How to reach your fitness goals: cardio vs weight training

Whether you are looking to bulk up, train for a bodybuilding competition, lose weight or get toned, your workout routine is vital to the progress you make. A combination of the right diet and an effective workout programme is key to reaching your fitness goals. In January, according to The Telegraph, 33% of resolutions made were to lose weight and 32% were to eat more healthily. Furthermore, according to The Huffington Post,  two thirds of the British public admit that they are on a diet all or ‘most of the time’ – it is clear that the UK is a nation striving towards self-improvement.

Whilst diet contributes to how much progress you make, the type of workout your do can also contribute to reaching your goals – but are there particular workout regimes better suited to some fitness goals over others? Looking at some of the most common fitness goals, we establish what workout technique is best to see the most successful results.

Weight loss

When your goal is to lose weight, when it comes to your diet, it is recommended that you follow a calorie deficit diet whilst training. Deficit means less calories than you would normally consume. Combining this style of diet with cardiovascular exercise – cardio for short – helps to burn off calories in a short period of time. Burning calories fast whilst eating a calorie deficit diet is usually one of the quickest ways to lose body fat.

Weight loss is dependent on calories burned versus calories consumed – if you are consuming less calories but burning more, you will inevitably lose weight. Also considered as aerobic exercise, cardio exercise generally gets your heart rate up, and breathing harder. From running and cycling to swimming, boxing swimming and cardio classes, high intensity exercise that lasts for longer than ten minutes counts as cardio or aerobic exercise.

Burning calories

Typically, cardio helps to burn more calories per session, however, weight training helps to burn more calories every day. Confused? Cardio training burns more calories in a short period of time – the more you weigh and the more fast paced your cardio session is, the more calories you burn. When it comes to weight training, this technique is better to build muscle and muscle generally burns more calories at rest then fat – meaning following a weight lifting workout, your body will continue to burn calories for some time after. Building muscle is the key to improving your resting metabolism so that you burn more calories whilst resting.

HIIT training however is considered one of the best at burning the most calories in a short amount of time. High Intensity Interval Training combines short bursts of intense exercise with low-intensity recovery periods – the workout usually lasts no longer than 30 minutes. According to a study, when compared with other techniques including running, weight training and cycling, HIIT showed to burn 25-30% more calories than other techniques.

Building muscle

Generally, the most effective way to build muscle is through weight training with many industry experts attributing muscle growth to lifting heavy weights. The best technique to build muscle is by lifting a heavier weight with a smaller number of reps because lighter weights with more reps are more suited to ‘toning’. Although toning is important, you need your muscles to be in place before you start toning.

For weight training, there are two main kinds of lifts that you want to focus on in your workout. The first: compound lifts. These are the big ones which target the most muscle groups in each lifting motion. The ‘big four’ are the deadlift, bench press, squat and military press as they place the most amount of stress on your central nervous system which encourages a release of muscle building hormones.

Second up are the isolation lifts. These are different to compound because they focus on a specific muscle and areas which you want to develop. The main lifts are bicep curls, seated leg extensions and tricep extensions. Your workout routine will achieve the best results if it includes a good mix of both kinds of lifts.

Weight training not only helps you build muscle mass but it allows you to reshape your body, enhancing your natural curves and continues to burn calories for hours post workout. There are reports of resting metabolism staying elevated for up to 38 hours after weight training, while no such increase has been reported with cardio. This means that the calorie-burning benefits of weights aren’t limited to when you are exercising. You may keep burning calories for hours or days afterward.

Bodybuilding training

If you are working towards a bodybuilding competition, weight lifting and a strict clean diet are key! The aim is to get your body fat as low as possible, whilst building as much muscle and definition as possible. With bodybuilding training however, a combination of both lifts is still required, however the trainer may be able to lift heavier and for more reps because the trainer has already established strength and build muscle.

With bodybuilding weight training workouts can be split up into muscle group workouts. For instance, leg day. One day that is majority focused on the muscles in your legs. Another day may be focused on shoulders and arms – triceps and biceps. This technique in training allows muscles to be exhausted and stretched to their maximum so that those in training can achieve great one rep max. With bodybuilding, some people supplement with pre- and post-workout protein shakes, powders and bars to help get the most of their workout because every rep counts.

Each body part should be trained at least once a week – when weight lifting it is wise to train using a mirror to ensure your form stays strong for every single rep. By alternating muscle groups per day, you ensure that you don’t over train a particular muscle and allow adequate time for muscles to repair between each training session. Recovery is just as important as the workout when it comes to bodybuilding.


So, what are your fitness goals? Use our advice to decide which training technique is best suited to your long-term goals – in some cases, be aware that your long-term goal may require a combination of both cardio and weight-training – and don’t forget the importance of your diet!



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