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If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re someone with an established workout routine. Good for you. Exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health and overall well-being. You might be wondering, however, what type of exercise will yield the best results and help you reach your goals — whatever they may be.
The two main types of exercise are cardio and strength training, and both have a lot to offer. Cardio — aerobic activity that elevates your heart rate, such as running, jumping rope and stair climbing — helps strengthen your cardiovascular system, which makes your heart, blood vessels and arteries healthy, explains Jordan Hosbein, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of Iron and Grit.
“Sustained levels of cardio exercise condition your system to handle elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can help your heart pump more blood with less effort and keep blood vessels elastic and clear of waste, therefore lowering blood pressure,” Hosbein says.
Strength training, on the other hand, such as lifting weights, using resistance bands or using weight machines at the gym, involves short, intense bursts of movement.
“While strength training is great for generating power, it doesn’t translate well into overall physical endurance,” Hosbein explains. What strength training does that cardio doesn’t is improve bone density. “You need strong bones to have strong muscles since they are your body’s foundation,” he says. “Cardio doesn’t have this same benefit since strength training requires resistance in one form or another.”
Strength training also can help improve posture by developing certain core muscles, explains Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania.
“By reinforcing muscle strength with resistance exercises, you can improve specific areas like your traps and back-extension muscles, which are essential in having good posture,” Conrad says.
The third important thing strength training does is increase your metabolism and metabolic health markers. Research, including one study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, has shown that strength training is an effective method for improving body composition.
“By improving your lean body muscle mass, your body speeds up its metabolic process, which leads to a faster metabolism,” Conrad explains. “For every pound of lean muscle you add, your body will burn 6 to 10 calories per pound per hour, and for a pound of fat, your body will burn 1 to 2 pounds per hour in comparison.” This, he explains, is why strength training can be an effective part of a healthy weight-loss program.
Both cardio and strength training play important roles in your fitness routine — and experts agree that one doesn’t have a healthy place in your routine without the other. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to skip cardio or skip strength training altogether. In fact, there’s a good reason why the combination of cardio and strength training has been a part of regular exercise programs for years.
“Weight training is important and has many health benefits like helping posture and improving flexibility, but it won’t do much for heart health and being able to run without getting winded,” Conrad says. “Cardio improves overall sports performance and helps foster weight loss, which may inevitably help you reach other health goals in your life, such as managing health conditions such as diabetes.”
How Often Should I Do Cardio?
If your routine doesn’t involve skipping cardio, you might be wondering just how much to do versus weight training? This depends on your goals, time, starting point and training preferences, according to Hosbein.
“If your goal is weight loss and general fitness, a good starting point can be strength training three times per week with three 10- to 20-minute cardio sessions per week,” he says. This way, you’re not skipping cardio nor are you skipping strength training.
For an optimal training routine, Hosbien recommends doing cardio on the days you don’t strength train — and vice versa.
“A light 20- to 30-minute cardio workout two to three times per week won’t hurt your strength training and will provide many additional health benefits you can’t get from strength training alone,” he says. “If you strength-train on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, go for a light jog or brisk walk on Tuesday and Thursday.”