Cardio vs Weights: Should You Do One, the Other, or Both?

Cardio vs weights is an important question for any fitness enthusiast. Although many fitness enthusiasts prefer one over the other, the most fit people find a balance between the two. Cardio and weights each have their purpose, and that purpose is vital in both cases.

As with most things related to fitness, the best course of action for each person is entirely dependent on their individual goals. Goals are a very personal decision, and the variations between people are many. Want to know which is best? Read on for Cardio vs Weights: Should You Do One, the Other, or Both?

Building Mass When You’re Naturally Skinny

If, like many fitness buffs, your goal is to build mass and build muscle, then you’ll definitely want to orient more in the direction of weights than cardio. It likely will not be an even balance. It’s a good idea to still include cardio in your fitness rotation, but lifting weights will be priority one.

So if you’re a natural ectomorph (naturally skinny), then you’ll definitely want to lean more towards weights than cardio. It gets back to your personal goals, and what you’re trying to achieve.

For an ectomorph, your body will be naturally skinny unless you take some action to change that. The action you’ll need to take is to eat a high volume of calories, and perform resistance training (lifting weights) to build muscle mass.

In addition to a high number of calories, you’ll want to hit the weights two to four times a week. The lifting work can be done at your local gym, or there are plenty of home workouts that can also help you build muscle with weights. If you’re doing weight training at home, you can do some powerfully effective home workouts with dumbbells. This can help you achieve just about the same results you’d get from the gym.

To ensure a balanced look when lifting weights, you’ll want to work all of the major muscle groups. Working out each muscle group a few times a week should be sufficient to build mass over time.

Here are the major muscle groups to focus on:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Abs
  • Legs

Cardio vs Weights for Most People

When you look at the fat stats in most Western countries, there is a much bigger problem with losing mass than gaining mass. A full 70% of Americans are obese or overweight, so the problem for most people is not building mass. The mass is already there in spades!

For most adults, the question of cardio vs weights carries a different answer because the goals are different. Most adults aspire to lose fat and lose weight, not gain mass, which is the wrong approach

So for most people, cardio and weights should play a more balanced role in their workouts. You might be thinking, cardio should be a higher priority for overweight people. But it’s not that simple. Yes, cardio should be a very high priority for people who are overweight or obese. But an equally high priority should be lifting weights!

Lifting Weights is the Secret Sauce to Burning More Calories

Cardio is very effective at burning calories, which translates to losing weight. But lifting weights is equally important, as building lean muscle on your frame will turn your body into a fat-burning furnace over time.

The reason? Muscle burns substantially more calories than fat, so as you build muscle and add muscle to your frame, your body will burn more calories during the day. This is the reason why cardio and weights are equally important for people trying to lose fat and lose weight.

Benefits of Cardio

Cardio has many benefits for the average person. Likely the greatest and most positive benefit of cardio is weight control. The obesity problem in Western countries has well-documented health consequences that cover a huge spectrum, as well as having an enormous financial impact in terms of burden created on the healthcare system.

In addition to eating a clean and nutritious diet, cardio is the best defence against obesity. No, you don’t have to be a marathon runner or professional athlete to benefit from frequent cardio. If you have cardio in your daily (yep, daily!) fitness routine, you will be on a the path to achieve excellent weight control.

Cumulative Effect of Cardio

The benefits are not only in the calories you burn, but also in the mindset that frequent cardio provides. So if you get in the habit of jogging or doing some type of cardio three to four times a week, then you will burn an extra thousand calories a week.

That alone does not sound like a substantial amount of calories, but over the course of months and years it starts to add up. If you burn an extra 1000 calories a week from cardio, that is 52,000 calories over the course of a year.

This 52,000 calories equates to 15 pounds of body fat. So the daily calorie burn might seem inconsequential, but the cumulative effect over the course of a year becomes very powerful indeed.

Beyond Weight Control

The benefits of cardio extend far beyond weight control and protecting you against obesity. Frequent cardio provides your body many outstanding benefits, including:

  • Improved blood pressure
  • Improved circulation
  • Lower risk of diabetes
  • Improved appearance
  • Improved self-image
  • Improved lung function & capacity

Variation is Key

Many people have quite a negative perception of cardio. When they think of cardio their mind immediately goes to taking long, boring jogs on neighbourhood streets. However cardio is most effective and most sustainable for the long term when you add variation and a little spice to it.

Not every cardio session needs to be a gruelling 45-minute huff and puff session. It is best to not only vary the intensity and duration of daily cardio, but also the type of cardio that you perform. There are many different types of cardio that you can include in your rotation to keep things fresh and interesting.

Some of these cardio routines are as follows:

  • Jogging
  • Rowing
  • HIIT
  • Hiking
  • Treadmill
  • Biking
  • Brisk Walks
  • Stairmaster
  • Sports (Tennis, Basketball etc)

Benefits of Weight Training

Most people know that weight training is the best way to build muscle and look great. Even people who have very little fat, if they don’t have a decent amount of muscle on their frame then it’s generally not a good look. So even if you don’t want to have a large, muscular frame, it’s still aesthetically pleasing to have a base level of muscle.

Overall Balance of Cardio vs Weights

A balanced approach is necessary when building mass and building a muscular frame. Trying to decide on cardio vs weights should not be a binary answer. It’s not as simple as yes and no. Both have tremendous value in any fitness plan. The benefits go far beyond what you look like, and touch on something much more important…your overall health and psychological wellbeing.

Cardio vs Weights? Do Both!

So it’s likely best to include cardio and weights in your fitness plan. Exactly how much of each depends on your genetics, where you are in your journey, and most importantly your ultimate fitness objectives.

To summarize, if you’re like many people trying to add mass and build muscle, then you will likely want to lean more towards weights. But even in that scenario, it is still a good idea to include cardio as well for the many health benefits.

If you’re among the majority of adults in the United States and other western countries, then you’ll likely want to include a balanced mix of both in your fitness life. Although cardio burns more calories and more fat in the immediate short term, building muscle through weight training burns more calories during the rest of your day.

So in this scenario, if you can replace 10 pounds of fat with 10 pounds of muscle then your body will become much more efficient at burning fat during your normal day. And this is generally more important for most people, as they don’t have three hours a day to spend in the gym!

Depending on your starting point, it’s very possible to pack on 10 pounds of muscle over the course of a few months. This is a game changer for anyone trying to lose weight and get fitter.

Once you have goals established, then you can make an informed decision about what is best for you. You’ll want to be sure that you include both cardio and weights in your weekly routine. It takes commitment, but it’s a commitment that pays off greatly in the long run. Plus, you’ll be very glad that you made this investment in yourself!

Juha Pentinpuro

Juha is a gym enthusiast with Finnish roots and a strong interest in fitness and health related subjects. He's also keen on motorsports, tennis, cycling and beach volleyball in the summer months. He's particularly interested in bodybuilding and the nutrition that makes that possible. He believes that a healthy lifestyle is key to happiness.

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