If you aren’t familiar with weight training (also called strength or resistance training), bulky biceps and six packs come to mind, and it is indeed the best way to build muscle. However, its advantages go far beyond that, including weight loss and myriad other health benefits.
Weight training is an anaerobic exercise (as opposed to aerobic, like cardio) in which you lift free weights like barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells, or use equipment that provides resistance. The body immediately starts burning glucose to gain energy because oxygen is not readily available. Anaerobic exercises involve short bursts of high effort; other types include sprinting, jumping, and Hight Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
In contrast, cardio is an aerobic activity. The body uses oxygen in increasing heart rate and breathing rate, like in running, cycling, and swimming, or any other such activity which makes you breathe harder and faster for longer periods of time.
Why and When to Choose Cardio over Weight Training?
Improved Heart and Lung Endurance
When you do cardio, your body strives to get as much oxygen it can possibly get, for better exchange in blood and eventually energy. It helps heart and lungs function better, improving cardiovascular endurance.
To burn more total calories during your workout
Burning more calories during cardio is a big plus. Note the emphasis on “during”. You wil burn more calories to get through the activity. However, half an hour after you’re done, you’re back to baseline calorie burn.
Sleep aid and more
Aerobic exercise has been proven to result in a high-quality night’s sleep. It is also preventative, reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke and certain types of cancer.
Why and When to Choose Strength Training?
To Gain Lean Muscle
Weight training burns calories, but not at expense of muscle loss. You gain lean muscle mass while and lose fat.
To burn calories all day long
weight training helps you burn calories throughout the day, unlike cardio which causes burn only during the session. Muscles increase resting metabolism while fat doesn’t burn at rest. Building muscles mass and losing fat is a win-win situation.
To Strengthen Bones and Avoid Injuries
Weight training increases bone strength and bone density. Hence, bones become strong enough to avoid injuries and preventable fractures. It also increases bone deposition of minerals which can prevent osteoporosis and bone brittleness.
Why choose one, when you can do both?
You can alternate days cardio and strength training, or try cardio as a warm-up and/or cool-down to your weight training day.
Slowly but surely, you will gain muscle and lose fat. If you're following an exercise regimen and not increasing your calories, your weight may go up. Using tape measures or proper before-and-after photos may be more helpful to track your progress.
If you are time-constrained, choose weight training over cardio.
Frequency of cardio and weight traing
Frequency depends on your goals and requirements. It's best to consult a trainer to customize a perfect plan for you according to your circumstances, starting condition, and history. In general, 150 to 250 minutes of vigorous cardio per week is recommended. For strength training, 2-3 days per week if you do full-body strength training, or 3 to 5 days for each muscle group if you train them separately (legs, arms, back, chest, core, etc.)
Strength training and cardiovascular conditioning are both are beneficial in their own ways. For the best results, consult a professional trainer, dietician, and medical doctor (if you have a history of injury), and get a customized plan of action.
“Be consistent and active”