The low down on cardio versus resistance training


Which is best – cardio or weights? What are the benefits of each? Can I do resistance training and still lose weight? Providing you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve and apply them in a targeted manner – both have their place…

What are the benefits of each?

If you wander into any gym you’re guaranteed to find people looking to put on muscle or get more toned who are grinding out the miles on the treadmill or individuals looking to drop body fat doing bicep curls. To begin, I should say, doing any form of fitness and activity is a really good thing and I applaud anyone who has the will and determination to get off the sofa and into the gym to promote their health. However, I am also a believer in maximising your time and activity towards achieving clear objectives, whatever they maybe.

Both cardio and resistance training can be utilised to achieve a specific outcome and a blend of the two forms of activity can be hugely beneficial. I believe that they go hand in hand in creating a healthy, aesthetic, strong and aerobic physique! Who wouldn’t want that?

Doing one without the other can lead to drawbacks. For example, just employing cardio to lose weight vs resistance training can see you lose weight without maintaining a defined shape and muscular definition that can see the body look skinny and flat. Similarly, using resistance training without any form of cardio can lead to a great aesthetic physique on the surface that lacks aerobic stamina and athletic performance under the bonnet.

What’s the deal for fat loss?

The most effective way to lose weight is by consistently applying a calorific deficit. That is achieved when calories in < than calories expended. Cardio, therefore, is excellent at building up a large calorie expenditure that can make it easier to get into a deficit. It’s true that minute for minute you will burn more calories doing pure cardio than resistance training, however it can be very beneficial to blend the two techniques to build up muscular strength and to create a defined shape as you burn off body fat. When the fat is melted away you want to have something to show off and the more shape and muscle tissue the body has the better it will look when lean. Also, resistance training burns calories! Whilst it may not be as many calories per minute vs running, the higher intensity you work at and the more compound movements you build into your routine (bench press / squat / deadlifts) the more calories you will burn as the more stress it is putting across your body.

So, which one is better?

I believe that people need to avoid looking for the silver bullet answer – in truth, as always, its finding what works for you. Some people enjoy running and others don’t, some people like the cross trainer and others don’t and some people love to lift and others don’t. In my opinion, and what I do for my clients looking to lose fat, is build my programmes around both. I utilise cardio / HIIT to increase the bodies calorie expenditure in short and sharp bursts (5 min – 30 min) sessions and add this around the core offering of resistance training to ensure I am maintaining both the physique and strength. Working out a higher pace and intertwining super sets, tri sets and giant sets are a really fun and challenging way to use resistance training and almost doubles up as another form of cardio. For clients with more weight to shed I’ll front load the programme with a bit more cardio to get that daily calorie expenditure up but will always be incorporating the resistance training to increase their strength and body composition as we move through.

For those looking to build muscle, whilst cardio helps with the aerobic performance of the body it can actually make it harder to put on muscle as you require more calories in your system to put you into a surplus. People looking to put on large chunks of muscle at a set time to look to minimise their cardio output unless they can make up for it with the extra calories.

In summary, there is no right and wrong when it comes to cardio vs. resistance training. It Is important to understand the benefits and outputs of both forms of training and then navigating through a programme that is built to specifically address the targets you have set and the types of exercise you enjoy.  If you are interested to find out more about the online personal training and nutrition plans I have on offer – click here.

Photo credit: istock/grkii
All views are my own.