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Cardio vs Strength Training: Balancing Your Fitness Approach

Cardio and strength training seem to have been in fierce competition since the dawn of modern fitness—and both have hordes of fans who are downright passionate about which form of exercise they root for. Whether you’re Team Cardio, Team Strength Training, or have just jumped into your fitness journey, chances are high that you’re here […]

Published: 6/11/24

Cardio and strength training seem to have been in fierce competition since the dawn of modern fitness—and both have hordes of fans who are downright passionate about which form of exercise they root for.

Whether you’re Team Cardio, Team Strength Training, or have just jumped into your fitness journey, chances are high that you’re here because you’d like to uplevel your workout routine and your results. A large part of that is understanding the truth behind the cardio vs strength training debate.

Luckily, we’re here to guide you through this age-old question. Keep reading as we unravel the benefits of cardio and strength training and explore why implementing each into your regime is vital to your health.

What is Cardio?: A Recap

Put simply, cardiovascular exercise is any sort of activity that boosts your heart rate. While it’s typically associated with “traditional” forms of aerobic exercise like swimming and tennis, it also encompasses activities you do on autopilot, from running after your toddler to folding laundry.

Through the lens of health and fitness, however, “cardio” is used to describe rhythmic exercises that push your pulse into what’s known as your target heart rate. Medically speaking, this refers to a range of beats per minute your heart ideally reaches during exercise. Put simply, it’s the sweet spot between moderate and intense; a place that may provide maximum benefits for your efforts.

Several of the most popular types of cardio include:

  • Cycling
  • Running
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Jumping rope
  • Dancing

How Does Cardio Work?

Whether you opt for a brisk morning walk or a high-intensity vinyasa yoga class, during cardio, your muscles require an increased amount of blood and oxygen. In turn, your lungs, heart, and blood vessels work faster and harder to meet this demand. At the same time, your body reaches into its glucose stores to maintain these elevated requirements. (This is precisely why cardio is often synonymous with weight maintenance.)

Ultimately, cardio encourages your cardiovascular system to become stronger, more resilient, and more efficient, allowing you to swim that final lap or bike that extra mile.

What is Strength Training?: A Brief Summary

Strength training, on the other hand, describes exercises that force your muscles to work against a form of resistance. This resistance could be your own body weight, such as isometric exercises like plank or leg lifts. But strength training also leverages equipment that offers outside resistance, such as:

  • Dumbbells
  • Resistance bands
  • Medicine balls
  • Weight machines
  • Kettlebells

How Does Strength Training Work?

Strength training, or muscle endurance training, also requires your heart, lungs, and blood vessels to operate at a higher level. But while cardio places these demands specifically on your cardiovascular system, your muscles are the primary focus of weight training.

Generally, strength training prompts your body to build muscles through three main forms of contractions:

  • Concentric, when your muscles briefly “shorten” during a lift of any kind, whether it’s deepening into a squat or pushing down into a tricep dip
  • Eccentric, when your muscles lengthen as you release the tension of a hold or pose, such as rising from a squat
  • Isometric, where your muscles contract against an outside force (like a resistance bar or gravity), or what some in the fitness field refer to as “time under tension”

Mechanics aside, what do cardio and strength training do for you? Let’s take a peek.

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What are the Benefits of Cardio?

The benefits of cardio run the gamut from potentially improving blood pressure to bolstering bone strength. In addition to improving overall heart health and up-leveling your stamina, cardio may also:

  • Promote brain health Know that burst of clarity you get within the first ten minutes of a jog? That’s thanks to the inner workings of cardio. The increased blood flow supports clearer thinking and a sharper memory, as well as protection from dementia.
  • Support weight maintenanceMaintaining your weight, whatever that may be for your height and size, isn’t just critical to feeling good—it may also help you stave off conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Cardio can be a boon in this regard by helping you burn calories during and after a session.
  • Improve energySure, cardio may require a dose of energy (particularly if you’ve opted for a tough uphill hike) but it’ll bless you with just as much energy in return. Aerobic exercise triggers the production of endorphins—feel-good hormones that offer a wonderful sense of happiness, well-being, and I-got-this thinking.

Further, cardio may diminish stress levels, nourish sleep quality, and curb your risk of conditions ranging from obesity to high cholesterol.

…and What Are the Benefits of Strength Training?

Any form of exercise is bound to offer benefits, but experts across the board agree that strength training is one of the keys to boosting and maintaining your vitality. In particular, strength training may offer:

  • Enhanced bone healthStrength training works beyond your muscles and cardiovascular system to also include your bones. When you perform a squat, your muscles pull on your femur, knees, and hip joints. This encourages cells within your bones and joints to create new bone cells and tissue in response. Done consistently, resistance training may increase bone density and help you ward off conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia. It may also offer protection against fractures.
  • Increased muscle strength and metabolic rateStrength training also increases the size and number of your muscle tissues and fibers. This is crucial, as your lean body mass plays directly into your metabolic rate—or the number of calories you burn during both rest and physical exercise. Another huge plus? Resistance training compels your body to torch even more calories post-kettlebell or free weight session in a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

Additionally, strength training has been shown to moderate blood sugar levels, enrich mobility, and improve balance and coordination—to say nothing of its power to enhance your mood and self-esteem.

