STRENGTH & RESISTANCE OR CARDIO…
WHICH IS BEST?
- Which form of exercise is better for weight loss; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise will give me a better butt; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise will give be better abs / core strength; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is better for toning up; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise will make me look better in a swim suit; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is better for overall health; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is best for my heart; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise will increase my life span; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is better if I have extremely limited time: Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is better if I have no funds to join a gym; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise will prevent osteoporosis; Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is better if I am old (Geriatric); Cardio or Strength Training?
- Which form of exercise is better if I am young (Teenager); Cardio or Strength Training?
- Insert your own version of this question here ____________________?
In a post that is sure to trouble my readers who happen to be hardcore cardio enthusiasts (particularly serious runners), I am going to show you that while I am not necessarily trying to get you to completely give up your cardio training (that would be foolhardy on both our parts); Strength Training is the superior form of exercise —- the best answer to every single one of the above questions. And no; it’s not even close.
What gives me any degree of credibility to tackle this topic? I have nearly three decades of experience dealing with real-world patients. Not to mention, my undergraduate training included the Dual Degree Program at Kansas State University (Exercise Physiology / Nutrition). But probably the number one reason I can address this issue authoritatively is the fact that I practice what I preach. Although I cannot do the MASSIVELY HEAVY TRAINING anymore due to old injuries (multiple cases of basketball-induced avulsion fractures of my right ankle, leading to a low grade PIRIFORMIS ISSUE and chronic foot issues), I have been in the game personally for well over 30 years. I know what works and what doesn’t work because I’ve lived it —- and I am not into wasting needless time with exercise routines that do not produce fruit, and produce it quickly (HERE for example).
STRENGTH TRAINING OR BODYBUILDING?
Unfortunately, bodybuilding has moved away from FRANK ZANE’S CLASSIC LOOK (think a bit bigger version of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ here), to today’s comic book-like monstrosities that are almost ubiquitously built via mass quantities of steroids and GH-like hormones. Forget all the gimmicks. Just remember that if you train correctly and eat properly, the physique will take care of itself as you get stronger (with a great variation in everyone’s genetic capacity for both size and strength). Today’s post is going to delve into what constitutes “Resistance Training / Strength Training” and the reasons it’s superior to hardcore Cardio Training (specifically long-distance running), in almost every objectively measurable category.
Despite the fact that I used to play basketball and other sports for hours on end, I will warn you up front that this blog post is being written from the perspective of someone who never found running for the sake of running, enjoyable. Despite the fact that I did it for a significant portion of my life, I never liked going out and pounding the pavement. In fact, I hated it. Runner’s High? Can’t even imagine it!
REASONS THAT STRAIGHT CARDIO IS INFERIOR TO STRENGTH TRAINING
I realize that today’s column is going to upset the marathoners, the triathletes, and the bikers. I apologize in advance. Be aware, however, that my goal is not simply to give you my opinion. Although I have not included a bibliography (I am not writing a book or article for publication in a scientific journal), there is a tremendous amount of scientific research backing this column. But don’t be fooled.
You have to understand that I think everyone should do some form of Cardio Training. It’s just that I believe that it can be incorporated into your strength workouts in other ways, such as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or rapid circuit training. The bottom line is that if you want to optimize your time and energy as far as fast-acting, long-lasting results are concerned (remember the list of questions above?), Strength Training provides much more bang for the buck. And it provides it much quicker. My goal is to prove it to you in as many ways as I possibly can.
Does it burn energy (calories)?
Does it burn fat?
Does it raise the heart rate?
Does it increase cardiovascular health?
Does it build muscle?
Does it increase strength
NO (can cause muscle loss)
MAYBE (it can also cause loss of both strength and muscle mass)
MAYBE / SLIGHTLY
MAYBE / SLIGHTLY
STRENGTH -vs- CARDIO
THE REASONS STRENGTH TRAINING IS SUPERIOR
- NO MATTER WHICH FORM OF EXERCISE YOU CHOSE, DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR DIET: No matter which form of exercise you choose to participate in (Cardio Training, Strength Training, or hopefully some sort of combination), the biggest reason your exercise program will either succeed or fail has to do with the foods you eat. In other words, your diet will make you or break you. If your biggest goal is losing weight, you have to remember that you cannot work out hard enough to overcome a cruddy diet. THIS POST will tell you why LOW CARB and PALEO are the way to go. Let me repeat myself in a different way. If you are still stuck in the HIGH CARB MINDSET of the 1980’s (or you just don’t care), you are headed for disaster. It may not happen today, and it may not happen tomorrow. But I promise you that if you do not consciously choose to eat in a healthy manner, you will one day be dealing with a diet-induced Endocrine System Tsunami. As I will soon show you, you’ll burn your Pancreas trying to control your blood sugar, your ADRENAL GLANDS will follow suit, and your health will go to hell in a hand basket. Without serious intervention, maintaining a healthy weight will become almost impossible.
