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Strength vs Cardio


By Bree Ginden


In a world where much of the time we don’t have the hours or the energy to do everything we want/need to do, I often get the question: Strength or Cardio?  Which is better?


And the answer is:  that depends on your goals.  And Strength training isn’t solely for muscle gain while cardio isn’t solely for fat loss.




·       Better for weight loss.  “But I burn more calories when I run for an hour!” you may say.  And this could be true, but while you may burn 10 calories per minute while running and only 8 while strength training, studies show that your metabolism is elevated for up to 36 hours after a good strength session vs only a few hours after cardio…and even that depends on the intensity and duration.  This is a phenomenon known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which is the extra work your body has to do to recover from exercise.


In addition, if you are squeezing in 30 seconds of jump squats or simply quickly moving from one exercise to another, your heart rate is likely to rise. This can end up giving you the same caloric burn as you would with steady state cardio during the same time period.


If you start to think of all those EPOC calories you’re burning over the period of weeks and months of strength training, you begin to understand why it wins here. To get a solid post workout calorie burn from cardio, you’d have to be moving pretty intensely for a loooong period of time…and most people that are capable of that aren’t the ones that are wanting to lose weight.


·       The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn 24/7. Realistically, females can expect to gain .5-1# of muscle per month with a good strength training program and proper nutrition.


·       Strength training can completely reshape your body. We’ve all seen someone who’s dieted off a large amount of weight and simply turned into a smaller version of themselves. While they may look much better in clothes, in the process they’ve probably lost a lot of muscle and just look “soft”.  While following a proper nutrition program AND strength training, one can lose fat and keep their muscles firm so that the end product is more visually appealing.


In addition, some women shy away from heavy weights because they “don’t want to bulk up”.  Friends, we don’t have enough natural testosterone in our bodies to bulk like that.  You may have genetically bigger calves, or quads, but that’s your body type. There are ways to train to give your physique a more proportional appearance, and that doesn’t usually mean reaching for the 3# weights. Heavier weights will boost your metabolism and give you a more defined appearance.


Utilizing weights you can lift for 15-20 reps will engage more of your slow twitch muscle fibers. Weights you can only lift about 8-10 times will use your fast twitch fibers.  Weights you can lift 30+ times? Pointless!  It’s just wear and tear on your joints.


·       Strength training favors a hormonal environment more friendly for fat loss. It favors muscle gain or maintenance, depending on your caloric intake. Cardio, however, triggers cortisol release. Cortisol is the main hormone that encourages muscle mass loss and fat storage around the abdomen.


·       It not only builds your muscles, but can strengthen your bones as well. It’s easier for many elderly or obese people to begin with weights than with cardio. In studies, weight training gave novices a bigger sense of accomplishment and success than cardio training did.





·       This one wins points in the cardiac health area.  While your heartrate may get elevated with strength training, it probably won’t reach the levels it will if you’re out for a run.


·       Stress relief! While many people may enjoy strength training, people simply don’t report the same amount of stress relief with that as they do with a good cardio sweat session. It’s a bigger endorphin boost, with studies showing it can improve mood, anxiety and depression.


·       Easier to do with friends and minimal equipment. Hands down, going for a walk/jog is infinitely less expensive than purchasing weights or joining a gym. Cardio wins here.  And if it gives you much needed time spent with a running buddy, then it’s totally worth it.




It means that there is a time and place for everything, and BOTH should be a part of your exercise routine.  Hopefully now you are convinced that strength training is NOT just for perking up those muscles, but that it is a great strategy to focus on for fat loss as well.


Lastly, anytime you are interested in shedding weight or gaining muscle, you should have a proper nutrition plan to complement your exercise. Improper nutrition can defeat any gains or losses you may be aiming for in the gym, so make sure you visit with us to get the most out of your efforts!