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Cardiovascular Training Vs. Strength Training for Weight Loss

What’s the difference between cardiovascular exercise and strength training?

Cardiovascular exercise and strength training exercise are two different, but equally important, forms of exercise

Cardiovascular exercise, also called cardio or aerobic exercise, is exercise that increases your heart rate and makes your lungs work harder than normal. More technically, cardiovascular exercise challenges both your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to increase the heart’s ability to pump blood and the lungs’ and heart’s ability to move oxygen throughout the body. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes per day of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week. Examples are cardio include running; fast walking; cycling; hiking; swimming; dancing; climbing stairs; playing sports like hockey, soccer, tennis, ice skating, or basketball; doing jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or burpees; rowing; jumping rope; cross training; and kickboxing. There are countless ways for you to get your aerobic exercise in. Even going to the park with your kids or grandkids and running around with them can do it.

Strength training uses resistance to build muscle, strength, and endurance. It’s also called resistance training. Several types of exercises build your strength and endurance, including lifting weights or doing repetitions on weight machines, doing exercises using resistance bands, push-ups, squats, sit-ups, yoga, Pilates, climbing stairs or using a stair master machine, and walking or running on hills or using a machine to simulate an incline. 

If you need additional ideas for strength training or cardiovascular exercises you will enjoy and can fit into your lifestyle, consider meeting with a personal trainer. If that’s not within your budget, your doctor may have recommendations for beneficial exercises – even those you can do at home.

Cardio and strength training for weight loss

If your main goal is weight loss, you want to burn calories and build muscle mass. So, for optimal benefits, you should incorporate both cardio and strength training into your exercise routine. Once your doctor has cleared you for exercise, you can get started. 

Cardio’s role in helping you shed pounds is burning calories. The more you exercise, the more calories you’ll burn. If you’re trying to lose weight, you should aim for doing cardio at least five days per week for a total of at least 250 minutes (4 hours, 10 minutes) each week. Contrary to what many believe, you can do aerobic exercise seven days per week. If this goal seems daunting for you, start slow. Any exercise you do is better than no exercise, so remember that every minute counts. If you feel like you don’t have time to fit exercise in, do it in small increments. If you start by walking ten minutes every three hours, you can get 60 minutes of walking in throughout your day. 

Strength training helps you lose weight and keep it off by building muscle tissue. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate tends to be. More muscle also helps your body burn more fat than muscle, which is important if you want to lose weight and keep your strength. So, if you build muscle, you can speed up your metabolism and burn more fat when you exercise. The faster your body burns calories, the more calories it will burn each day. Since the formula for weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume, increasing the calories you burn will help you lose weight (given you don’t increase your calories). To maximize the benefits of strength training, you should try to do some sort of strength training for an hour three to five times per week. Unlike cardio, you shouldn’t do strength training every day. A good rule is to rest at least one day between every two days of training. So, if you lift weights on Monday and Tuesday, take Wednesday off before going back to the gym for more weight training on Thursday and Friday. 

For maximum fat loss, you should do both cardio and strength training. But how often is best? Here are some guidelines for losing weight (and losing fat):

  • Include strength training. Weight training is a great way to increase muscle mass, which helps you in several ways.
  • Push yourself by lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions. This is not always the recommendation, but if you’re looking to build muscle mass faster, it’s better to lift heavier weights and do 8 to 12 repetitions rather than lifting lighter weights and doing 15 to 20 reps. When you move to lighter weights and more reps, the work you’re doing is more like cardio – it’s still beneficial to your body, but it won’t build as much muscle.
  • Choose aerobic exercises you enjoy. The more you like exercising, the better you’re likely to be at sticking to your routine. 
  • If burning calories is your main goal, consider running or cycling over walking. The faster you go and the harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn per hour. That said, if you’re just beginning or you have health conditions that make running or cycling difficult, start with walking and increase the time you spend exercising and your speed as you get stronger. 

Example exercise routines combining strength training and cardio

Looking for a schedule? The best schedule for workouts is the one that fits into your life – the one you’ll realistically be able to stick to. Here’s a sample schedule that incorporates strength training and cardio:

  • Monday: Walk for 30 minutes throughout the day, and do 30 minutes of the cardio exercise of your choice.
  • Tuesday: Do an hour of weight lifting or resistance band work, and incorporate 30 minutes of walking into your day.
  • Wednesday: Play racquetball or tennis for an hour.
  • Thursday: Do 30 minutes of strength training, alternating between push-ups, squats, and sit-ups, then do 30 minutes of yoga.
  • Friday: Walk or jog for an hour throughout the day.
  • Saturday: Do an hour of the strength training exercise of your choice, and choose some sort of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes.
  • Sunday: Rest if you need a rest day, or do 30 minutes of walking throughout the day.

Remember, doing exercise is better than not doing it. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t think you’ve done enough exercise. It takes time to get into a routine – especially if you’re new to exercise. If you’re struggling with getting your minutes in, brainstorm. Think about all the activities you enjoy doing and figure out how to do more of them. For example, gardening is exercise. You squat and dig and move. If you garden actively for an hour, you’ve done well for the day. Of course, you can always add more cardio into your day, but an hour of gardening is great. Taking your dog to the park and playing fetch with him or her also gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up. And there’s the added benefit that you’re having a good time (and so is your dog). When you find ways to make exercise enjoyable, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. And the more you do, the sooner you’ll meet your weight loss goals.

Other ways to lose weight

While exercise is an important part of weight loss and overall health, exercise alone won’t get you where you want to be. For optimal health, you should eat a balanced diet along with exercising. Learn more about what a healthy diet for weight loss looks like.

If you’ve been exercising and dieting, and you’re still struggling with your weight, you may be a good candidate for a medical weight loss program. Beaumont has doctors and other specialists on staff that will work with you to safely lose weight through a medically supervised program. Call 800-633-7377 to request an appointment.