- PEOPLE WHO ARE SERIOUSLY INTO CARDIO ARE FREQUENTLY SERIOUSLY INTO THEIR CARBS: While this is an obvious over-generalization, it is true in far too many cases. It seems to me that most of the runners I know are really into their carbs (think ‘carb loading‘ here). Furthermore, Cardio Training seems to increase one’s appetite for carbs more than Resistance Training does. Tim Ferris of Four Hour Body, tends to avoid overly-strenuous Cardio Training for this very reason. And while it’s true that carbs in the form of vegetables are a critical part of a healthy diet, just remember this; there are no “Essential Carbohydrates” (even though there are Essential Amino Acids (proteins) as well as Essential Fatty Acids). In other words, our bodies are perfectly capable of converting both protein and fat into blood sugar. Here are a few links for those having trouble with this concept (HERE and HERE). I also know a lot of runners who do not really worry about what they eat because they know that they are going to burn x number of calories on their next run. In my post called HEALTH PHARISEES, I tell how I used to use exercise as an excuse to eat crappy foods. This thought process is fueled by articles (think Cosmo or Men’s Health) that provide ‘educational’ guidelines on how much exercise it will take to burn off that brownie or Big Mac Value Meal you just scarfed. Again; I am overgeneralizing, but when it comes to this particular issue, people who are into Cardio Training frequently have a completely different mindset than those who are into Strength Training.
- STRENGTH TRAINING IS JUST AS GOOD AS CARDIO FOR WEIGHT LOSS: Let me qualify this statement. While it is technically false, it is functionally true. Even though you will expend more energy (calories) during the average Cardio Session, there is a far greater weight loss benefit to Strength Training — a benefit that will largely be seen over the long term (more on this shortly). Much of this has to do with the fact that an equal volume of muscle weighs significantly more than the same volume of fat. This means that a good Strength Training Program might actually cause you to gain weight (at least at first) —- even though your goal may very well be weight loss. But, as you’ll quickly learn, you need to change both your mindset and your fitness goal(s) in this area. All of this is why the scale might not be your best friend when you start your Resistance Training Program. It’s also why for women in particular, strong is the new “skinny”. Instead of worrying about your weight, take a picture. For some reason, scales and mirrors tend to lie to you much more than a picture will. Instead of simply thinking in terms of weight loss here, we all need to be thinking in terms of body composition.
- NO FORM OF EXERCISE COMES REMOTELY CLOSE TO RESISTANCE TRAINING AS FAR AS BODY COMPOSITION IS CONCERNED: When I speak of body composition, what I am really getting at is a person’s “lean body mass” -vs- the amount of body fat they are carrying. Cardio Training inarguably helps people lose weight. But because it has a real tendency to break down muscle in the process (usually without building it back up —- look at the pictures at the beginning), it can leave you skinny — and in some cases rather soft. The only surefire way to increase lean body mass is to get involved in some sort of Resistance Training. Period. End of story. A 1999 issue of Medical Science Sports Exercise verified this fact. This study broke a group of overweight individuals into three different groups:
-The Diet-Only Group
-The Diet & Cardio Group
-The Diet & Cardio & Strength Training Group
In 12 weeks time training 3x / week for almost an hour per session, the Diet-Only group lost nearly 15 lbs, while The Cardio & Diet Group lost nearly 16 pounds — one measley pound difference. But the Strength Training group lost over 21 pounds of fat over the course of the 12 weeks. Think about it. There is so little difference between dieting and dieting plus cardio, that it is virtually impossible to justify the extra effort it takes to lose that one extra pound. In other words, thirty-six cardio sessions lasting up to almost an hour added up to one extra pound lost (gulp). But throw in the Strength Training, and Whalah! The Strength group showed weight loss that was far superior to the other two groups. In a moment we’ll delve into what happens when the Cardio Training is altogether abandoned in lieu of Strength Training. To truly see concept in action (losing 100 lbs in 100 days, and getting strong in the process), you need to take a peek at THIS SHORT POST.
- WEIGHT LIFTING CHANGES BODY SHAPE / APPEARANCE FAR MORE THAN CARDIO EVER WILL — OR CAN: Although this goes along with Body Composition above, they are certainly not the same thing. And let’s be really honest with each other for a moment. While it’s very true that people exercise for a wide variety of health-related reasons, many (arguably most) people exercise because they want to look better. I could have titled this bullet point, “Strength Training Creates Better _______ (insert the body part of your choice here — Abs, Butt, Legs, Chest, Arms, etc). Other than getting leaner, most Cardio Training does very little (many experts would argue ‘nothing‘) as far as body sculpting is concerned.
