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Strength Training or Cardio?

Nov 10, 2020

Do you like lifting weights or are you a cardio bunny? Ever wondered which you should do, for how long, and why? Read on!

Before we start, be aware that this article assumes you have been cleared to exercise from your physician, physical therapist, etc, as applicable. If you are starting to strength train for the first time, it is recommended to do so with the supervision of a personal trainer.

Let’s start off by defining each type of exercise.

  1. Strength training can also be known as resistance training, because it involves any type of training that causes you to push or pull against a force, with resistance. This includes weights (dumbbells, barbells, machines, etc) and resistance bands.

  2. Cardio refers to any activity that gets your heart rate up consistently, such as running, walking, biking, sports, jump rope etc. Some activities include an element of both, such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) or weighted walking/running.

Let’s next talk about the benefits. Both have good effects on your body, which are you focusing on?

  1. Strength training of course has the benefit of muscle gain. Having the right amount of muscle on your body is good for your posture, bone density, and hormone balance. Aesthetics is of course a factor for some. Also, this may seem counter intuitive, but the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. (Think about your muscles as a car idling. Of course more “gas” (calories) are required while you’re driving, but gas is constantly required as long as the car is on. Fat doesn’t require this type of maintenance.) Muscle gain also leads to improved balance and muscle control, and regular resistance training has been shown to improve memory and cognition in aging adults.

  2. Cardiovascular exercise is great for your heart health, and also aids in fat loss. Cardio is the quickest “bang for your buck” in terms of calorie burning, which makes it the quickest way to burn fat.

Next, let’s cover recommendations. Again, these are not specific to you, and your health team may have different recommendations for you.

The AHA (American Heart Association) and many other entities recommend 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity per week. Of course these definitions will be slightly different person to person, so a good way to tell if you are exercising moderately or vigorously is to perform the talk test. If you can talk, labored but efficiently, with your exercise partner, you are exercising moderately (examples: brisk walking, water aerobics, dancing, tennis, relaxed biking). If you can no longer hold a conversation, you are exercising vigorously (examples: uphill hiking, running, swimming, heavy yardwork, fast cycling). Hopefully it goes without saying, but if you are easily chatting with your friend, this exercise does not count towards your weekly totals. (Doesn’t mean it’s not better than sitting on the couch though!)

It is also recommended to get two sessions per week of strength training, and to end your week with about 300 minutes of activity per week (this includes the cardiovascular activity mentioned above, your strength training sessions, and any more relaxed activity (walking the dog, light yardwork, etc).

Now a detail that matters to some and not to others: if you’re doing strength training and cardio on the same day, which do you do first? Well, that depends on your goals.

  1. Strength training first:

-Your primary goal is muscle building

-You’re new to strength training

-You're trying to hit some records (new weight, new amount of reps, etc)

  1. Cardio first:

-Your primary goal is fat loss

-You generally lift lighter weights

This was a lot of information! Let’s recap on the main points.

  1. Strength training: everyone should do it to some degree, for a minimum of two sessions per week. Strength training has countless physical and mental benefits.

  2. Cardio: you should do cardiovascular activity for your heart health, with a little extra if fat loss is a goal of yours. Hit at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.

Be active in a way you enjoy, in a way that doesn’t feel like work. For some people, running is their worst nightmare, for some it is their therapy and release. Find what works for you. Grab a friend, get outside, sign up with a trainer…. The possibilities are endless. There’s something for everyone!


Schedule a complimentary fit evaluation so we can get to know you and your goals and build you a customized training program to reach them.