Which Is Better: Weight Training or Cardio?

By Laura High and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
June 23, 2022
Man holding dumbbell --- Image by © Bernd Vogel/Corbis

Adding strength training to your workout may be the best way to realize your fitness goals. Aerobics help you lose weight, but strength training boosts muscle mass.

There is no arguing the fact that exercise is good for you — in fact, it’s required for health. So if you’re getting the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week, that’s great. But are you seeing the improvement in your weight and overall condition you hoped for?

To maximize your workout, consider adding weight training to your routine. One study found that just 20 minutes of weight training combined with aerobic activity is the most effective way for men to reduce their waist circumference — a common measure of health — and maintain lean muscle. In a 2021 overview of the research about exercise and obesity, a team from Germany and Poland drew upon 32 randomized controlled trials with 4,774 participants in all. The group concluded that aerobics were best for losing weight and narrowing your waist, but that combining it with strength training boosts muscle mass.


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Dreaded belly fat receives a lot of attention, largely because it predicts future health problems if left unchecked. Often, the fat around your midsection gets in between and around your vital organs (visceral fat). Excessive visceral fat is associated with higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol), insulin resistance, hypertension, and inflammation.

Adding strength training to your routine — which can be bodyweight exercises, training with free weights or machines, or a combination of these — is an effective way to whittle your middle

“Ultimately, I like the combination of weights and cardio. You can burn fat off through cardio and through proper nutrition, but if you implement the weight training on top of everything else it will build lean muscle” said Jen Hoehl, an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and professional trainer in New York City.

“Most people want to get stronger, they want to get leaner, and the way to do that is through strength training,” she said, adding it’s also effective at reducing stress, and who couldn’t use help with that?

What you can do

Adding muscle raises your metabolism and causes your body to burn more calories, even at rest. But there’s a downside: it’s easy to eat more because of that higher metabolism. At the same time, if you’re dieting to try to lose weight, you’ll tend to slow down your metabolism.  

Rather than focus on metabolism, think about the health benefits and the self-esteem you may get from looking toned.

For strength training to have a positive impact on your waist circumference, you don’t necessarily need to focus all your training on your waist. Hoehl recommends some basic moves to get you started.

The squat

A proper squat works all the major muscle groups of the lower body. It engages your core and works your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. A good way to start is to practice the motion using your body weight only. Once you’ve mastered the basic move, you can add dumbbells or a barbell to increase the intensity.

The squat works some of the largest muscles in your body, so learning the move and making it a regular part of your workout will have a significant benefit.

The plank

Next, Hoehl recommends the plank. She said that to make strength training a safe and effective part of your workout, it’s important to be able to engage your core. Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles. It’s basically everything from your mid-chest to your knees — your abs, lower back, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

Work toward holding a plank for a minute, although few people can hold the position for more than 30 seconds their first time out, Hoehl said.

To do it properly you want to pull your shoulder blades back together, pull your stomach in, and engage your abs, glutes, and quads so that you keep your body in a perfectly straight line. There are many variations of the plank; it can be done with straight arms or to the side to add a challenge after you’ve learned the basic move.

The push-up

Finally, Hoehl recommends learning a proper push-up. The push-up strengthens your arms, chest, and shoulders and engages your upper back, abs, glutes, and thighs. She said the trick to doing it correctly is engaging your upper back and squeezing your shoulder blades together, so you really use your chest muscles to push up from the floor.

She said a lot of people push through their shoulder blades and round out their back, but by sticking your chest out and pulling your shoulder blades back at the same time, you’ll engage the proper muscle groups.

Putting it all together

Mastering these basic moves will engage most of the muscle groups that give you stability when starting a weight training program. Your overall goals will dictate how you combine strength training with your cardio. But, regardless of your goals, you should perform cardio three to four days a week

For weight loss, Hoehl recommends an overall body strength training routine two to three days a week, followed by any type of cardio for 20 to 30 minutes.

“Generally, I’ll have people use the weight training first and the cardio after. That way their heart rate is already in that fat burning mode, so when they do cardio they are totally burning the fat. That way, they’ll get a little more effective use of their time.”

If you want to build muscle, she advises a routine focusing on chest, shoulders, and triceps one day, back and biceps another day, and legs on the third day —including core exercises on all three days.

Adding strength training to your exercise routine doesn’t have to be intimidating. Many free resources online show you proper form and suggested routines. If you belong to a gym, look into hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions until you feel comfortable.


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June 23, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN