Cardio vs Resistance Training – Is Cardio or Weights Better?


In the search for a thinner waistline, people often take up cardiovascular exercise in order to burn calories. Cardiovascular exercise has many advantages to be sure, the low impact routines allow for longer exertion and can therefore increase muscle endurance. But for weight loss, resistance training is far more beneficial. First though let us compare the benefits of training in both these ways.

What Is Cardiovascular Training?
Cardiovascular training is anything that gets your heart pumping at an elevated speed. This includes: walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming, playing sports, dancing, roller skating, really anything that gets that heart pumping. The more muscle groups you are using, the harder the heart is working. Cardiovascular training is used to burn calories and to improve one’s overall conditioning.

Why Should I Train My Cardiovascular System?
Numerous controlled training studies have tested for the effects of intensity, duration and frequency of aerobic exercise on maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). A minimum of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at 50% or more of the individual’s VO2max, on three or more days per week, will produce a 10% to 20% increase in VO2max in most sedentary persons (ACSM, 1995) .

The literature thoroughly supports the evidence that exercise intensity is directly related to the change in VO2max (Gossard et al., 1986).Higher doses of aerobic exercise produces greater increases in VO2max, although these improvements are not proportionately greater.

Traditional resistance training that employs sets followed by 1 to 2 minutes of rest has not shown an increase in VO2max. Studies have shown little to mild improvement in aerobic capacity (5% to 9.5%) from participation in circuit weight training (Kass & Castriotta, 1994; Peterson, Miller, Quinney, & Wenger, 1988) . Kass and Castriotta suggest that the mild increases in aerobic capacity are due primarily to increases in fat-free mass from the circuit weight training, and not changes from the main factors affecting aerobic capacity: cardiac output (heart rate x stroke volume) or arterial-venous oxygen difference (exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide at the cellular level). Walking, jogging, biking, dancing and swimming all seem to take so much effort!

Why Should I Make Myself Do These Types of Exercises and Activities?
While cardiovascular training may seem like a chore, you will be more than willing to engage in cardiovascular training after reading the following benefits to cardiovascular training!

Weight Loss. Probably the most cherished side effect of cardiovascular training is losing those unwanted pounds! Since your body’s decision to store fat is based on the equation of energy in vs energy out, the more energy out that you have the less energy you will have to store on your waist, hips and thighs.

Conditioning. When was the last time you got winded walking up a flight of stairs? Not the greatest feeling was it? When you are wheezing and clutching your side ache you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are out of shape!

When you train your cardiovascular system you will begin to find that you don’t lose your breath as easily under strenuous activity. Your heart becomes conditioned to pump faster on demand without sending you into a wheezing fit. Your heart is the most important muscle in your body and if you want to enjoy the new body you are about to create, then wouldn’t you want to have a healthy heart along with it?

Disease Prevention. Heart attack, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes are just a few of the diseases that you would be defending yourself against with cardiovascular training. By losing excess weight and conditioning your body, you arm your body against these and many other ailments.

What Is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is anything that gives resistance against your muscles. The most traditional resistance training is dumbbells or barbells, but it can take on many other forms as well. Cable machines and pulley systems give great resistance, as do elastic bands. Using your own body weight is another way to give your muscles resistance. Today you have many options when it comes to resistance training but they all have one thing in common, it will change your life!

Why Should I Lift Weights?
Weight lifting isn’t a macho guy thing anymore! The last time I checked my most successful clients haven’t been registered for any upcoming body building shows. “But I don’t want to look muscular and bulky.” I cannot tell you how many times I hear this comment from women when I encourage them to lift weights. The critical thing here is that in order to be fit and toned you NEED TO lift weights or do some type of STRENGTH TRAINING.

Resistance training can literally change your entire body, let alone your self-confidence and self-esteem, but most importantly, resistance training could possibly be the best thing that you will ever do to keep your body looking and feeling 10 years younger.

Metabolism. Resistance training is the one thing that we do that elevates our metabolism for hours after a workout. Cardiovascular workouts are effective and necessary, but, after an hour of running, your metabolism is only elevated for less than an hour before going back to normal. On the other hand, resistance training will literally raise your metabolism permanently. This happens because weight lifting is actually a process of breaking down muscle tissue and rebuilding it back stronger, firmer and with more tone. This process takes time and energy (calories). Once you have added muscle tone to a given area on your body it now takes even more energy to maintain this muscle. So here is the run down on why resistance training is such a metabolism booster: When you weight train you break down muscle fibers, which takes energy to rebuild. When these muscle fibers have been rebuilt they are tighter, firmer, more toned and now take more energy to maintain.

Resistance training should not be confused with bodybuilding, as heavy weights do not need to be lifted to see results. A thick book or backpack of water bottles can be used as easily as dumbbells, and many exercises exist which rely completely on body weight.

Raising Metabolism To Burn Fat
It all comes down to the basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is a measure of how much energy the body uses in order to maintain itself. By simply being alive the body uses energy, and some tissues require more energy on a continual basis than others.

Several studies, with adult men and women of various ages, have demonstrated significant increases in lean body mass which has been shown to increase resting metabolic rate (Pratley et al., 1994). The key factor seen in the training programs appears to be the total volume of training using the major muscle masses of the body (Stone et al., 1991).

There is a study that has documented the positive affects of exercise. This group studied the effects of 12 weeks of dieting, dieting plus aerobic exercise, or dieting plus aerobic and resistance training. Subjects consumed approximately 1,200 calories per day. Aerobic exercisers participated in 30-50 minutes of supervised training at 70% to 80% of functional capacity 3 times per week. Those participating in resistance training followed these aerobic exercise sessions with 11 resistance training exercises following heavy resistance training principles.

Participants in all groups lost a significant amount of weight compared with baseline (6.2 kg, 6.8 kg, or 7.0 kg, respectively) and significant amounts of body fat (5.8%, 8.0%, and 5.3%, respectively.

Ballor and colleagues studied the effects of 12 weeks of aerobic exercise or resistance training on retention of weight loss in patients who had recently lost an average of 9% of their body weight. Half of the participants trained aerobically at 50% functional capacity for 60 minutes 3 times per week. The other half participated in a progressive resistance training program 3 times per week. The resistance training group experienced no further weight loss, and there was a trend toward increased fat-free mass. On the other hand, aerobic exercisers experienced an average of 2.5 kilograms of additional weight loss, predominantly composed of body fat with a maintenance of fat-free mass. There were slight changes in resting metabolic rate (absolute or relative to body mass), although there was an upward trend in absolute resting metabolic rate in weight trainers.

When the body takes in more energy than is burned, the excess is stored away in the form of fat. When more energy is used than is taken in, the body will call on these reserves. By raising the BMR, one raises the level at which energy is used and will therefore burn more fat in the long run.

Short-Term and Long-Term Benefits of Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise does rev the body up for a short duration, and it can be used to lose weight, but because the routines are low impact, the fat burning effects level off rapidly after the heart rate returns to normal levels. Resistance training not only takes far less time, it also enhances the fat burning engines of muscle.

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About Author


I'm a certified personal trainer specializing in circuit training, nutrition and weight management, training in different environments, sports conditioning along with lifestyle and fitness assessments. I'm also a group studio cycling instructor. See my profile page for more information!

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