New year, new fitness routine? If one of your resolutions has been to develop an exercise plan you can stick to in hopes of managing your weight loss goals and get fit, here’s what you need to know before getting started.
Many people think that cardiovascular exercise is the only way to really see that final result you have in your head… but you may want to rethink your strategy. Yes, cardio is capable of burning up to 1,000 calories an hour (depending on intensity and length of the workout), but lifting weights might just be your secret weapon to burning calories.
Difference between cardio and strength training
• Cardio Exercise
Cardio exercise is all about the cardiovascular system – it involves the heart and lungs ability to supply oxygen to the body. With any cardio exercise, you are increasing your heart rate and breathing. This, in turn, makes your heart and lungs work to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles to produce energy for movement (1).
Popular cardio exercises include cycling, hiking, running, biking, swimming, jumping rope, HIIT workouts, walking fast, dancing, and much more.
• Weight Training
Weight lifting is full body strength training that involves lifting weights (1). There is a misconception out there that lifting weights equates to big muscles, but that isn’t always the case!
When it comes to weight training, there are different styles, like bodybuilding, powerlifting, and olympic weightlifting to name a few. So if you are looking to get more toned, you want to do a workout with less heavy weights and higher reps. On the other hand if you are looking to gain muscle mass, you will try lower amount of reps with heavier weights.
One of the biggest differences between cardio and weight lifting is how calories are burned when the workout is over. With weightlifting, studies have shown the metabolism can be boosted for up to 38 hours post-workout (2).
After cardio, your body will burn a few more calories depending on the intensity and length of the workout, but typically you would need to do an extremely long workout to burn calories for a long time after (2).
In other words, lifting weights is going to build muscle and reshape your body whereas cardio is going to help you lose weight, typically in a combo of fat and muscle. This is why you may see someone who lost a lot of weight via cardio and looks like a smaller version of themselves.
Health benefits of cardio exercise and strength training
Cardio exercise strengthens your heart and reduces your risk of developing a number of different serious health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Strength training is still crucial though and will make a big difference in your senior years and help to fight bone loss and muscle loss (3).
Don’t worry, you don’t have to adopt some crazy workout schedule to start seeing a difference in your weight and strength – cross-training is a really popular method that gives you the best of both worlds, combining cardio and strength training!
A beginners guide to cross-training
1. Figure out how many days a week you want to work out.
2. Divide your workout days: half are cardio-focused and half are strength-focused.
3. Alternate between cardio and strength days (with strength days, figure out what areas of your body you want to tackle and focus on those areas).
4. Give yourself at minimum 1x day off to recover.
5. Remember to stretch, and when possible, add in yoga or stretching workouts.
Keep in mind, you can cross-train with classes. Alternate between a strength training class and a cardio-focused class.
Another great way to cross-train is by doing circuit training where you mix in exercises that get your heart rate up, like jumping rope, jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, sprints, etc., and exercises where you lift weights or use your body weight (ie. dips, bicep curls, squats, deadlifts, etc.).
Most importantly, remember to stretch! Stretching will help alleviate muscle soreness and speed up recovery. You may see a huge difference in how your body feels if you also make the time for slow movements, like yoga.
Like peanut butter and jelly, and oil and vinegar, cardio exercise and strength training are a classic combination – every successful fitness routine contains both. Although they both benefit your body and strengthen your muscles, the difference between cardio and strength training is significant and to maintain a healthy weight, build muscle… and to live your best life, you need to embrace both.
1. Fitness: The Complete Guide Official Text for ISSAs’s Certified Fitness Trainer Course Edition 9.0 by Frederick C. Hatfield, PhD 2016.