Cardio or weightlifting: What kind of exercise should I be doing?

For the best health outcomes, experts recommend a good balance of cardio and resistance training
August 28, 2019

Exercise is good for our health. This almost goes without saying. It’s harder to tell, however, what kind of exercise is best and how much we should be doing. To help you along your fitness journey, we sat down with a certified strength and conditioning specialist to answer one of the biggest questions about exercise: Should I be doing more cardio or weightlifting? Joshua Laudig, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, fitness coordinator at the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center and Texas A&M Healthy South Texas, gives his advice.

Laudig says that what kind of exercise you focus on more in your training program depends on your specific goals. For instance, if your goal is to run a marathon or even a 5k, you will want to work on your cardiovascular endurance. If, on the other hand, you want to build more muscle, you should focus more on resistance training.

For those who simply want to experience the general health benefits of more physical activity, or if you want to lose weight, Laudig recommends balancing cardio (or aerobic) training with weightlifting (or resistance) training.

What’s a good balance?

First things first: talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program to make sure you’re healthy enough to engage in physical activity. If the answer is yes, the American Heart Association recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Aerobic exercise includes activities like walking, jogging, biking and swimming.

How do you know the difference between moderate and vigorous activity? Laudig points to the “talk test.”

“If you’re able to hold a conversation while you’re exercising, that’s considered moderate activity,” he said. “Vigorous activity is harder and gets your heart rate and respiratory rate up a bit more, so you shouldn’t be able to speak in clear sentences while you’re engaged in vigorous exercise.”

In addition to cardiovascular activity, aim to do full-body resistance training two to three days per week.

Laudig suggests choosing eight to 10 different exercises and doing one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of each. For a typical person, this should take no longer than 45 to 60 minutes to complete. Take 24 to 48 hours of rest in between sessions.

“These are minimum recommendations,” Laudig said. “There’s no cap on how much exercise you should do, as long as you can adequately recover between sessions.”

Benefits of cardiovascular training

Although resistance training does elevate core temperature and heart rate, it does not necessarily increase respiratory rate for a long enough time to provide the same benefits as cardiovascular exercise.

“Aerobic activity increases what we call VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, which is the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise,” Laudig said. “Over time as you exercise more, your VO2 max increases, so you’re able to go longer and faster, which is what we call your cardiovascular endurance.”

In addition to athletic performance, cardiovascular training can help you lose weight, improve your heart health, increase energy and elevate your mood. This is because aerobic training lowers body fat percentage, reduces blood pressure, lowers blood lipids and increases muscular endurance. All of these benefits put you at lower risk for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis and some cancers. It also helps improve outcomes or even reverse some of these conditions if you already have them.

Benefits of resistance training

Many of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise are also reaped from doing resistance training, which is why fitness experts recommend doing both. However, resistance training does come with some added perks.

“By progressively overloading your muscles over time with extra weight using dumbbells, barbells or machines, you’ll see an increase in muscular strength and size, which we call muscle hypertrophy,” Laudig said.

By building muscle and increasing lean body mass, resistance training helps improve strength and power and can also increase metabolism.

In essence, weight loss is all about putting your body in a caloric deficit, meaning, to lose weight, you need to use more calories than you consume. Exercising is an efficient way to use more calories, and resistance training, in particular, can make your body need even more calories.

“You may have heard the adage, ‘muscle burns fat,’ but muscles do not actually burn fat,” Laudig said. “However, the more muscle mass you have, the more energy it takes to sustain it. The more energy you use, the easier it is to lose extra weight.”

Studies also suggest that increased muscle mass can improve insulin sensitivity, which is key for those with diabetes or high blood glucose (sugar). This is because muscles, along with the liver, are where the body stores glycogen, a substance that is used for energy during exercise. Depleting glycogen during exercise allows for more storage of carbohydrates as glycogen, helping to prevent high blood sugar.

Other studies have shown that weight-bearing exercises may improve bone density, which is something those with osteoporosis can benefit from.

Move every day

In the end, Laudig says do the kinds of physical activities you like the most.

“At the end of the day, whatever you’re going to do most consistently that will motivate you to get out and be active, do that,” he said. “If you’re a runner, go run. If you like lifting weights, do that. Try to balance cardio with weightlifting, but don’t force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy. Just be active, and move every day.”

Lindsey Hendrix VR Publisher

— Lindsey Hendrix

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