Cardio vs Resistance Training
For weight loss and for general health, which is best??
By Success Trainer: Hunter Colvelski
March 7th, 2021
After years of working in gyms, I started to wonder why people that came in every day and did hours of cardio looked the same for years. Conversely, people who came and consistenly lifted weights changed their bodies dramatically over the years. What was the difference?
The people that came in and did cardio left the gym super sweaty, tired, and sometimes sore. It was pretty much the same with the resistance training crowd. The main difference that I noticed was some (the resistance training crowd) improved their body composition, whereas the cardio crowd seemed to always look the same.
Both cardiovascular and resistance training can play an important role in the process of losing weight and changing your habits. However, if you’re looking at it as ‘either-or’ of which one is superior, resistance training will almost always win… and here’s why…
Cardiovascular training typically needs to be done in slow-paced, but very long periods OR fast-paced as in (HIIT Training) and shorter durations to see equal benefits.
There’s nothing wrong with cardio in the immediate period (AKA over a few weeks or months) the problem lies in the fact that doing cardio inherently makes our bodies ‘’more efficient’’.
WHAT? Isn’t that what we want?
Yes, that is what we would want if we were in the ages of cavemen or hunter-gatherer, where we had to hunt our food and food was scarce.
Did you know that a method of hunting was to run an animal down until it collapsed? Humans are not the fastest animals but we do have very good endurance, or at least we did. The food had to be hunted for days at a time in some cases. It then had to be cut up and cured/dried or ate immediately.
This ‘’more efficient’’ body isn’t what we want when we can go 2 minutes from our house in a climate-controlled vehicle, order food and get it handed to us from a window and consumed in a comfortable climate-controlled area. In today’s day and age, this is the difference between burning 5000 calories to obtain our food source, and burning virtually none; not to mention the number of calories that is packed into our food today.
Okay, let’s talk a bit more about the ’’more efficient’’ body.
More efficient equates to burning fewer calories and having a lower metabolism for your three-day hunt or seven-hour run to obtain your food; essentially doing more work while burning the minimal amount of energy (calories) as possible.
Our bodies adapt to the amount of cardiovascular work that we demand of it.
Take for example a construction worker versus a desk worker; if the construction worker switched to a desk job they would inherently gain weight due to the decrease in daily activity. It’s safe to say that if the desk worker switched to construction where they’re on their feet all day, that person would inherently lose some body fat.
Here’s the key point; if you’re a construction worker for your whole life then your ‘normal’ accounts for hunger signals that have come up to equate for the extra calorie expenditure that you have throughout your day. Therefore your metabolism is higher than the person working the desk job. This is good for now but as soon as the construction worker retires, gets injured, or switches careers weight gain is inevitable.
Let’s go back to our desk worker. Their body, on the other hand, has adapted to the fact that there is very little calorie burn throughout the day so the hunger hormones are down-regulated and they naturally eat less.
This is what happens when we only do cardiovascular activity; we are losing weight (burning calories) while doing the cardio but once we stop it’s just like changing from a construction worker to a desk worker. It doesn’t change our ongoing daily energy expenditure (psssst… resistance training DOES!)
Our bodies are smart and whether we do 10,000 steps a day or 2,000 our body will adjust to whatever ‘normal’ we set; it will burn the number of calories it needs to maintain the physical demand placed on it.
So is cardio bad?!?!
Not at all! Let’s come back to that ‘’more efficient’’. Benefits of this efficiency include lowered resting heart rate and the ability to do more work with less strain on our cardiovascular system. But when it’s not coupled with consistent resistance training, it also lowers our metabolism over time, can also lower muscle mass, and lowers our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Cardiovascular training is great for our ability to go long periods without food; you know, for our long hunts for food.
Resistance training on the other hand is more time-efficient, increases muscle mass which in turn increases metabolism. Increased metabolism means our bodies will burn more calories and need more calories to perform the daily functions of life. Resistance training also builds bone density, and mitigates the affects of aging (cue slowed metabolism, increased adipose tissue, articular tissue deterioration, etc.). As we train more, resistance training makes us more efficient at using and breaking down glycogen from carbohydrates and sugars, thus helping us utilize our body’s fat stores as energy versus just storing and sitting there as fat; and not to mention it makes us look pretty awesome.
The downside to resistance training… you’ll probably always get called to help out when a friend or family member is moving 😉