Cardio vs Resistance Training

A hot topic that I see constantly on social media is the comparison of cardio to resistance training. This will usually be accompanied by pictures of a fitness model comparing the results of the two. They will usually say things such as how they used to do 30+ minutes of cardio 5 or more times a week, then they started weight training and now they have a more toned and firmer glutes, their abs are more visible, and so on. The problem with these comparisons is that they really shouldn’t be there, in this fashion at least. Cardiovascular training is not designed to shape your butt or give you a six pack. Cardiovascular training can be done for any number of reasons such as improving cardiovascular (lungs, heart, blood vessels) health, aiding in weight loss, and/or providing more results for your aerobic and even anaerobic training.

In my opinion, being able to combine the two styles of training (known as concurrent training) will allow for great benefits, even better than doing just one mode of training on its own. Now as I always say with my articles, this is going to vary based on your goals. I, for example, will do little to no cardiovascular training when I am training for a powerlifting meet; or if I have an important race coming up for my runners, I will suggest to them to cut back on the resistance training. This is because your body has a great way of adapting to new stimulus. However when it comes to incorporating a high volume of cardiovascular training with resistance training, your body will favor the aerobic training and the muscles will adjust more to be able to perform this type of activity. For the average person, we are split about 50/50 when it comes to having Type I (Slow Twitch) and Type II (Fast Twitch) muscle fibers. Now aside from aging, you can not change your muscle fiber type from training, but your body can adapt and the Type II fibers can take on more Type I characteristics. What this means is that your body will better be able to run the longer distances and be more efficient at generating ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which is what our body uses for energy.

For the average gym goer, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re training for strength and power sports, you want your body to be trained for strength and power and not just for aerobic endurance training. That’s just a basic rule in the laws of specificity. So if your main goal is strength but if you’d still want to incorporate cardio for whatever your reasons may be, how do you do it? There are a number of different ways. When done with a low volume (amount of distance/time being spent over the course of the activity X frequency or the amount of times done per week) then your body will still get many of the benefits and you will adapt, however it won’t be as drastic and will not inhibit your strength gains. Some examples of this would be to run or cycle 20-30 minutes maybe 3 or 4 times per week. Sprints also have a lot of great benefits. This will still work on power and uses the same muscle fibers and lifting for power and lifting heavy. Other great ways of incorporating some cardiovascular work would be to do circuits or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or various high intensity activities such as using battle ropes for 45seconds-one minute in duration. Anything that gets you moving fast and using a lot of muscles at one time.

If you are a runner, cyclist, swimmer, or have any other aerobic type exercises and sports as your main goal, then weight training can help a lot. Just as with strength athletes partaking in cardio, your volume (for resistance training volume= Reps X Sets X Weight) will play a factor. Usually two-three days of resistance training alongside your regular training routine will be sufficient. The biggest concerns here is managing the volume and weights used so that you can have adequate recovery so that you don’t affect your aerobic performance. The other concern being injury prevention. You don’t want to go do an intense hour long bike ride and then when your legs are jello, try to squat heavy. For aerobic and endurance performance, the science usually suggests performing 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps. This will help increase muscular endurance which will play a major role in aerobic performance. As you improve, you can also add more sets or adjust the weight as needed.

For somebody with strength goals, I suggest performing cardio after the workout that way the fatigue from doing the cardio won’t affect lifting performance. For individuals with goals in line with aerobic sports, they can lift either before or after their main training is done. Lifting doesn’t affect aerobic performance as much as aerobic training can affect anaerobic performance. Just be sure you’re watching for signs of overtraining. Make sure you’re managing your work loads. Concurrent training is great and I highly recommend it, just need to be sure that you are adequately managing your volumes and intensities for both.

A great article to go along with this can be found here.


Edited by: Adriana Colon


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