What is Better: Cardio or Strength Training?

As you can see, cardio isn’t superior to strength training. Nor is strength training better than cardio. Instead, each offers specific benefits. To recap, cardio can be a godsend in improving your cardiovascular fitness and endurance, while strength training is indispensable to building (and maintaining) your lean body mass, nurturing your bone health, and supporting your coordination.

Weaving both into your routine may be the golden ticket to discovering, and sustaining, genuine fitness: the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) asserts that an ideal workout routine should strike a balance between two-thirds cardio and one-third strength training. This may look like dedicating five days a week to 30 minutes of cardio while incorporating strength training into your routine two to three times per week.

Cardio and Strength Training: Your Ideal Workout

With all of that in mind, consider what your schedule might look like. Here’s an example:

  • Day One: 30 minutes: swimming
  • Day Two: 30 minutes: HIIT
    • 20 minutes: walking
    • 10 minutes: stretching
  • Day Three: 60 minutes: power yoga
  • Day Four: 30 minutes: rowing
    • 15 minutes: free weights
  • Day Five: 45 minutes: walking
    • 15 minutes: kettlebell exercises

Bear in mind, however, that, unless medically directed, finding the exact ratio between the two is less important than engaging in exercises you enjoy. Discovering the types of exercise that work best for you, your personality, your schedule, and your lifestyle will help ensure you perform them consistently—which is central to reaping the benefits that cardio and strength training have to offer.

Cardio vs Strength Training: Your FAQs

Whether you’re an avid member of Team Strength Training who’s inching over to the cardio side or just getting your feet wet in the world of fitness, you likely have some questions, such as:

Can You Shed Weight With Strength Training and No Cardio?

Yes. Cardio may burn more calories per session than a strength training workout, but strength training prolongs a steady caloric burn through:

  • Increasing your metabolic rate
  • Building lean body mass
  • EPOC

That being said, you may see results faster with cardio as it can take time to build muscle. (In other words, do your best to be patient.)

Should I Do Cardio or Weights First to Improve Weight?

There’s no definitive evidence suggesting that the order in which you perform cardio vs strengthening has any bearing on the number you’ll see on the scale.

For instance, emerging research indicates that performing strength training exercises before cardio may help you torch more fat. But other studies suggest the opposite.

Our advice? Listen to your body, and remember that a combination of both cardio and strength training is fundamental to sustaining your overall health and wellness.

Elevate Your Health and Longevity with Chuze Fitness

Chuze Fitness breaks the cardio vs strength training debate fair and square because we know both are required for optimal fitness—and have the facilities and equipment to help you achieve it.

If you’re searching for a gym that offers everything from group fitness classes to state-of-the-art weight rooms, consider Chuze Fitness. With gyms across California, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, and Florida, we help people get excited about exercise and stick with their fitness goals.

Find your home away from home at Chuze Fitness.

Sources: 

Very Well Fit. Everything you need to know about cardio. https://www.verywellfit.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cardio-1229553

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Understanding your target heart rate.

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/understanding-your-target-heart-rate

ScienceDirect. Heart muscle oxygen contraction. 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/heart-muscle-oxygen-consumption

LiveScience. What does cardio do to your body?

https://www.livescience.com/what-does-cardio-do-to-your-body

Penn State College of Medicine. Introduction to strength training. 

https://research.med.psu.edu/oncology-nutrition-exercise/patient-guides/strength-training/

Mayo Clinic. Are isometric exercises a good way to build strength? 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/isometric-exercises/faq-20058186

Men’s Health. Understanding the difference between eccentric and concentric movement can unlock more gains. 

https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a41736822/eccentric-vs-concentric/

Cleveland Clinic. The (many) benefits of a cardio workout. 

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-many-benefits-of-a-cardio-workout

The Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute. Bone density and weight-bearing exercise. 

https://www.osmifw.com/sports-medicine/bone-density-and-weight-bearing-exercise

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Aim for a healthy weight.

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/index.htm

Healthline. The No BS Guide to Building Lean Muscle. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/how-to-build-lean-muscle#7-body-sculpting-and-health-benefits

Right as Rain by UW Medicine. Cardio and strength: what’s best for your health? 

https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/body/exercise/strength-and-cardio

Healthline. Cardio or weightlifting: which is better for weight loss?

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cardio-vs-weights-for-weight-loss#hiit

GoodRx Health. Should you do cardio before or after weights?

https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/movement-exercise/cardio-before-or-after-weights

Reviewed By:

Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.

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