Exercise keeps us both physically and mentally sharp, and it's an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. If you want to make the most of your workout routine and reap the maximum benefits, you'll need to develop a program that covers all the bases. While both cardio and strength training can both make you stronger and healthier, neither type of exercise is complete on its own. The perfect balance, however, depends on what you hope to get out of your workout.
First, we need to learn a little bit about aerobic and anaerobic exercise:
- Aerobic exercise is all about getting your breathing and heart rate up and keeping them elevated. It represents the cardio side of things. Swimming and running are aerobic exercises.
- Anaerobic exercise is the opposite: using your full energy in short bursts. This describes the strength training aspect of your workout, which includes weightlifting and sprinting.
You use your body differently during aerobic and anaerobic exercises, so you get different benefits from each. By combining the two, you stand to gain the benefits from both sides at once. Each brings something unique to the table, which is what makes finding the right balance so important.
Enjoy a Complete Workout
You wouldn't wash half of your car, so why only exercise half of your body? The breakdown might not be an even 50/50, but cardio and strength training are both chock-full of health benefits. Here's a look at some of the benefits of each:
Benefits of Cardio Workouts
- Strengthen the heart and lungs
- Improve the immune system
- Control blood pressure
- Boost mood with endorphins
- Build stamina for longer workouts
What You'll Gain Through Strength Training
- More muscle
- Less fat
- Stronger bones
- Greater stamina for activities that require strength
By including both kinds of workouts in your routine, you'll work towards all of these benefits at the same time. Some of these advantages even stack—cardio and strength training can each help you lose weight, and combining them will maximize your weight loss. Both types of exercise will also help you build endurance, which allows you to push a little harder during future workouts.
Combine to Save Time
Do you find yourself skipping workouts because you just don't have the time to get it done? Combining cardio and strength training allows you to work on multiple systems at once, which makes it easier to fit exercise into your tight schedule. If you have the flexibility, you can always alternative cardio and weight-training days, or you could do a session of each every day. Don't be discouraged if you have to rework your regimen a couple of times to figure out what feels best.
In order to enjoy the full benefits of a strength and cardio routine, you need to know how to combine the two types of exercise both safely and productively. To do this, you need to know what you want out of working out.
Recognize Your Goals
If you want to develop the best exercise regimen for your needs, you'll have to determine what those needs are. Do you want to get stronger without bulking up too much, or are you in it to gain as much muscle mass as possible? Are you more interested in losing weight than putting on muscle? Think about what you want the "after" picture to look—and feel— like when you design your workout.
Weights and Cardio for Muscle Mass
Cardio doesn't prevent muscle gain in itself, but it does pull from the same resources. That means balance is going to be key to putting together a healthy routine. If you're looking to put on muscle, follow these tips:
- Low-intensity, long-duration: This is the type of cardio you should be doing if you don't want to lose weight. A long walk or bike ride will get your cardiovascular system working without taking away from your size gains.
- Take care of your joints: Instead of pounding the pavement, ride a bike—stationary or otherwise. This reduces the impact on your joints and limits the potential for injuries.
- Stay committed: Shoot for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week as a baseline. If you lift three or four times per week, also go for three mid- to high-intensity aerobic workouts.
Weights and Treadmill to Lose Weight
A treadmill is an obvious choice for weight and fat loss, but an elliptical or treadmill alongside a lifting program? Weights and elliptical or treadmill to lose weight may seem like a counter-intuitive idea to the untrained eye, but building muscle is actually good for shedding pounds.
Here's what you should keep in mind if you're trying to lose weight:
- Few reps, heavy weights: You'll burn the most fat if you do fewer repetitions of the heaviest weights you can handle. Too many reps will start to dip into cardio's territory, which is not ideal for building muscle.
- Add resistance to your movement: A weight vest will help you burn more calories on the treadmill, but a circuit workout might be more accessible. Try alternating treadmill sessions and dumbbell reps.
- Do the right cardio: It's not just joint safety that makes riding a bike preferable to walking. A bicycle ride will also burn more calories over the same amount of time.
Choose the Right Machine
When you have the right equipment under your own roof, you can get your strength and cardio workout in whenever you want. If you're looking to put together a home gym, you'll need equipment that can facilitate the cardio and strength training aspects of your routine. Ellipticals and stationary bikes let you get your aerobic exercise in regardless of the weather, while rowers and kettlebells take care of the resistance and strength training side.
Like eating fruit and vegetables, cardio and strength training will keep you healthiest when they're done together. The nature of your exercise regimen should depend on what you hope to get out of it, so try to find a healthy balance that accomplishes your goals.
Have questions? Ask them in the comments below!