Which Is More Important: Cardio or Strength Training?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This is a loaded question! If you ask 10 different trainers, you'd get 10 different answers. One trainer's answer is likely to be based on what they've seen help clients get the best results or their own personal preference for one type of exercise over the other.
There isn't a ton of research on this topic, but we know that people who do both cardio and strength training tend to have better outcomes in terms of weight loss, fitness and even improved blood sugar levels. These two modes of exercise each do very different things. If the issue is time, my answer would be to find a way to fit in both, whether each workout is a little shorter (and maybe more intense) to maximize your time, or you are doing both but doing each thing occasionally (such as just once a week each). Anything you can do will help. Another solution to fitting in both cardio and strength training is to seek out workouts that combine both efficiently. There are many workout DVDs (including SparkPeople's best-selling titles), fitness classes (including CrossFit) and workout options (including kettlebell training) that give you the best of both worlds. Circuit training, which involves lifting weights in a circuit of exercises without resting in between, is another good way to add an aerobic component to your strength-training workouts
Now let's look a little deeper at each exercise component and the role they might individually play in your fitness and weight-loss plan.
Strength Training
Weight training is important for a couple of reasons. First, the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be and the more calories you will burn even at rest. But the actual numbers involved in a whole day of "extra" calorie burning due to extra muscle are relatively small compared to the hype of "metabolic boost" that is attributed to strength training. (Read about one study that measured how many extra calories a new pound of muscle burns in a day.)

The second reason is more important if you're restricting your calories to lose weight. If you don't strength train along the way, up to 30% of the weight you lose can come from muscle loss, and that isn't likely to be healthy over the long haul. Good strength and muscle tone are essential for functional living and health. You can hold your muscle loss down to 3-5% of total weight loss with moderate strength training, which involves two full-body sessions per week. Likewise, strength training helps to preserve bone density, balance, and many other important things.

Aerobic exercise also has a place. Not only does it improve health and overall fitness in ways strength training alone can't, but it really is the calorie burning king. If weight-loss is your goal, cardio exercise burns far more calories per hour—and elevates your metabolism after exercise is over (especially if it was intense), resulting in a much greater calorie burn than strength training provides.
If you feel too busy to squeeze it all in, remember that short cardio sessions can be just as effective—maybe even more effective—than longer sessions at a lower intensity level. Tabata training, interval training, anaerobic/sprint training: These are all ways to get more fitness and calorie burning into your day in way less time.

As you can see, it seems like a simple question, but the answer is very complex. Most trainers would tell you to do both, and now you've got some realistic ways to do exactly that even with a limited schedule. Hopefully this helps you make the decision that will best support your individual health and fitness goals.

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PRSPLACE 1/30/2019
I really needed this article right now. I am kind of on a plateau losing and I think incorporating this into my routine will definitely help! Report
LIDDY09 1/28/2019
Thank You. Report
Methinks the answer to the title question is "no". Report
PATRICIAANN46 12/25/2018
Thank You for a great article. Report
MNABOY 11/10/2018
Thanks Report
MIRAGE727 10/10/2018
My Cardio is mostly running! To be efficient, it is vital to have complementing Strength Training! As you age, There is no debate here.😉 Report
AMBER461 9/19/2018
Thanks for sharing. Report
JEWELZEE- 8/27/2018
Good confirmation of what we know we have to do. Report
Great perspective! Report
Thanks! Report
I agree. Both are very important. Life is a fine balance of many things, finding the balance is my problem. Report
Very interesting article Report
Great article Report
I think to get healthy along with weight loss a person needs both. Report
I wish I knew all of this when I was younger, It's hard to catch up now but I'm trying. Report
great to know both are equally important that is what I thought Report
Great article, Nicole! Report
Who knew? Thanks. Report
At my age both is a better option, although I do a large variety of heavy work on the farm that requires muscle, some strength training picks up the muscles that are not used as often Report
Both for me. Great article. Thank you!!! Report
I tend to prefer the cardio, but am starting to do more strength training. I know I’ll need both to be the healthiest that I can be Report
Both can mean plenty in your program. Report
Agree that both are important. Did the food first but found that I also needed the weights too. Report
I am going to start doing both soon. I think I read this article before but I hardly ever remember what I have or have not read. Some things just look real interesting when you come across them Report
I know I need both - medical conditions already have me losing muscle and with a low heart rate cardio even when I don't reach aerobic levels leaves me feeling better with a more positive outlook. Working for a combination is probably best. When I could tolerate an entire hour at the gym I did 45 minutes of cardio and 15 strength 5 days a week. On weekends it was combined by carrying a pack with 20+ pounds while walking at a good clip. Today I do what I can and often that is not much. The weight hasn't changed much but the difference in appearance and strength is something to note. Report
I wrote about this as my FIRST of 200 + Secrets of Success on my page and it had at last count 256 votes of SP members who agreed with me . ~ST~Strength Training burns calories LONGER after you have worked out. Cardio burns calories FASTER. I 'll take the ST over Cardio as I am older[in my 50s} and want the strong muscles to help me be able to have strong bones and Strength Training does that.It also helps prevent osteoporosis when done on a regular basis. I always have better results for weight loss with ST. Report
I would say both are important, but if you have health issues(hernia and the like), cardio is the better choice. Report
I confess for me there's a vanity component to this. I'm a believer in both, because I want a healthy heart AND strong muscles and bones. But if I had to choose, I'd go with strength. I want to say it's 'cause there's osteoporosis in my family and I want to stay healthy, but the stronger motivation is that I value how my body looks with a thick layer of muscle. I never wanted to be model skinny, I wanted to be athlete strong. Report
I have to vote for both. Cardio is imperative for heart health & other reasons. Strength helps bone health. Personally I found my body totally changed when I upped the cardio AND added weights to my routine. Report
I like both and I believe that we all must to both Cardio and Strength.
Strength is very important to build muscles because if you do Cardio with no Strength then you will lose muscle ! And you dont want that! We need muscles to look shape and toned but also muscles improve metabolism so the higher metabolism will be the more colories you will burn!
As a conclusion it is better to have a combination of Cardio and Strength ! Report
As you get older, strength training becomes even more important. You need to combat muscle loss from aging. Cooper Institute recommends almost 50-50 balance between weight and cardio after age 50. Report
I like the fact that cardio is good for your heart and lungs. I like the fact that strength training can burn calories up to 24 hours later once you are done doing it. I happen to do both. I think it's based on your personal body goals. For me it's about building serious muscles so strength training is real important. I do cardio like I said for my heart and lungs. Report
I like to do both!!
Thanks for writing about this! Report
Nicely balanced article. Cardio makes me feel energized, strength training makes me feel strong, helps improve posture, and seems to keep my joints from aching. I don't want to choose one over the other. Report
"If you don't strength train along the way, up to 30% of the weight you lose can come from muscle loss, "

Wow, I didn't know that. While I detest strength training I still do it but maybe now I'll look at it differently! Great article! Report
I have to agree both are equally important. I notice of a month of lower intensity cardio, I put on a little bit of weight, clothes get tighter and it's harder to switch back to high intensity cardio. But same goes for strength training. If I don't do strength training for a month, the weight stays down but some areas are less toned and jiggle a bit more than before. Report