Cardio vs Weights
It is an age-old discussion – which is the best fitness method, cardio training or weight training.
Well, here we set out to dispel some myths and offer some guidance.
The first thing to say is that both methods of training do different things and are good for you in different ways and under different circumstances. They are also not mutually exclusive, they both contain an element of each other, so cardio activities will hold an element of resistance work, while weight-training will comprise some aerobic activity.
Resistance training changes your body composition, building lean muscle tissue and toning your body. Minute by minute, cardio burns more calories but the difference is the resulting body shape. Both training methods burn calories but evidence suggests that a hard weight training programme will burn more fat and keep burning for longer. Cardio activities tend to stimulate the appetite and the commonly-held idea that a run will burn off the calories of a cake or a bar of chocolate is simplistic at best and wrong at worst – you can’t out-run your fork!
So weight-training is probably more effective if you want to look fit and toned but if you have some serious weight to shift, then an exercise regime with a higher proportion of cardio activity is the way to go.
Cardio elevates your serotonin levels and reduces anxiety and stress. It also optimises longevity by reducing obesity, high blood pressure, strokes and osteoporosis.
So what should the ratio of cardio to resistance training be?
Men’s Fitness.com suggests that if your goal is general fitness and conditioning then you should use a balance of both. Three to four days that include some lifting and two to three cardio days are a good mix.
Just to throw some confusion into the mix. It is important that your cardio work contains some variety. There is no benefit to just running the same pace, the same distance every time – you need to include some sprints, some hills, some explosive work, to jolt your body into a state of (good) stress.
If your goal is to improve your aerobic endurance then you should concentrate on more cardio work – three to four times a week – with two weights sessions. The weights sessions should be lower weight/higher reps, rather than pushing really heavy weights.
The main message is that your exercise regime must always contain elements of both types of fitness. If you are doing lots of repetitive running, swimming or cycling and no resistance work, then your body will be at risk of repetitive strain injury. Adding cardio work to your weights programme will help you maintain a good level of aerobic fitness and reduce stress and anxiety.
Should cardio training be seen as an alternative to HIIT?
The thing about HIIT training is that it is all or nothing. Cardio training has been the poor relative to HIIT in recent years but it still has a very important part of play. Where HIIT training puts your body under extreme pressure for short periods of time, a sustained cardio training programme makes your heart and muscles work at a harder rate for longer – thereby increasing the ability of your body’s systems to cope with physical stress.
The message that comes out of this apparently confused landscape is actually a fairly simple one – your training regime should contain elements of cardio, resistance and HIIT, with the proportion of each matching the physical challenges you are facing.