Strength Training vs Cardio: What You Need To Know

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When it comes to sports and life, there’s always two teams. Ronaldo vs Messi, Biggie vs Tupac, the strength training vs cardio crew.

But when it comes to staying in shape, getting lean, losing weight or getting stronger it can be difficult to know what’s the best way to train.

In the post we have a look at some of the basics about strength training vs cardio, the advantages and disadvantages about both and when it’s best to train each, depending on your goals.

What is Cardio Really?

Cardio just refers to cardiovascular. In the fitness sense that’s cardiovascular conditioning. i.e. working the ticker in order for it to stay nice and healthy and give you a long healthy life.

It’s basically just mildly vigorous exercise which keeps your heart rate and respiration elevated for a prolonged period.

To be slightly more precise, for cardio you should define a target heart rate which is 220 minus your age:

Target Heart Rate = 220 – Your Age

Now to get the most out of your workouts you need to keep your heart rate at 70%-85% of this heart rate for around 30 minutes. That’s gives you a great cardio workout.

Typical examples are the usual endurance suspects: running, swimming, rowing, cycling etc. Bouldering would not usually be considered cardio, lead climbing would be!

What’s The Definition of Strength Training?

Here we’re looking to train the guns.

Strength training is designed to stimulate muscle growth and build strength through the use of short intense exercises.

This is done through the use of dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, body weight movements or whatever other way you like to make an exercise harder through added weight.

Typical examples are weight lifting, calisthenics, sprinting.

Goals of Cardio

Cardio is awesome for building general endurance, fitness and getting your heart healthy and strong. It pretty much kicks ass at burning fat and body mass so make it awesome for weight loss.

The result: You’ll burn fat faster than if you do with any other activity. You heart and lung health will also get juiced up, reducing the risk of diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure.

Goals of Strength Training

Burning fat and running around the park is great, but what about build some power and strength. This is where we need strength training.

The goal of strength training is to build muscle. What for? To climb harder, sprint faster or just look super ripped.

Having stronger muscles also supports your joints more, reducing your risk of injuries and arthritis. Lifting all those weights also helps increase your bone density, giving you stronger bones and getting you big and strong. 

How Do Strength Training vs Cardio Compare?

Now we’re getting to it.

We already said that with strength training vs cardio the goals are different. With cardio you’re looking to either lose weight, build endurance or promote heart and lung health. With strength training you’re looking to build muscle mass and power.

It’s pretty clear that to build muscle you need strength training. Cardio ain’t gona get your guns bigger.

If you really want to lose fat quickly and work the heart it’s also clear cardio takes the biscuit.

What about building strength AND burning fat. If you want to pick one that has the best chances of building muscle and burning fat, then you’re probably best picking strength training. As we said cardio won’t bring the beef.

Which Is Best For Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose weight, consider which burns the most calories per workout. Along with the right diet this is key.

Select that one, rinse and repeat until you have the desired results. Cardio is well known to burn more calories than strength training per workout.

But is strength training also good for losing weight?

Well, weight lifting builds muscle and muscle at rest burns more calories than other tissues. This is through increasing your metabolism. So, you could say that after your workout, strength training will help you lose more weight through this higher metabolism.

One study checked this out and found that after 24 weeks of strength training men had a 9% increase in resting metabolism in comparison to 4% for women.

We can add this to the average calorie burn count from a regular workout:

  • A regular 73kg man burns around 365 calories in a 30-minute jog.
  • If he did strength training for the same time, he’d loose 130-220.

We see that the small increase in resting metabolism from strength training won’t make up for the large difference in calories spent with a cardio workout.

cardio workout

Should You Combine Strength Training vs Cardio?

It all really depends on your goals.

If the aim is purely building muscle and getting stronger, then favour strength training.

If it’s weight loss and increased fitness then cardio does great. 

But combining both strength training and cardio you can really get the best of both. It’s going to take a little more time but it’s a great investment.

Also, you shouldn’t fixate completely on the scales when using this approach, especially if you’d like to secretly lose weight.

When combining both, you’re going to be losing weight through burning fat, but also gaining weight through the additional muscle. And muscle weights much more than fat. Overall this means that you may not lose weight depending on how you split the strength training and cardio.

So when combing both, which should you start with?

  • Weights before cardio is a better strategy if your goal is to build strength.
  • If your goal is to have better endurance for an upcoming race, cardio before strength would be the way to go.

Recommended Amounts of Both To Stay Healthy

Here we’re talking staying healthy, not becoming the next Mr. Olympia or running a sub-2 hour marathon.

It’s recommended that for adults in the age range 18-65:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week
  • 2 sessions of muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups.

That can actually seem like quite a lot! The 150 minutes per week can be divided by two if you’re doing something slightly more vigorous such as jogging (so 1hr15 per week).

Injury Prevention

If it reduces risk of injury, we want in!

Cardio is awesome for staying in shape however it’s extremely repetitive. Without combining it with strength training it can lead to pressure on your joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons.

This ain’t no good in terms on injury prevention!

Strength training on the other hand teaches the brain how to handle quick muscle contractions that can help minimize injuries.

By teaching your body to handle weight at multiple joints whilst in motion (such as with pull-ups, lunges or rows), you’re actually protecting it. It’ll know what to do under that increased load.


The type of training you do should be clearly dictated by what your goals are.

  • For weight loss cardio is the hands down winner.
  • For getting stronger think strength training

What’s important is to mix things up and not do either for too long. There’s the added reason that doing only cardio with no strength training for a prolonged period can leave you susceptible to injury.

Now there’s a reason to stop the treadmill if you ask me!

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