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Cardio vs. Strength Training: Do You Really Need Both?

By Stevie Lyn Smith, RD, July 5, 2019

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You may have noticed a great divide in the fitness world between strength and endurance athletes and their approach to training routines. Avid runners and triathletes focus on their aerobic fitness for upcoming races—often to the point of neglecting the weight room. The same holds true for any strength athletes who spend little time away from their lifting routine to to focus on aerobic fitness. But the truth is, if you’re looking for a new PR on the race course or PB in the weight room, or if you're just looking for a way to round out your fitness, the key could be to switch up your routine. 

 

Strength training: What are the benefits?

For athletes, it's particularly important in sports which require power and speed, like American football or sprinting. In endurance sports like triathlons or marathons, our bodies require a steady stream of energy, which often results in the breakdown of muscle. Strength training therefore plays a critical role in maintaining lean muscle mass in these athletes. It can also prevent injuries in these athletes by helping to develop strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Not a competitor? Strength training is just as important for you. It can increase lean body mass, metabolic rate, and bone density while reducing the risk of injury, all of which are important for maintaining both quality of life as and body weight as we age.1 Ladies, no need to fear ‘bulking up’ from hitting the weight room. There are many factors at play that make building muscle much more difficult than it is for men. Adding in weights has considerable benefits for women of all ages.

 

Aerobic exercise: What are the benefits?

No matter what your age or fitness level is, adding aerobic exercise to your routine has significant positive health benefits. Though it might feel a bit challenging at first, hitting the cardio machines on the regular will improve your stamina, help strengthen your heart and immune system, improve your mood, help in weight management, prevent chronic conditions (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), improve bone health, and help to improve both HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.2

 

How can you make changes?

While trying out a new form of exercise can be daunting and intimidating, there are ways you can set yourself up for success and, more importantly, enjoy it! First, schedule ‘appointments’ for your workout sessions in your week. Setting the time aside beforehand will help to keep you on track and accountable.

Once you slot the time, look for different fitness classes such as HIIT, bootcamps, or spinning to get support from a group and teacher. These are great options for expanding your horizons and ultimately providing you with some important guidance if and when you decide to venture out on your own.

If you need to increase your cardio, grab a friend and explore walking, running, or biking routes where you live. During the nice months, this is a great way to get some fresh air, Vitamin D, and connect with people in your community. You can still keep each other accountable during the winter months by hitting the treadmills or elliptical together, or try an outdoor activity like snowshoeing.

If you want to add more structured weight training in, seek the advice of a certified personal trainer for a few sessions to learn proper technique and set up a plan that fits into your schedule and goals. If you’re new to exercising, be sure to consult your physician before starting any routine!

 

Where do our biomarkers fit in?

While the benefits of both aerobic exercise and strength training are well-known, assessing your biomarkers can help identify personalized and specific recommendations to better meet your goals. Personalized lifestyle changes are some of the most efficient ways to improve biomarkers such as blood glucose, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, HBA1c, hsCRP, and cortisol levels—all of which are associated with exercise. They can also be an incredibly helpful tool, not just in the management of chronic diseases, but also the prevention of them. 

 

The takeaways

While it’s normal to have a preferred method of exercise, it is important to consider ways you can become a more well-balanced athlete—competitive or not. Though some may believe that one form of exercise is better than the other, the complementary effect of both is superior to them individually. So whether you’re looking to improve endurance, strength, or energy levels, taking a different approach to your fitness routine can help you achieve these and improve your health. 

Discover the best type of exercise for your body

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References

  1. Thomas MH, Burns SP. Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. Int J Exerc Sci. 2016;9(2):159–167. Published 2016 Apr 1.
  2. 10 great reasons to love aerobic exercise. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/aerobic-exercise/art-20045541. Published 2019. Accessed July 1, 2019.