Health & Fitness Lifestyle

Cardio vs. Strength Training: Which Does What?

If you have ever attended a group exercise class, worked with a personal trainer, or been active or a member at a gym, you might have heard of “cardio” or “strength training.” But, what do these words actually mean? What is the difference? There are some similarities, but a whole lot of differences and benefits that contribute to your overall physique, health, and fitness.

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Article by Elaine Thomas

Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, refers to any sort of physical activity that most immediately affects and challenges the cardiovascular system (heart, blood vessels, circulation, etc.) by increasing the heart rate and your breathing by using large muscle groups for a long time and at a consistent rate.You might be thinking “isn’t just about everything cardio then?” Walking? Jogging? Biking? Swimming? Hiking? Rowing? Yes, all of those things (and more) are and can be considered “cardio.”  

Image credit: The University of Texas at Austin
Image credit: The University of Texas at Austin

A great way to incorporate cardio in your daily activity is walking. This is a low to moderate intensity for of exercise, but it still counts! I love going on walks or jogs down at Town Lake/Zilker Park area and hitting up those trails. Biking in this area is another great option! There are numerous parks and trails throughout Austin, so plenty of different options exist for these outdoor activities.

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Cardio activities can also take place indoors as well. Gyms tend to have an array of different pieces of cardio-based equipment such as the treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine, stair climber, and elliptical. Swimming is also cardio!

So how is strength training different?

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Strength training, AKA “resistance training” or “lifting weights,” is more descriptive of muscular actions that occur in the body. This includes your bicep curl, squat, pushup, pull-up, bench press, abdominal crunch variations, etc. All of these are motions that require you to “fight” or resist a force that is acting against a muscle or some muscle groups. These forces can include gravity, a dumbbell, a resistance band, an exercise ball, or even your own body/strength among many other pieces of equipment.

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Resistance training involves the lengthening and shortening of at least one muscle. This back-and-forth action makes up the movement (think bicep curl: bringing your hand up to your shoulder while bending at the elbow, and then releasing it back down to the hip) is what makes the muscle move through an action. In return, adding a resistance to these motions add a force that needs to be overcome. When your muscle overcomes this force or resistance, it becomes stronger.

Here is a summary of the benefits of cardio and strength training:

CARDIO BENEFITS:

  • helps improve cardiovascular (your heart) health and endurance
  • improves your circulation and health of the blood flow throughout your body
  • reduces stress
  • better sleep
  • stronger lungs (able to take in more air)
  • reduces risks of a bunch of illnesses/health conditions

STRENGTH TRAINING BENEFITS:

  • increasing the strength of the muscles worked (especially when the exercises and movements are kept consistent over an extended amount of time)
  • improved appearance of muscular definition
  • increased metabolism
  • greater stamina
  • reduced stress
  • better sleep
  • healthier bones
  • prevention or management of painful joints or areas of the body
  • decreased risk of injury
  • improved posture

*There are many more benefits for each, but I chose some of the more impactful ones.

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As a general summary of how to differentiate between the two, think Cardio = endurance/cardiovascular system, and strength training = muscle work. A balance of both is pathway to success. It is strongly advised by many professionals (myself included), scientists, and nationally established fitness programs, that incorporating both strength and cardio in your daily/weekly activities is the optimal way to obtain all the different physical, mental, and overall health benefits that exercise will bring into your life!

About Elaine

I’m  Elaine, a WITS certified Personal Trainer and ACE certified Group Fitness Instructor. I love fitness, health, and everything to do with it, so here on Shuffle I will share my thoughts and all my knowledge on all topics related to exercise, diet, and overall well-being.

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