- WEIGHT TRAINING PROVIDES A SHAPELY ADVANTAGE —- ESPECIALLY FOR WOMEN: Unfortunately, most women fear the very thing they should be doing — lifting heavier weights with greater intensity. If you are one of those, But-I’m-afrad-to-bulk-up-I-just-want-to-tone-up women, change your mindset and change it now! Listen up ladies. If you want to change how you look and change it rapidly, you had better get far more serious about Strength Training. I seriously cannot tell you how many women I have counseled because their 10-12 mile-a-day walking program (yeah, that’s what I thought too) was no longer producing the results they wanted — namely weight loss and toning. Unless there is a serious health problem that would prevent someone from doing so, my advice is virtually always the same. KETTLE BELL SWINGS, multiple-joint power movements (squats, deadlifts, etc — longer list at end of the post), heavier weights, Low Carb or Paleo eating, and more protein more often. Bottom line; if you want to change the way you look without clothes on, lift weights. Doing rep after rep after rep after rep with one pound padded dumbbells is essentially another form of Cardio Training. It will probably give you a good case of TENDINOSIS, but do very little to change your body’s shape! Rather than belabor this point, I will point you to a post by Nerd Fitness’s, STEVE KAMB.
- RESISTANCE TRAINING REQUIRES A SIMILAR EXPENDITURE OF ENERGY INITIALLY, BUT RAISES METABOLISM MUCH MORE FOR A MUCH LONGER PERIOD OF TIME: Unless you are doing some serious, serious, long-distances; weightlifting is going to burn as much or almost as much energy (calories) as cardio. It is pure myth that Cardio Training burns significantly more calories than intense resistance training. Although your 10 mile run may very well burn more calories than my 20-40 minute Crossfit-like workout, the current scientific literature shows that the increased muscle mass creates a boosted metabolism for between 24-48 hours post-exercise (38 hours is a number frequently bantered around). In other words, the increased lean body mass you create via Strength Training burns more calories at rest —- way more. For whatever reason, this phenomenon is not seen in Cardio Training. Remember; Cardio Training will not only not increase lean body mass, in many cases it will actually decrease it! Quit concentrating on the number of calories you supposedly burn during your exercise session (as if any method of counting calories is really trustworthy and accurate). It is the calories you burn during the rest of the day that matter the most. In other words, stop focusing on how many calories you burn inside the gym and instead focus on how your body expends energy outside the gym.
- CALORIES DON’T REALLY MEAN JACK: A Calorie, by definition, is the amount of heat energy it takes to raise one cubic centimeter of water, one degree Celsius. If you want to know why your ENDOCRINE SYSTEM (and particularly Insulin) has a much bigger effect on your body composition than the number of calories you eat, READ THIS. Again, do not get hung up on calories. The number of calories you eat has little to do with the amount of weight you gain or lose. It is all about controlling your blood insulin levels by controlling your blood sugar. To understand this better, check out my ‘self-experimentation’ at the end of the post.
- WHEN IT COMES TO WEIGHT LOSS, INTERVAL TRAINING IS SUPERIOR TO STRAIGHT CARDIO TRAINING: The University of New South Wales looked at 45 overweight women over the course of a 15-week period. The study’s subjects were divided into two groups: Group One did continuous bicycling, while Group Two performed mixed routines called “Intervals” (lots of sprints with regular cycling between the sprints). The interval (“sprint”) cycling group performed twenty minutes of exercise, while the continuous group exercised for 40 minutes. At the end of the study, the women in the interval group had lost three times as much body fat as the women in the continuous exercise group — mostly from the legs and butt. Stop and re-read that sentence if your jaw is not on the floor right now! Interval Training (repeated sprints or extremely intense bursts of exercise —- Burpees for instance —– sandwiched between your normal exercise) is all about making your body adapt to change. This is always a good thing, no matter what kind of exercise we are talking about. The current scientific research says that Interval Training is far superior to standard Cardio Training in virtually every measurable category — including fat loss. Be aware that programs like P-90X and “Insanity” are incorporating what amounts to Interval Training into their Strength Training. Despite Interval Training’s superiority to Cardio Training…………….. (HERE)
- WEIGHT LIFTING IS SUPERIOR TO INTERVAL TRAINING: Although I have done a bit of it during my lifetime, make no mistake about it —- I do not like to run for the sake of running. I would rather play racquetball, basketball, soccer, walk, KAYAK UPSTREAM, hike in the woods (HERE), or whatever else a person could possibly do to avoid running. Rather than belabor the superiority of Resistance Training compared to both Intervals and Cardio, I will leave you with Jason Ferruggia interviewing world renowned fitness expert, Alwyn Cosgrove, on the subject.
