Cardio vs. Lifting

Marathon, black silhouettes of runners on the sunset Picture Link

liftingPicture Link

Ever since I was little, I have always enjoyed exercising. Although I enjoy it, and do various exercises primarily for my own enjoyment, wondering which exercises I do or don’t do are better for me never seems to not cross my mind. I played various sports growing up, so cardio was my primary source of exercise, but the occasional lifting session with my teammates always seemed to make me more tired than cardio. Was that because it was working my better more? Or merely due to the fact I didn’t lift very often, so my body just wasn’t used to such strenuous activity? Due to these questions, I decided to research more about the benefits of both cardio and lifting, to ultimately decide which is the better form of exercise.

According to a study at Duke University, the answer is clear. In this study, 119 overweight/obese adults were split into three different groups; a cardio-only group, a resistance training (lifting) only group, and a group of a combination of cardio and resistance training. How this study worked was that the researchers would give each group an exercise regimen for a set amount of time, with the combination group having to exercise the longest amount of time, lifting the second longest, and cardio the shortest. To get data on the change of each person, the researchers would test every participant’s body composition before and after each activity. At the end of the study, it was found that the cardio-only group lost the most weight altogether. The group who lost the second most weight was the combination group. Notably, the lifting group actually gained mass, due to them gaining lean body mass. Although it is clear that the group who lost the most weight was the cardio-only group, it should be noted that the combination group decreased their waist lengths the most, on average.

In another study, done by Penn State, participants were again split into groups. One group being a cardio-only group, the other being a lifting-only group. In this study, the participants, no matter which group, lost the same amount of weight, but the people in the cardio group lost six pounds from muscle, while the lifting group lost purely fat (Fetters 2013). According to personal trainer, Mike Donavanik, this is due to cardio not working your muscles very much, while lifting is the most efficient way to gain muscle, and for every 3 pounds of muscle gained, you lose an extra 120 calories per day (Fetters 2013). According to Wayne Westcott, an exercise-science professor at Quincy College, this extra calorie loss is due to your metabolism staying elevated by about 10 percent for days after you lift as the body recovers the  micro trauma in your muscles that were damaged during lifting (Mackenzie 2015).

Although it is clear that both lifting and cardio both have their effects on weight loss, what about the effects internally? According to a study done by the Journal of Experimental Biology, running on a treadmill increased participant’s endocannabinoid levels, a chemical that makes you feel good and is a pain reliever. This chemical is increased during cardio due to an increased heart rate, thus lifting will not have the same effect, unless you are lifting weights vigorously (Mackenzie 2015). 

In conclusion, both cardio and lifting have different effects on the body, and depending on what your goal is, one of these forms of exercise may be better for you than the other. If you wish to decrease your weight, cardio will be more efficient. If you are less concerned about your actual weight, and more concerned about how you physically look, lifting will be more helpful. Finally, if your goal exercising is to become happier, cardio is the way to go. 

5 thoughts on “Cardio vs. Lifting

  1. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    I enjoyed reading your article due to the topic. I love to workout although, I see lifting and cardio a little differently than you do. While reading your blog I noticed that in both of the studies you referred to, it seemed that the main topics were dealing with obesity an weight loss. To be completely honest I don’t think many people go to the gym and say to themselves hmmm, “should I do cardio today to lose weight, or lift weights to look good”. I am in the gym here at Penn State pretty much every day and very rarely see obese or overweight people. Cardio and lifting are very different I can agree with you on that note. Since this blog was very into the weight loss aspect of exercise, Here is a video that gets a little more in depth about factors and regiments that go into the fat loss part of exercise.

  2. Christopher Ronkainen

    This topic has always been one of interest to me. In high school I would always lift weights for sports teams and cardio was more or less pushed to the side. Now that I am in college, I have kind of pushed both of them to the side. With personal interest in losing weight I found this article very helpful. I was originally thinking of starting up cardio without weight training, but now I will be sure to include it because I do not wish to lose the muscle currently on my body. While doing research on how to preserve muscle mass while doing cardio I came across this awesome post that you may want to take a look at!

  3. vek5025

    I am happy to see that this topic was discussed, because I have looked into weight loss types before and it was always suggested to do a mixture of lifting and cardio! I used to be what some people call “a cardio bunny” where I only went to the gym to run or bike. It is interesting how lifting not only benefits your arms, but your whole body as well. I also found this article that compared running versus weight lifting for curing depression.

  4. Taylor M Lender

    I always wondered about which form of excercise is more effective. Would a combination of cardio and lifting be the best for overall health? How many times a week does cardio or lifting need to be done in order to get optimal effects. Also, I wonder if the effectiveness of the cardio or lifting would be decreased if there someone alternated lifting and cardio through the week?

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