What’s the best form of exercise then – Cardio or Weights?
Firstly it depends on what your objectives are. There’s no point in following a full out strength program five days a week if your objective is to be a faster cyclist. Most of your time should then be spent cycling. On the flip side, if you’re looking to build muscle then you sure as hell won’t do that pedalling away on the bike every day!
Let’s assume that you are looking for overall fitness coupled with losing weight and building lean muscle, which is a realistic goal for most of us.
Cardio exercise gets the heart and lungs working and is a great calorie burner at the right intensity. Weight training builds strength and the more resistance there is (heavier weights) then the more calories we use, although generally not as much as intense cardio in the same amount of time.
So why wouldn’t we just stick to cardio then? A few reasons. Rarely do we ever get stronger simply through cardio. The heart and lungs become more efficient and powerful which has many benefits but building muscle is not one of them. Furthermore, although cardio exercise generally burns more calories during the workout, resistance training also burns calories AFTER the workout has finished. This is known as EPOC (Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). The more intense the workout – not the duration – the more oxygen your body requires to restore itself to its normal resting state.
That’s why it’s best to do both. For me as a runner, that equates to 4/5 runs per week and 2/3 strength workouts, tweaking the ratio and intensity slightly as the racing seasons change. This keeps me strong enough for the challenges of track racing, lean enough that I’m not carrying any excess weight and quick enough that I’m still competitive. For anyone specialising in a particular sport then the ratio may look different but the principles of specific training remain the same.
If you’re simply looking to be the fittest version of yourself for everyday living then you’re still looking at a similar approach. As an example, three quality sessions a week should see you focussing on one resistance training workout, a moderate/intense cardio session and a third session either split between the two or combining them with a workout such as circuits. If you can up the number of workouts then you keep the ratio roughly split between them both.
We’re talking ideal scenarios here, but in reality it also comes down to which type of exercise you prefer. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you only like one or the other, just keep doing what works for you, but be open minded to the benefits that both types of training can bring.