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What is the difference between cardio and strength training?

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

When working out a fitness routine, there is a general misconception that cardio training is more efficient in burning fat while resistance training is solely focused on building muscle. However, cardio training and strength training is equally important for increasing endurance, building muscle, and maintaining healthy body weight. The two types of training should therefore be practised in conjunction to deliver a range of health and fitness benefits.

Let’s take a look at how cardio and strength training can be combined to support your general health and help you achieve your fitness goals.

The differences between cardio and strength training

Cardiovascular training refers to exercises that increase heart rate to strengthen the heart and blood vessels. Activities such as running, cycling, swimming, hiking and dancing make the heart and lungs work harder than usual, thereby enhancing the abilities of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to circulate blood and oxygen through the body.

Cardio exercises are an essential part of maintaining good health and fitness, especially for people who do not move around much during the day due to working desk-based office jobs. Sports like tennis, hockey and soccer, along with training exercises like rowing, jumping rope and kickboxing, can be added to a cardio training routine to make sure your heart and lungs get the exercise they need.

On the other hand, strength training, also known as resistance training, refers to exercises that contract muscles through resistance to improve strength and endurance. This includes weight training and bodyweight exercises such as pushups, pullups, situps, squats, yoga, pilates, and walking or running at an incline.

The effects of cardio training on the body

During cardio exercise, the body burns calories which help to reduce body fat, strengthen the heart muscle, and lower the risk of getting cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. A person’s body weight influences the number of calories burned during cardio training. For most cardio training exercises, the number of calories burned will increase in proportion to the person’s body weight. Although cardio training burns more calories per session than strength training, performing cardio exercise alone may prevent muscle mass growth and strength enhancement.

The benefits of cardio training extend to general physical health and mental well-being. Cardio training increases blood flow to all parts of the body — including the brain — while enhancing memory and focus, improving flexibility and joint mobility, promoting sleep, and boosting mood and self-confidence. Regular cardio training has also proven to help combat a range of health problems, including heart disease, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, arthritis, high blood pressure, and even mood disorders.

The effects of strength training on the body

Strength training is highly advantageous to the body. Although resistance training tends to burn fewer calories per session compared to cardio training, this type of exercise has a prolonged effect that continues to burn calories minutes after the workout has ended. Since the muscles need to recover after strength training, a metabolic spike is caused which leads to an additional 25% calorie burn post-workout.

The number of calories burned during resistance training is impacted by several factors such as existing muscle mass, the weights used during training, the frequency of training, and the duration of rest periods. Increased muscle mass will result in a higher calorie burn since more energy is required to sustain muscle than is required to sustain fat. Strength training can elevate resting metabolism for more than 30 hours after a session.

The benefits of strength training include increased lean muscle mass and strength, increased metabolic rate, decreased body fat, and decreased injury rate due to enhanced flexibility, core strength and muscle coordination. Regular resistance training can also help prevent bone and muscle loss by increasing bone mineral density.

Combining cardio and strength training for maximum results

To maintain overall physical health and achieve your fitness goals, your exercise program should combine cardio and strength training. A general recommendation is to perform moderate cardio training for about 150 minutes per week, spread out over 3-5 days. Depending on your fitness goals and capabilities, however, cardio training may only need to be practised on your ‘rest’ days. Strength training does not have to be performed daily since the muscles need time to recover in between sessions.

Higher-intensity workouts of shorter duration have proven to be the most effective for overall fitness and physical well-being. Electro muscle stimulation (EMS) training is one solution for achieving the combined benefits of cardio and strength training in a shorter period of time. By engaging all of the major muscle groups, EMS training maximises the effects of your workout and helps you reach your fitness goals more quicker. A 20-minute EMS strength training program executed over 12 weeks can deliver up to 9% body fat loss and a 30% increase in strength — the ideal solution for busy people who want to prioritise their physical health without spending hours in the gym.

Volt Fitness is a luxury EMS studio in Melbourne that offers short, intensive training sessions with maximum efficiency and sustainable results in a feel-good atmosphere. 20 minutes at Volt Fitness are as good as 4 hours of sweating it out at a traditional gym.

Ready to start working on your fitness goals? Take a look at our training options or chat with us on (03) 8393 5131.

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