My training sure has changed throughout the years, and there’s a few reasons why. Today I’m diving into an important topic to chat about if you’re looking to get your fittest and be your healthiest self while working out!
So, here are the questions …
Which is better for losing weight, strength training or cardio?
Which is better for losing fat, strength training or cardio?
Which burns more calories, strength training or cardio?
What should I be doing to hit my goals?
The best workout plans that hit all of these goals incorporate both cardio and strength training, and is what I recommend to almost anyone. While each person will have a variant of what the best workout plan for them is, the main component should remain the same (above), and I’m going to explain exactly why below.
Okay, let’s talk about calorie burn. Of course you’re going to burn more calories running tirelessly on a treadmill for an hour than you would lifting weights. Your metabolism, however, may stay elevated even longer after strength training than cardio, and weight training is the only way you’re going to build muscle.
The phrase “cardio kills gains” has been a stigma heard around the lifting community, and there is also a “fear of bulking up” for others in regards to those who have a goal to lean out. The good news is that it’s completely possible for both cardio and strength training to co-exist in your workout plan to hit almost any goal out there, and it’s all about planning.
When programmed correctly (let’s say doing two to three 20-30 minute sessions of cardio each week alongside strength circuits), a mix of cardio and strength training can help improve your results, your body composition, and your overall health. And it’s way more effective to do both than one or the other.
If you were to strictly focus on lifting weights, you would be missing out on building and maintaining your cardiovascular health and endurance. If you were to strictly focus on doing cardio, you would be missing out on building strength, muscle endurance, and muscle hypertrophy.
If you’re doing too much cardio, it can negatively affect the muscles you have and make you weaker over time. Anything over an hour a day can be considered over-training, and signs include feeling weaker, tired, restless, and a lack of motivation to work out at all.
When you over-train, you’re more prone to injury and the exercise exceeds your ability to recover correctly. I generally recommend cardio sessions to last between 30-45 minutes, depending on one’s stamina, goals, and fitness level. If done on the same day as weight training, I would change that to 20-30 minutes. And of course, there are so many variables here that affect what my answer would be for you.
So what about those training for a long distance race?
It’s easy to overtrain during this process, so here are some tips for you:
- Incorporate cross training into your lower mile days. Instead of strictly running your lower 3 or 4 mile days, substitute a good weight training circuit in to build your strength. This will help you gain muscles and use them to increase your endurance, speed, and power! And if you want to keep the miles, go easy. These aren’t the days to go your hardest, as you’ll need that energy for the strength work and longer distance days.
- Vary your exercises and intensity of workouts. Don’t do the same workouts or even running workouts while training. Some days should be easier than others, and not every workout should leave you panting. Incorporate some lower-impact workouts with less reps/heavier weights and vary your hill, sprint, and tempo training. Generally, if you have a really hard training day, do a few easy ones before you have a challenging one again.
- Seriously use your rest days. Your body needs the recovery and that’s why they’re always built in to any training schedule. Even if you aren’t training for a race, it’s really important to have at least one day per week to fully recover. (See my post on rest days for more on this subject!)
- Leave a little bit left in the tank. I’m not saying to take it easy, but you don’t have to empty the tank completely during every single workout! A good goal would be to feel like you worked really hard, but could have done maybe one more sprint to finish. That almost-tapped-out feeling gives you some room to really push yourself on race days!
And what about those who don’t know what to do for strength training?
Again, this answer changes depending on the person’s fitness level, goals, and any modifications that they might need due to injury or recovery from something.
That said, here are some tips to help:
- Make sure you include a warm up and cool down. I always hop on the stationary bike, elliptical, or StairMaster for a good five minutes before a strength workout. The last thing you want to do is go into straining your muscles while they’re cold! Also, your body needs that cool down after your workout to start the recovery process. Always finish your workout with a series of stretches that lowers your heart rate and releases the tension you just put on your muscles.
- Proper form is most important. Don’t get caught up in how much you are lifting! Start small, even with bodyweight exercises, until you feel comfortable to add weights. Then slowly increase your weight as you max out your reps.
- Total body workouts or targeted workouts both work. Hitting all the major muscle groups two or three times a week is ideal for most people. You can choose to do one full-body strength workout two or three times a week, or you may break your strength workouts into upper and lower body components. Doing so, however, would also require you to complete those components two to three times per week. And of course, how many strength workouts and what kind of workouts you complete also depends on your goals.
- Refuel with water, protein, and carbs. Always hydrate before, during, and after exercise, and grab a post-workout snack to help gain some of that energy back that you just exerted. This will also help you retain that muscle!
I can’t end this post without mentioning that I have been guilty of overtraining, overdoing the cardio, and also pushing myself way too hard — every workout — to see any long-term results in the past. What I thought as working out to stay healthy wasn’t healthy at all. The important takeaway from sharing this is that the first step to getting on that healthy train is to take a look at your own workouts. Ask yourself if you might be overtraining or leaving out an important part of your workouts altogether. Are you doing a good mix of cardio and strength training? It’s never too late to reformat and change, either!
It took a long, hard look at what I was doing (about 6-10 years ago now) to realize that my 45+ minute cardio sessions followed by strength circuits five times per week wasn’t great for me. It’s so easy to miss the overtraining signs, so I hope this post has been helpful in recognizing what a healthy workout plan consists of, generally speaking.
If you have any specific questions or would like to talk more about your goals and what your personal workouts should look like, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also happy to report that an online training service is in the works for the near future, friends!
Thank you for reading, and here’s to getting after those workouts the right way.
I’ll see you back here on Friday for a new round of favorites later this week!