The age-old debate: should you train with cardio or weights for better health? Obviously, when it comes to overall health, any movement is great for the body. However, there may be a slight competitive edge to training a certain way in the context of building a healthy body composition.
Cardiovascular training (casually called “cardio”) is defined as any activity that increases the body’s heart rate and respiration while recruiting large muscle groups both repetitively and rhythmically. Cardio is perhaps the most common form of training, and includes running, biking, swimming, walking, or any other motion repeated that accelerates the heart rate.
Cardio is instrumental in heart health. As the body moves continuously, blood is pumped at a higher volume which conditions and strengthens the muscles of the heart over time. A healthy heart reduces the risk for chronic disease and conditions like high cholesterol and blood pressure, and helps prevent heart attacks. Cardio also increases lung capacity, boosts energy and strengthens the immune system.
Cardio is not without its dangers, however. An over-commitment to cardio can run the risk of overtraining the body. The body requires more time to rest and repair than one might think, especially after long bouts of intense movement. Without proper recovery, overuse injuries can occur in joints and muscles. Speaking of muscles, too much cardio can break muscle tissue down if the body is not fueled properly. A reduction in muscle mass typically means a reduced metabolism, which can make it harder for the body to burn fat over time.
The other side of the training “coin” lies weight training. This includes any type of training that uses the force of gravity or force from weighted equipment to condition the skeletal muscles of the body. It can include traditional weight lifting or bodyweight exercises. Applying any type of resistance to muscles provides stress that causes them to adapt and grow.
Weight training has numerous, and often overlooked, health benefits, aside from better muscular strength. These include better posture, controlled blood sugar, a healthy brain, increased metabolism, reduced risk of osteoporosis, increased mobility and flexibility, reduced risk of injury, lowered visceral fat, and many more. Weight training also affects cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart.
While few and far between, weight training does have risks associated with muscle injuries or joint pain due to bad form or overload. It also does not burn as many calories in the same amount of time as cardio exercises.
And the verdict is…
When it comes to a healthy body composition and healthy internal markers, weight training outperforms cardio by a long shot. Lean muscle mass is a crucial determinant of metabolic health because it burns more energy rest than fat mass. However, cardio is the perfect complement to a weight training regimen, as it helps increase blood flow to muscles and provides the body with a varied set of movements to avoid adaptation and plateaus in progress. In short, incorporate both to a well-rounded workout plan, but put special emphasis on weight training for long-term better health.