If you’re a fitness enthusiast, then you already know the value of including both cardio and strength training into your workout regimen.
But if you’re a beginner, or maybe returning to exercise after time off, you may be wondering if you should do cardio vs. strength training, what the differences are between the two, and how best to structure your workouts. Let’s dig in:
5 Benefits of Cardio Training
Cardiovascular exercise is a form of aerobic activity that entails elevating your heart rate for a prolonged duration to condition the heart and lungs, as well as to improve endurance. It involves activities such as jogging, using the stair climber or rowing machine, swimming lengths, or cross-country skiing. Cardio has numerous advantages for the body, including:
1. Cardio Training Improves Heart Health and Endurance
Increased cardio means increased aerobic capacity — the amount of oxygen your blood receives and uses. This improved cardiovascular health allows your heart and lungs to move oxygen through your body more efficiently, which increases your endurance to get through longer training sessions.
2. Cardio Exercise Reduces Body Fat
Due to the elevated heart rate and continuous intensity, cardio burns more calories than strength training. This higher calorie burn is why cardio workouts are more often associated with fat loss. That said, there are two types of cardio for fat loss to consider.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): For HIIT workouts, you want to get to at least 80% of your maximum heart rate during the high-intensity intervals and not allow it to drop below 50% for the low-intensity intervals or breaks.
HIIT workouts help you to retain current muscle mass. HIIT fat loss is believed to be related to an increase in hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), a fat-burning enzyme activated by the release of hormones.
Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS): LISS workouts consist of aerobic activities (walking, jogging at a leisurely pace, swimming laps, etc.) performed at low intensity for an extended period. It’s the opposite of HIIT.
Research suggests that LISS workouts may help burn fat at a higher rate than high-intensity workouts. As a result, LISS is often considered better for anyone with significant fat loss goals, especially since it’s suited for all fitness levels.
3. Cardio Workouts Increases Energy
There’s a complex relationship between stress, hormones, and energy. When you do cardio, your body releases stress hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine). When released in small amounts through exercise, these hormones give your body energy.
4. Cardio Regimens Lower Blood Pressure Levels
Regular cardio activity makes your heart stronger, allowing it to pump blood with less effort, decreasing the pressure on your arteries while lowering your blood pressure. In addition, studies have shown that endurance exercises like running, cycling, or rowing are effective at decreasing blood pressure.
5. Cardio Activity Increases Mental Clarity
The increased blood flow from your cardio routine is good for your body and brain. Improved circulation can lead to better memory, as well as increased alertness and brain function.
5 Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training, also frequently referred to as weight training, involves engaging your muscles against resistance in order to boost muscle endurance and power. The muscles are tasked with counteracting forces generated from your workout gear, whether that's YBells, kettlebells and dumbbells, specialized machines, or your own body weight. Some of the advantages of strength training include:
1. Strength Training Builds Muscle
Lifting weights builds and sculpts your muscles through hypertrophy, which is an increase in the size of muscles. Weights put more resistance on your muscles, breaking down tissue quickly and triggering your body to heal and build muscle in the process.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that participants increased their lean mass through a weight training program.
2. Strength Training Burns Calories Even After the Workout
While cardio training burns more calories during the actual workout, strength training burns calories long after the workout ends. Your muscle is constantly being broken down and built back up, which requires energy (calories). This after-burn leads to a more significant calorie burn throughout the day.
3. Weight Training Protects Bone Health
Weight training helps to increase your bone density, which strengthens your bones. Stronger bones can slow down or help to prevent osteoporosis, not to mention avoiding breaking or fracturing your bones.
4. Strength Training Prevents Injuries
Stronger muscles support your joints, increase your mobility, and reduce your risk of hip or knee damage or arthritis. Strong joints also prevent injury through better balance, coordination and improved posture, decreasing lower back and neck pain.
A study from the National Library of Medicine showed that strength training reduced the risk of falling by 40% in older people (who are at higher risk of falling).
5. Weight Training Improves Cardiovascular Health
Weight training increases lean muscle mass, allowing your lungs to process more oxygen as you breathe and your heart to pump more blood with less pressure. Lowered pressure on your arteries puts less demand on your heart, reducing heart-related health issues.
If you regularly lift weights, you’ll reap the benefits of a lowered risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Meet HIRT: The Perfect Blend of Cardio and Strength Training
Years ago, gym members had straightforward divisions of cardio vs. resistance training. Today, with the rise of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Tabata training, and high-intensity resistance training (HIRT), the pure distinction between cardio and strength work has blurred. Sweat sessions often combine the two.
So instead of 30 minutes of pure cardio or strict strength, you might do 5 minutes of cardio, followed by 5 minutes of strength. Or you may perform 50 jumping jacks, 15 YBell pick-up cross catch squat presses, 25 burpees, and 15 YBell push-ups.
5 Benefits of High-Intensity Resistance Training
With HIRT, you get all the benefits of HIIT, cardio, and strength training.
1. HIRT Decreases Fat and Increases Muscle
Combining cardio and strength gives you the best of both workout regimens: cardio’s fat loss and strength training’s muscle gain.
HIRT training increases your resting energy expenditure, causing increased fat oxidation. Much like in strength training, HIRT increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption as your body recovers from the workout. So you’re burning more energy and breaking down stored fat while you build muscles.
2. HIRT Enhances Your Cardiovascular Health
A recent study showed that participants who did resistance and cardio training for eight weeks lowered their heart disease risk factors more than those who did just cardio or just strength.
3. HIRT Strengthens Your Bones
By stressing your bones, resistance training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis-related fractures. Several studies have shown that women who do regular resistance training see significant increases in the bone density of their hips and spine.
4. HIRT Takes Less Time
Group classes might last 30 to 40 minutes, but you can achieve a highly effective HIRT workout at home in as little as 10 minutes. It’s all about keeping up your intensity for the elevated heart rate and muscle gain.
If you’re low on spare time, you can still sneak in a quick workout during your lunch break or between household chores.
5. HIRT Is a Sustainable and Fun Workout
Experienced athletes and those new to working out often find that they can commit to HIRT training better than traditional weight or cardio workouts. That’s because HIRT workouts are much more engaging, requiring you to be agile and focused, whether you’re working out alone or with a group.
So Is Cardio or Strength Training Better for You?
For achieving peak fitness, a combination of both cardio and strength exercises is required. However, there's a considerable degree of flexibility in how you can assemble your exercise routine.
Different studies present contrasting views on whether cardio or strength training should be prioritized. Logically, if your aim is to enhance endurance, say for running a marathon, it's sensible to start with cardio. On the other hand, if your goal is to build muscle and strength, it's better to begin with weight lifting when your body is still energetic.
For the best outcomes, a varied routine and cross-training are beneficial. So, try to diversify your routine with multiple approaches whenever feasible. If you enjoy cardio workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and strength training on Tuesday and Thursday, then stick with that schedule.
If you perform a High Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT) workout with YBells twice a week, it will count as both your cardio and strength training. For the remaining days, consider other exercise forms like yoga or swimming laps as part of active recovery.
Lots of options exist. What’s most important: get in both cardio and strength, and adhere to regular workouts!