6 April 2020
CARDIO VS. RESISTANCE TRAINING: A case for why you SHOULD do both!
I’m sick of hearing ‘fitness experts’ proudly brag to others that they don’t do any cardio, glorifying how little cardio they prescribe their clients. This isn’t necessarily something to brag about. It is crucial to understand that both forms of training provide us mutually exclusive health benefits. By doing both, you will achieve benefits that you…
I’m sick of hearing ‘fitness experts’ proudly brag to others that they don’t do any cardio, glorifying how little cardio they prescribe their clients.
This isn’t necessarily something to brag about.
It is crucial to understand that both forms of training provide us mutually exclusive health benefits. By doing both, you will achieve benefits that you wouldn’t achieve from specialising in one alone. Each helps the other, and each provide their own positive adaptations to our health.
Let’s get one thing straight – cardio doesn’t need to involve grinding away for hours on the cross trainer. There seems to be a common misconception of what cardio training needs to involve and how much of it we should be doing.
It only needs to be short (~20-30 minutes), and when prescribed correctly it provides us with multiple health benefits that we won’t get from just lifting weights alone.
Let’s remember that cardiovascular training simply involves any training which puts stress on our respiratory system for an extended period of time. The reason this is beneficial is because the stress placed on our respiratory system causes our body to have to adapt, so it can more efficiently deliver and use oxygen, to be able to be able to cope with this stress.
If we do this regularly, the adaptations strengthen our heart and lungs. If your heart is strong, it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood. If your lungs are strong, they have an increased capacity for oxygen uptake and the more efficiently we will be able to deliver and use oxygen in our day to day existence.
This increased strength of our heart and lungs ultimately provides us with multiple long-term health improvements such as reduced risk of heart attack, diabetes and metabolic disease.
Additionally, it can also help lower blood our pressure as well as keep our arteries clear by raising “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lowering our “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.
While resistance training gives us many benefits, the issue with only doing resistance training, is that it doesn’t cause the same adaptations to our heart, lungs and respiratory system.
Can’t I just have a daily step goal as my cardio?
Daily steps are often prescribed as a means of energy expenditure to assist with weight loss. The issue with daily steps, however, is that a step measurement alone doesn’t distinguish between easy pace steps and a prolonged period of brisk walking where we are achieving the necessary adaptations for health improvements.
We could clock in 7000-10,000 steps per day without any kind of cardiorespiratory stress at all. Walking at an easy ‘talking-pace’ (a pace where you can comfortably hold a conversation), even for 10,000 steps a day, doesn’t put our heart rate and breathing under pressure. Because of this, it doesn’t cause the same adaptations which benefit our health in the long term.
But my coach told me that cardio doesn’t help with weight loss?
Cardio can assist with weight loss, it just needs to be prescribed correctly. Slogging away for hours on the treadmill isn’t an effective weight loss solution.
What is effective, is when cardio efforts are prescribed in small patches (such as 30-40 minutes) on 2-3 times per week. This allows us to expend more energy, which then contributes to putting us in an overall negative energy balance for the day. If we keep this up for consistent weeks at a time, this can speed up the weight loss process without having to cut more calories.
You could even walk for 25 minutes and jog for the last 5 minutes, then have a goal to increase the jog portion buy 1 minute per week.
The issue we need to address is that some members of the population may be under the assumption that slogging out hours of will be good for quick weight loss. When really, that 60-minute session on the cross trainer may have burned an additional 200 calories, but this person may have burned 100 calories while at rest anyway due to their Basal Metabolic Rate. The issue is then that the 60-minute session on the cross trainer or that long outdoor run may then leave this person feeling completely knackered, so they go home and chill on the couch for an extended period of time afterwards, staying sedentary and not burning additional calories they would’ve burned if they were moving around and doing things.
Let’s finish with a study.
A 12-week chronic study was conducted in 2012 to explore and compare the impact of various training types on untrained, overweight individuals.
The randomised control trial had participants separated into four separate categories over the 12-week period
- Group 1 – Resistance group – Only weight training, no cardio
- Group 2 – Aerobic group – Only cardio, no weight training
- Group 3 – Combination group – Both cardio and weight training
- Group 4 – Control group – No training
All participants had to perform their training types for 30 minutes per day on five days per week, and all participants consumed the same controlled daily energy intake over the 12 weeks:
At the end of the 12-week study, the following changes were observed:
- The combination group showed the most significant improvements in body weight over the 12-week period
- The combination group showed the greatest reduction in body fat percentage and abdominal fat percentage by the end of the 12 weeks
- The combination group showed the greatest improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness by the end of the 12 weeks
- The combination group participants showed the most significant decrease in BMI over the 12-week period
What can be concluded from this?
When we consider exercise prescription from a population health perspective, considering our overall physical health and long-term reduction of cardiovascular disease—which is influenced by our body-composition—we will benefit greatly from doing a combination of both cardio and resistance training each week instead of specialising in just one.
If we do both, we have a strong, healthy musculoskeletal system from our resistance training, and we have a strong, healthy cardiovascular system from aerobic training. And we likely look great as result! Couldn’t really ask for much more could we?
We need to understand that they both help each other, and a synergistic effect is created: Our resistance training increases our muscular strength which makes our cardio easier and our cardio training reduces our cardiovascular demand during resistance training, meaning we can train more effectively before fatiguing.
If we do both, we get the best of both worlds.
- Bretland RJ, Thorsteinsson EB. 2015. Reducing workplace burnout: the relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise. PeerJ 3:e891https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.89