- CARDIO IS TYPICALLY HARDER ON YOUR BODY THAN STRENGTH TRAINING: While injuries can occur in all forms of exercise, I see far more chronic injuries (TENDINOSIS, FASCIAL ADHESIONS, PLANTAR FASCIITIS, SHIN SPLINTS, BURISITIS, PATELLAR TRACKING PROBLEMS, ITB SYNDROME, PIRIFORMIS SYNDROME, etc, etc) in people who are seriously into their cardio — particularly runners. The intense and repetitive impact seen in running is a huge problem over time, frequently leading to DEGENERATIVE OSTEOARTHRITIS of the knees and hips (orthopedic surgeons absolutely love runners). And the repetitive motion patterns seen in running as well as other supposed ‘low impact‘ Cardio Training methods such as biking, rowing, swimming, stair climbing, etc, frequently contribute to muscle imbalances and joint problems as well. Can you hurt yourself lifting weights? Absolutely! I have done it myself too many times to count. I am still trying to reprogram my pea brain. It can be a difficult thing for a Type A male to shed the more-is-always-better mindset.
- STRENGTH TRAINING IS FAR SUPERIOR AS FAR AS CORE STRENGTHENING IS CONCERNED: Core Strength is critical for overall health and fitness — not to mention Spinal Health. It is also important if one of your goals is to live a pain-free life. One of the really cool things about Strength Training is that it automatically works your core (CORE STRENGTHENING PAGE). Unless you are doing some sort of hybrid training method (Zumba, P-90X, Kickboxing, etc) your Cardio Training will provide little benefit as far as strengthening The Core is concerned. For you hardcore cardio enthusiasts, kill two birds with one stone. Cut back a little bit on the cardio and add some dumbell work done on an Exercise Ball (HERE) and watch what happens.
- WEIGHTLIFTING INCREASES SELF CONFIDENCE MORE THAN CARDIO: I have believed for a very long time that a healthy body / body image helps to give people self confidence. It seems that the scientific community agrees with me. Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis of Ontario’s McMaster University specializes in the field of exercise’s effects on body image and self confidence. In a 2006 study, she looked at women’s perceptions about themselves and their bodies both before and after 12 weeks of Strength Training. Not surprisingly, she showed that Strength Training made significant improvements in this area.
- ONLY STRENGTH TRAINING CAN REVERSE OR INHIBIT THE PROGRESSION OF OSTEOPOROSIS: Only “Weight Bearing Exercise” can positively affect OSTEOPOROSIS. Even though I myself would characterize walking or running as ‘weight bearing‘, the scientific community does not see it that way. When it comes to Osteoporosis, ‘weight bearing’ exercise means you have to work your muscles against resistance of some sort. Unfortunately, walking and / or running do not cut it. Bottom line: stronger bones are created by strengthening the muscles that attach to those bones. What strengthens muscles? You already know the answer — Strength Training!
- STRENGTH TRAINING CREATES A FAR BETTER HORMONAL ENVIRONMENT WITHIN THE BODY: One of the things that has really come to the forefront lately about hardcore Cardio Training (most specifically, running or intense walking) is that it significantly and chronically raises Cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone and is made by the Adrenal Glands. Due to dietary stress, emotional stress, or physical stress (i.e. running), the Adrenal Glands release Cortisol. In a worst-case-scenario; overstressed Adrenal Glands cannot keep up with the stress demand, and people end up with ADRENAL FATIGUE / FIBROMYALGIA. Unfortunately, one of the chief metabolic activities of Cortisol is to promote the loss of muscle (lean body mass), as well as causing fat accumulation — particularly BELLY FAT. And once people begin having problems with one part of their Endocrine System, other Endocrine Problems begin to show their ugly heads as the whole thing begins to head South. This leads to a cascade of problems that almost always involve some form of Insulin Resistance (Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes). If you search the scientific literature, this scenario is beginning to get a lot of play right now, and is a good reason to either dump intense Cardio Training altogether, or at the very least, scale it way back. Conversely, if you look at the research on Strength Training being used to modulate the Endocrine System, it is very promising.
- IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO CARDIO TRAINING, YOU MAY WANT TO DO IT IN THE FORM OF A SPORT: For instance, MMA and Soccer are both sports that my son has been involved in for many years. When you get down to it, sports like these, as well as others like racquetball or basketball are really forms of Interval Training (fairly continuous exercise with intermittent bursts of super intensity / speed). They are not boring. They are not repetitive. They provide great cardiovascular benefits. Granted, you cannot simply put your running shoes on and go do these sports. The drawback with sports is the potential for injury. However, a number of Strength / Cardio / Interval Training Programs have come to the forefront over the past several years. Like I mentioned earlier, people are getting great results with training videos such as P-90X, Insanity, and a wide variety of the like. A QUICK NOTE ON BIKING / SPINNING: Biking has gained in popularity because when done properly, it is a true combination of Strength Training, Interval Training, and Cardio Training. See our testimonial from a three time world champion triathlete (HERE).
- I AM NOW CONVINCED THAT STRENGTH TRAINING IS SUPERIOR. HOW DO I ADD STRENGTH TRAINING TO MY CARDIO PROGRAM? This is not difficult. For those of you who are not currently performing some sort of exercise, this post will give you enough information to get started. For those of you who are training either exclusively training cardio, it will be tougher. What it will most-entail from you is a mindset change. If you are a hardcore runner, you will have to do some serious soul searching concerning some of the things you have read in this post. The most difficult thing for you (at least at first) will be to realize that cutting back on your Cardio Training is really OK. Unless you want your body to become a ‘Cortisol Dump’, DO NOT simply add Strength Training to a hardcore Cardio Training program. As always, I would strongly suggest that you never listen blindly to anything that anyone (self included) tells you, without first doing your own research into the matter.
- WHAT KINDS OF STRENGTH EXERCISES SHOULD I BE DOING? OK; you’re convinced that Strength Training is superior to Cardio Training. The next question is what kind of exercises should you be doing? This is fairly simple to answer. Rather than wasting your time with lots and lots of individual exercises for each individual body part (bodybuilding), you need to be doing exercises that use as many large muscle groups as possible (squats, deadlifts, lunges, kettlebell swings, squat thrusts / burpees, inverted rows / pull ups, push ups, medicine ball slams, powerclean to press, etc, etc, etc, —- there are lists all over the internet). By doing these sorts of exercises one after the other in a rapid circuit (or by substituting with the hundreds of similar exercises as taught by CrossFit or other similar groups), you’ll build lean body mass (muscle), lose fat (fat), and develop exceptional cardiovascular strength (heart and lung capacity). There are several places to start. I have mentioned CROSSFIT already. You can read blogs like NERD FITNESS, STRONGLIFTS, MARK’S DAILY APPLE, or any number of others. It is important to realize that a great Strength Training Workout can actually be accomplished in a short amount of time with little or no equipment; using things you can either BUILD YOURSELF, or scrounge up from around your house (some CrossFit workouts last less than 15 minutes). The never-ending variety of exercises means that you won’t get bored. And the fact that you can see such dramatic results so immediately, makes Strength Training its own motivation. Cut back the Cardio, add some high intensity low duration Strength Training to your program, and watch what happens. You’ll be amazed.
One of the first large-scale experiments on myself occurred back in the mid 90’s. Even though it was about to kill me, I was hopelessly stuck in the Fat Free 80’s. After reading The Zone by biochemist Barry Sears, as well as Dr. Atkin’s original book, I decided it was time to go ‘Mad Scientist’ on myself, and one day finally said, “chuck it“. Although I knew in my brain that what these authors were saying was biochemically correct and accurate, I could not get over the fact that for 10 years of studying nutrition, all I had ever heard from seemingly everyone in the industry was that dietary fat was the Great Satan — the thing that made people fat (HERE). So what did I do? For several weeks, I essentially went carb-free (basically the Atkin’s Diet’s Induction Phase), living on things like bacon, fried eggs, sausage, cheese, and other similar fare — things I had mostly eschewed for the past decade. Guess what happened? Even though I was not really ‘fat’ to begin with (but more so than I care to admit), I lost about 10 lbs of fat without any changes to my training regimen. Other than the occasional binge (yeah, at times I fall off the wagon —- eggnog is the thing that is currently calling my name), I have been low carbing ever since.
For my most current experiment, I decided to pull a Tim Ferris and do virtually no cardio (because of old injuries, I cannot do as much as I would like to do anyway — the weirdest is that I can no longer ride a bike and have not done so in over a decade). Other than the occasional hike or short Kayak excursion, my workouts have consisted of nothing other than Strength Training since we closed the pool back in October. Because I can have a tendency to over-consume eggnog around Christmas time, and because my friend Rick is on an absolute rampage with his new workout, I came up with the HOLIDAY CHALLENGE to give us both some accountability and motivation to get through the Christmas season unscathed.