Why it's best to make time for bothJune 14, 2019
Why it's best to make time for bothJune 14, 2019
Should I focus on cardio, or stick to weights? Do I need to do strength training? Or can I just keep on running?
The battle between cardio and strength training is long-standing, but, like many things in the fitness industry, it is not as simple as one mode being ‘better’ than the other.
Asking about the benefits of each is virtually meaningless without specifying the individual goal. So, the answer is to make time for both. And to do it in a way that works for you.
A runner, for example, would ideally incorporate strength training into their week to maintain the health of joints, and to develop power and speed. These sessions would not demand significant recovery time or compromise the main goal—building aerobic capacity—but act as complimentary sessions that support each other.
And your answer will differ if your focus is on reducing body fat vs improving speed, or increasing muscle mass vs improving heart health.
Let’s back up for a moment, and break down these two types of training:
“Cardio”, slang for cardiovascular activity, is virtually anything that raises your heart rate. (Essentially, it’s exercise for your heart and lungs). Classic examples of this include running, cycling, and swimming, however, it really encompasses any type of vigorous aerobic exercise like skiing, ice skating, basketball, etc.
Strength Training uses resistance to build strength, anaerobic endurance, and muscle size. Although most people think of strength training as lifting weights, it can also be done through resistance bands and bodyweight.
Which ratios work best for what?
For endurance events, try 60+% cardio:
If you are training for an endurance event, cardio training will be your baseline. The focus is on improving your VO2max, which measures how efficiently you transport and utilise oxygen. (The higher the VO2max, the harder you can work without accumulation of lactic acid and carbon dioxide). Adding resistance training will strengthen stabiliser muscles and mitigate the likelihood of imbalances throughout the body. Developing power translates to developing speed, and increasing your strength also reduces the likelihood of poor form brought on by fatigue in the latter stages of the event.
Tip: for endurance events, focus on cardiovascular exercise 3–5 times per week and strength 2 times per week. Stick to low repetitions during your weight training to gain strength adaptations without the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
For strength development, try (spoilers) ~80% strength training:
Not surprisingly, resistance training is the key to developing strength. Aim for consistent training with a minimum of 3 x per week.
Tip: while cardio is often disregarded for those focused on hitting the gym, adding 2 x 30-minute cardio sessions to your week will really help you become a much better balanced, strong human.
To reduce body fat, try (actual spoilers) ~70% strength:
Strength training will dominate your week if you are looking to reduce body fat. It’s not that cardiovascular training can’t achieve the same outcome. It’s just that the more efficient your body becomes, the less calories you will burn per hour during cardio sessions. (This is a great thing for endurance athletes, but means that it takes increasingly longer workouts to achieve the same result if you want to lose fat). With strength training you can create progressive overload, by changing the load, repetitions, sets and tempo without changing the length of the session, which makes for a much more efficient way to train. Low intensity cardio training is often used to create a greater calorie deficit and maintain health.
Tip: In regard to body fat reduction we need to delve into topics like nutrition, sleep, and stress before really honing in on training stimulus. Build healthy habits, prioritise recovery, and minimise stress levels before getting caught up in training mode.
For team sports, try alternating modes:
Most team sports focus on strength as the major component in off-season and then build up into more cardio in pre-season training. This is because the cardiovascular load will be much higher during competition, while strength training can move to maintenance.
Tip: Having to work on strength during competition will compromise performance, so move into your competitive season strong with regular resistance training workouts shortly beforehand.
Combining strength training and cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis provides the best of both worlds: improved performance and mobility, stronger bones and increased strength, lower risk of lifestyle-related disease and greatly improved health overall.
If you’re working towards something specific, don’t let that narrow your style of training. Understand what ratio will most productively build towards achieving your goal, and make the two complementary modes work for you.