Cardio and Weights: Why You Need Both in an Exercise Routine

Weight training has benefits that you simply can’t achieve if you’re doing cardio alone — and vice-versa. Here’s why you need both in your exercise routine, and a look at how to optimize their efficacy.

You shouldn’t forgo cardio just because you want to build muscle

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Man lifting weights at the gym | iStock.com

Countless men and women interested in building strength and muscle make a cardinal mistake skipping cardio. It would be great if we could pick and choose where we lose and gain weight, but unfortunately we can’t — meaning spot training by, like doing hundreds of crunches, is more or less a futile endeavor. The reason is that when your body needs energy, it doesn’t take it from your stomach just because you’d like a six pack. Instead, it takes it from all over your body. Speaking of said six pack, you can do all the ab-specific moves you want, but you’ll never see definition with fat covering those muscles. Cardio is an essential part of any workout routine; not only will it help burn fat, it will rev up your metabolism, improve heart health, release “feel good” hormones, and more.

You shouldn’t forgo strength training just because you want to burn fat

Woman working out at the gym | iStock.com

Don’t go cardio crazy | iStock.com

Conversely, if weight loss is your primary goal, you might think focusing exclusively on fat-burning cardio is the way to go. While it’s true that more calories are burned during cardiovascular activities versus weight-lifting ones, muscle burns more calories than fat. This means a greater muscle mass will burn more calories when you’re doing nothing but watching TV.

So which should you do first?

Couple running on the beach | Source: iStock

Couple running on the beach | iStock.com

Most fitness experts will tell you the best combination of strength cardio training is the one you enjoy enough to stick with. According to a study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, there’s something to that thinking. Researchers studied beginning exercisers and found that order had no impact on results, at least in their relatively small sampling. T

here are, however, arguments to be made for both sides. Doing cardio first is a great way to warm up your body, and if your priority is weight loss or if you’re training for a race, doing cardio first ensures that no matter what, the most important part of your program is checked off your list.

Conversely, some people find weight-lifting exercises, which tend to be more technical, to be more beneficial when performed first, when their mind is at its freshest. Cardio can also work well as a cool-down because it increases blood flow and helps flush out the soreness-inducing lactic acid that builds up in muscles during heavy lifting.

Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D., a former competitive distance runner, wrote a whole book on this topic. Clearly there is no definitive answer. And while you can get into the nitty gritty by reading Hutchinson’s book, the bottom line is he recommends switching up the order if you’re looking to optimize your results.

Diet matters

bowls of nuts, legumes, fruit, and vegeables

Assortment of healthy foods | iStock.com

Common workout wisdom dictates that abs are made in the kitchen and that it’s impossible to combat a bad diet. It’s imperative to complement your strength training and cardio workout plan — no matter the order — with balanced nutrition 80% of the time and allowing yourself to indulge 20% of the time. This way, you get to enjoy your favorite delicacies in a way that’s realistic for overall wellness.