Cardio vs Resistance Training
There is a lot of terminology within the fitness industry, and when it comes to exercise, there are no terms more prominent than “cardio” and “resistance training”. Everyone knows the terms and has their own idea of what they mean. However, often when it comes to the goal of fat loss people tend to lean towards doing more, if not all cardio training. This is due to the high amount of calories you can burn while doing cardio training, but is it really optimal for fat loss? What will give you the most bang-for-your-buck for your time spent exercising? Before we answer those two questions, let’s take a look at the two terms.
Cardio is short for cardiovascular training, which is also known as aerobic training. Aerobic training is defined as “an activity that uses the large muscle groups in a rhythmic fashion that increase the heart and respiration rates for a period of time…”. You might be familiar with the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which recommend that adults (aged 18-64 years) accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. At the beginning of the program your coaches would have talked to you about intensity which is usually measured in one of two ways; target heart rate and rate of perceived exertion. Target heart rate may have been prescribed to you by your coach, which uses age to predict, and is not always the most accurate measure. That is why we also use and typically place more emphasis on rate of perceived exertion, a scale ranging from 1-10 used to rate how easy or difficult you find an activity. Within this scale we want to be at least at a 3-4 (moderate – somewhat hard) effort wise. You can technically be active while playing a round of golf, but if you were riding a cart between shots and having four drinks in the process, you would probably fall short of that 3-4 effort (and might be a 3-4 intoxicated instead).
Common forms of cardio are thought of as brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, rowing, etc. However cardio is not limited only to these modalities, as any activity that gets your effort level high enough on the RPE scale is acceptable. Based on the latest research, cardiovascular fitness has been shown to have a large indication on how long we will live, so no matter what your fitness goal, it should not be overlooked from a health standpoint.
Resistance training is defined as “the use of various types of resistance exercises to impose a mechanical demand that induces muscular contraction”. It is recommended to have muscle and bone strengthening activities twice per week in our weekly routines. Resistance training can be done using free weights, body weight, machines, water, tubing etc. Within the world of resistance training, you can alter the variable of sets, reps and load in order to train specifically for your goal. For example, training for endurance requires higher reps at a lighter load whereas training for strength requires fewer reps at a higher load. Talk to your trainers for more information regarding rep and set ranges if you are interested in the “why” behind your programming!
Now that we talked about the two terms, let’s answer the first question; is cardio training better for fat loss? A study done in 2012 looked to answer the exact same question as they ran a 12 week program with three groups of people. One group strictly completed cardio training, one group strictly did resistance training, and the last group did a combination of the two. All of the groups were asked to keep energy/food intake the same as they had been prior to the study. The study found that the group doing the combination of the two had better overall results in weight loss, fat loss, and cardio-respiratory benefits. There are a lot of other factors that come into play regarding the results that were found in this study (none greater than diet), but the bottom line is that greatest success came from the combination of each form of exercise.
Now to answer the second question: what will give you the most bang-for-your-buck for your time spent exercising? To answer this let’s look at the combined benefits of each. When performed correctly, these are the benefits of each form of training:
|Both Increase||Both Decrease|
|• Physical and mental health|
• Quality of life and well being
• Body composition
• Sleep, mood and self confidence
• Neuromuscular awareness
• Opportunities for social interaction
• Academic performance
• Immune system
• Insulin sensitivity
|• Risk of chronic disease|
• Risk of hypertension
• Blood glucose levels
• Need for certain medications
|Benefits Specific to Cardio||Benefits Specific to Resistance Training|
|• Improve cardiovascular fitness *||• Increases strength, power or muscular endurance|
• Protects the joints and bones from injury and increases joint stability
• Improves posture and prevents or decreases severity of low back pain
• Improves activity of daily living
• May prevent or slow the process of osteoporosis
• Helps increase Basal Metabolic Rate by increasing muscle mass
*However, resistance training may also be programmed to elicit cardiovascular benefits depending on rest, circuits, etc.
Once again, in order to check off as many boxes of benefits listed above, a mix of each style of training is optimal with more emphasis being placed on resistance training. Going back to the study, not only did the group doing a combination elicit the greatest results for fat and weight loss, think of all of the other benefits they would have accumulated listed above that they would not have obtained had they focused primarily on cardio. As a Weight Loss Clinic team, we are always preaching that there is more than just the number on the scale, and the significance of non-weight loss goals as well. When you focus on completing a healthy dose of each type of exercise, you begin to better yourself in so many different ways.
If you are having trouble finding time in your schedule to meet the recommendations for each style, ask your coaches about interval or circuit training (if you have not already been introduced to it). There are ways to condense your workouts while still working on resistance training and elevating your heart rate to get the best of both worlds, and we would love to get you acquainted!
The last message is that we can talk all day long about what is optimal, but the most important thing is that your exercise routine is both sustainable and enjoyable. All the science and research in the world will not benefit you if you genuinely dislike your program and have a hard time getting the motivation to complete it. Do not be afraid to reach out if you are not finding much enjoyment in your current routines, as we want to make exercise as fun and enjoyable as can be!
CSEP-PATH Physical Activity Training for Health. (2013). Ottawa.
Ho, S. S., Dhaliwal, S. S., Hills, A. P., & Pal, S. (2012). The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. BMC Public Health, 12(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-704
SCPE. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://csepguidelines.ca/adults-18-64/