Cardio or strength training?

If you’ve spent any time mulling over your fitness goals for 2017, you may want to consider one other factor: whether you should be doing cardio or strength training.

Exercise can be roughly divided into three categories: aerobic/cardiovascular training, strength/resistance training, and stretching.

Cardiovascular (CV) exercise and resistance training exercises both have the potential to decrease fat mass and increase lean mass (muscle) respectively, whereas stretching exercises mainly work to improve flexibility.

Choosing the most effective exercises for your specific goals improves your chances of success and guarantees that you won’t be wasting your gym time with ineffective exercises.


Cardiovascular exercise is the most beneficial form of exercise in terms of promoting weight/fat loss. Compared to resistance or stretching exercises, you are burning calories at a more expedient rate when you exercise aerobically.

In other words: by engaging in cardiovascular exercise, you are able to burn a higher number of calories in the same amount of time that you would spend performing resistance or stretching exercises.

Cardiovascular exercises are those that increase heart rate in response to the stress placed on the body during exercise.

The heart must work quickly to deliver oxygen to hardworking muscles. In time, the body will respond to the repeated stress by becoming fitter and more efficient.

Cardiovascular exercise improves cardiovascular efficiency by increasing the strength of the cardiac (heart) muscle and moderating the effects of high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Due to the weight-bearing nature of many cardiovascular activities, regular exercisers may also help to at the very least maintain their bone mineral density (BMD), which can help prevent osteoporosis.

Cardiovascular exercises include walking, running, swimming, biking, dancing, recreational sport activities, as well as the use of cardiovascular machines such as an elliptical trainer or stair climber.

The learning curve

To increase your cardiovascular fitness in a safe and enjoyable manner, aim to increase duration, distance, or intensity over a period of time. Doing so will allow your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems to adapt to the stress of exercise, which can help prevent undue injury or excessive fatigue.

Gradually increasing the challenge of your routine also allows you to acclimate to the psychological factors of exercise: many exercise beginners are uncomfortable with their increased exertion, which can cause stress, anxiety, or even emotional burnout.

Take the time to acknowledge the feelings of discomfort, noting that these feelings and sensations will pass. As you become more fit, your perception of exercise exertion will also change.

In the meantime, find motivational mantras to repeat through tough workouts, and aim to meet small goals to promote confidence in yourself and your ability to perform your routine.


Muscular strength and size tend to decrease in response to increasing age. This shift takes part due to decreased physical activity and hormonal changes, but you can counter this with resistance training programs.

Strength/resistance exercises work to increase the size and strength of a muscle by repeatedly forcing the muscle to generate a specific movement against the force of a weight, body weight, or resistance band.

In response to this stress, the muscle becomes stronger and more efficient at performing activities that utilize muscle groups that the exercise targets.

For example, performing a bicep curl makes you more efficient not only at performing weighted curls in the gym, but also in activities of daily life such as carrying groceries or performing chores. As such, improving muscular strength and preventing muscle loss can help improve quality of life and ensure independence throughout the aging process.

How much is enough?

Most health organizations recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity per week to prevent disease and promote overall health and vitality.

You should perform resistance training exercises 2-3 times per week with 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions per exercise.

In light of climbing obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles, the American College of Sports Medicine has recently advised that 150-250 minutes per week may be most advantageous in terms of promoting weight loss or maintaining weight (after having achieved goal weight).

Beginners should set an attainable “base” goal, and then build upon that challenge by increasing incidence (days per week) and time (in minutes) over a number of weeks.

Dr Jarrod Meerkin PhD
Director – MeasureUp
+61 2 8821 7111

Last reviewed 22/Apr/2017

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Dr Meerkin is an accredited Exercise Physiologist and an expert in DEXA technology. He has had extensive experience in sports science research and obesity.

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