Cardio vs. weight training, that is the question. When it comes to exercise, there has long been a debate about which type is best. Which is the best exercise for weight loss? Is CARDIO the gold standard? Or do the benefits of WEIGHT TRAINING (aka: resistance training) far outweigh those of cardio?
While both forms of exercise provide huge benefits for your health, the choice depends entirely on your goals.
So, we’re going to examine a few common goals and evaluate the pros & cons. And, what are the “rules” of cardio for different goals anyway?
Let’s put a little elbow grease into this one and crank the lid off – shall we?
What if your specific health goal is weight loss?
For years we’ve been told that cardio is the best exercise for weight loss.
Well, one Duke University study  demonstrates that this still holds true.
The study examined the results of 119 previously sedentary individuals over 8 months. Some participants performed cardio only, others did strictly resistance training, and a third group did a combination of both.
The cardio-only group lost the most amount of weight (4lbs) while the resistance training group gained 2lbs. Although this 2 lbs was, in fact, lean muscle mass, it didn’t result in any additional fat loss over the course of the study.
What if your goal is overall better health and longevity?
While cardiovascular exercise is beneficial for heart health and disease prevention, when it comes to longevity, resistance training (aka: weight training) is the clear winner.
As Dr Robert Schreiber , an instructor at Harvard Medical School, states “just doing aerobic exercise is not adequate. Unless you are doing strength training, you will become weaker and less functional. The average 30 year old will lose one quarter of their muscle by age 70, and half of it by age 90.”
How much cardio do I need to do in general?
According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology , you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise each week.
Choose from running, power walking, cycling, aerobics, or cross country skiing. The choice is yours! Aim for three x 50-minute sessions (or divide it into shorter more frequent sessions) of any activity that gets your heart rate up. Break a sweat too. 😉
So, how much resistance training is enough?
According to Harvard Medical School , we should aim to train all the major muscles of the body 2-3 times per week.
Regular resistance training sessions will not only increase your overall strength, but allow you to do everyday activities with more ease.
And, do you really need to choose between cardio & resistance training?
While the Duke University study did favor cardio as the best exercise for weight loss, the 3rd test group in the same study did show interesting results.
This group did a combination of both cardio and weights resulting in the best change in overall body composition.
This combination of the two types of physical training helped participants lose fat AND gain lean muscle mass — which is key for maintaining strength AND longevity.
In today’s busy world it can be difficult to find time to fit in exercise at all. So, cardio vs. weight training? While your specific health goals will play a big part in choosing the type of workouts you do, the most important thing is that you’re staying consistently active.
Aim to exercise for 120 minutes every week (or more), eat a healthy & balanced diet, and you’ll be well on your way to feeling healthier and stronger.
1] Journal of Applied Physiology, Dec 2012: Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults
2] Harvard Health Publishing: Want to live longer and better? Do strength training.
3] Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology: Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines
4] Harvard Health Publishing: 7 tips for a safe and successful strength training program