Cardio workouts Vs weights (resistance training): which is best?

Which should you choose – cardio or weights?

That’s right, we’ve started this article with a silly question. You don’t have to choose. Both types of exercise have their benefits and their drawbacks; it’s a matter of understanding what they are and how they work to get the most out of your exercise regime. Want to find out more? Let’s go.

Every time you move you are doing “cardio”. Lifting weights is cardio because your heart is pumping blood around your body. Technically speaking, cardio is “aerobic training”, because it requires oxygen. To keep things simple, though, in this article, we’ll describe aerobic training as “cardio”.

Getting down to basics

  • Aerobic processes require oxygen. Aerobic exercise is longer in duration with a sustained effort. It relies primarily on carbohydrates and fat as fuel; however, after approximately 90 minutes of sustained exercise you may start to eat into protein. Typical activities include swimming, cycling and running.
  • Anaerobic processes do not require oxygen. Anaerobic exercise usually consists of short bursts of high-intensity power that last only a few seconds. This system uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by breaking down creatine phosphate (CP), which the body can only store in tiny amounts. Therefore, it runs out quickly, causing the body to exhaust quickly and require a rest interval. This is why you can only sprint fast for a few seconds or lift a heavy weight for just moments.

Understanding weight training (resistance training)

Weight training has lots of benefits, and many of the negatives are easily managed.


  • It is protective. It strengthens joints, improves posture and reduces the rate of injury.
  • It boosts confidence and self-esteem. When you are stronger, suddenly you feel more capable, more “I can do this” about your life. Getting through your week, doing the chores, facing hardships – everything becomes easier when you are stronger. This is particularly important for older people as feeling healthier and more confident helps them to maintain their independence for longer.
  • Understanding weight training - Sage Institute of FitnessYou potentially tap into fat stores to build muscle. Known as “nutrient partitioning”, you require approximately 2500 calories of ingested food to produce approximately just under half a kilo of muscle. So, if you’re trying to lose body fat, this comes in handy. An energy deficit will be created while trying to gain muscle, creating an opportunity for you to tap into your body fat.
  • You guessed it – with weights and resistance training, you get stronger, and for some people, a lot bigger. Men tend to like that, and some women do too. For the women who don’t necessarily want to ‘bulk up’ they can work on increasing their muscle tone, which may be more appealing.


  • You don’t burn as many calories lifting weights as you do with aerobic activity.
  • Physiologically speaking, you don’t receive the wonderful appetite suppressing benefits that you receive from certain types of cardio (to clarify: this means relatively intense forms of cardio).
  • For some, getting to the gym to access the right equipment, and affording a gym membership may be prohibitive.
  • Lifting weights may be intimidating for beginners, particularly if they are surrounded by a lot of very muscular gym junkies.
  • Performed incorrectly, there is potential for injury with weight training. In addition when you start out you will probably be restricted to very short weight training sessions, as your body needs time to build up to longer intervals.

Understanding cardio exercise (cardio workouts)


  • There are lots of ways you can perform cardio exercise, and you needn’t get to a gym to do it. Think running, walking, stair climbing, swimming, dance classes, housecleaning, hiking – you name it.
  • You burn more calories through cardio than weight training.
  • A cardio workout can be extended over time to an hour and a half or even several hours and can be an incredibly enjoyable activity, enhancing your mood and mental outlook.
  • It can also be a fantastic social activity –  like walking or hiking with friends.
  • You can use it as a means of transport e.g. walking or cycling to work.
  • There are significant health benefits, particularly relating to internal organ function and promoting longevity.
  • It can boost creative thinking.
  • It can help suppress appetite, leading to wiser dietary choices.


  • Difficult for obese people to start with, except with very low-intensity activities. (Weights can sometimes be a better option for obese exercisers).
  • Although some cardio may have positive effects on appetite suppression, intense cardio may make you very tired and prone to making foolish decisions about food. (Read: weakening and grabbing the nearest chocolate muffin, because, hungry).
  • If it leads to excessive or addictive exercise habits, it can result in overuse injuries.

Why the hesitation with cardio?

Some people like to spread the idea that cardio will inhibit muscle growth. Cardio will inhibit muscle cell growth, but not stop it, and generally speaking, the amount of inhibition is quite small and only affects those that do a huge amount of aerobic activity every week.

Remember, too, that body types are attracted to certain activities. So naturally skinny individuals (ectomorphs) will likely be attracted to cardio activity such as running while strong, nuggety types (mesomorphs) will likely be attracted to more power based activities. This does not mean that cardio will strip you of muscle, so you shouldn’t avoid cardio just because you are trying to ‘buff up a little’.

But, there’s a good reason cardio may inhibit muscle growth: complete a long cardio session and you’ll be too tired to lift many weights! Conversely, do lots of weight training, and chances are, you limit your aerobic workouts because you’ll also feel too tired. Naturally, you just need to apply some common sense to find the right balance.

For the majority of readers, there are plenty of reasons to indulge in both of these beneficial activities – cardio and weights. Hopefully now, you’re armed with information to understand the difference.

Now go forth and fitness!

Sage Institute of Fitness – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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