients succeed at reaching their personal fitness goals. Making a difference in someone’s life makes it all worthwhile. I am currently certified by the National Sports Conditioning Association, Apex Fitness Group, and the International Sports Science Association.