Cardio or weights: why not both?
It’s a topic that’s divided the fitness community for years: which is better for you, cardio or weights training? People have been arguing about the benefits of different forms of exercise forever. But, as is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As a certain food commercial says, “Why not both?”
For example, recent research looking at the effects of exercise on people with hypertension found that a combination of aerobic exercise and weight training is best for reducing high blood pressure.
The research, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, was a meta-analysis looking at previous studies measuring hypertension and exercise. The general approach until now has been to recommend aerobic exercise but this study showed that a combination of both aerobic exercise and dynamic resistance exercise (i.e. weight training) is just as, if not more, effective.
This is good news for people with hypertension in particular, but even if you don’t have high blood pressure, you can benefit from a combined approach to fitness that features cardiovascular/aerobic exercise and weights training.
Cardio vs. weights is a bit of a faulty argument. For your body to have balance and your training to be successful for your goals, most people need a combination. One or the other alone may leave something lacking in your exercise regime, not to mention your general health.
It all comes down to your specific goals. Do you want to build muscle? Lose fat? Maintain your weight but change your body composition? You answer will determine the kind of training that is best for you, the ratio of aerobic to resistance training you want to achieve and also how you structure your workouts. (And, of course, nutrition is a huge factor that we haven’t even touched on.)
Say, for example, you want to lose body fat — a very common goal. A lot of people wanting to lose weight run straight to the treadmills and not get off for a couple of hours. Not so fast, though.
After you exercise, a process takes place in the body called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the afterburn effect. EPOC is the amount of oxygen your body requires to restore itself to its regular resting state. This is how your body continues to burn energy even after you’ve finished your workout. A 2015 study found that resistance training (as well as high-intensity interval training or HIIT) increased the afterburn effect more than steady state cardio, like running on a treadmill, did. Working out with weights increases your ability to burn energy, as long as your intensity is at a certain level.
That said, actually building muscle requires you to take in extra energy (calories) to provide an anabolic environment for your muscles to grow in. Supplementing your weights training with cardio is one way of keeping a lid on excess fat gain, especially when you need to eat more in order to build muscle tissue.
A standard example of how you can incorporate both might be something like warming up on a Life Fitness treadmill for 10 or 20 minutes and then diving into a resistance training session using free weights. Alternatively, you could do a workout using free weights and Hammer Strength plate- and pin-loaded machines and then finish off with a short intense run on the treadmill or stationary bike. Again, it all comes down to your own particular fitness goals.
In the end, pin-loaded equipment, cardio machines and free weights are all simply tools at your disposal to help you achieve your performance and physique goals. Work out what you want to get out of your training and choose the tools that enable you to get there.
1 Lamberti, L.M. et al. (2016). ‘Is Concurrent Training Efficacious Antihypertensive Therapy? A Meta-analysis.’ Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. July 27, 2016. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001056
2 Greer, B.K. et al. (2015). ‘EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training.’ Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2015 Jun;86(2):190-5. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2014.999190. Epub 2015 Feb 12.