If you open a fitness magazine today(Remember those bound pieces of paper with information and pictures in them?), you won’t have to look too hard before you see something regarding the great debate of weights versus cardio. It’s a question I get asked a lot and a topic I have built my training around for many of my clients.
There’s no denying how busy everybody is these days. And there’s no denying that the basic body building principles still are relevant and effective. And you most certainly train different ways for different goals, but I’m going to address this simply and for the general population interested in fat loss and health.
While I advocate working out for reasons beyond controlling your appearance, I understand that is a motivation for many to workout. So, given a busy schedule and the desire to be healthy and fit, which is better, cardio or weights?
Honestly, any activity that gets you moving is a plus in my book. But the days of following a body part split and doing cardio separately are not always the most convenient. Of course accomplishing goals isn’t always convenient either, so this isn’t a black or white answer or even a right or wrong answer.
First of all, you should know that straight cardio the way we typically think of cardio, such as running, walking, biking, elliptical, etc. will not change the shape of your body. It will ultimately just you a smaller version of your current shape, not necessarily leaner. The way to change the shape and composition of your body is by literally, body building- using resistance to strengthen and build your muscles. By adding resistance training to your routine, you can build muscle which can either put on size or help burn calories to burn fat and reveal the muscle you do have. This is where the old school body building style comes in. Splitting your body parts up to be trained on certain days, allowing sufficient rest between training for your muscles to repair and strengthen. Cardio then, is a bonus. It is a way to help create a caloric deficit and burn fat, thus appearing leaner. This approach works. This approach can be fun and enjoyable as well. But, this approach can also require more time than some of us have or even care to dedicate to our workouts each day.
So what’s the other option? Cardio. “So if I’m short on time, just do cardio?” No. Your body will adapt to solely doing typical steady state cardio. And this is still a great workout to do if you enjoy it, but I wouldn’t make this your only form of working out. If you are just going to do cardio on a certain day, you can mix it up by performing intervals, such as the workout I’m going to include for the treadmill.
I have tried so many different approaches in my fitness journey, many of which involved overtraining! I had great results lifting old school style, one body part per day, and performing cardio separately. I felt lean and shapely, and defined. This was great but it was also very time consuming. As my business grew, I just didn’t have the time to do this consistently. In other phases of my life, I would do any form of cardio I could that would add up to an hour, if not two, per day. And guilt would occur on the days I didn’t fit that in. Then I would feel like I failed and get so burnt out that I just couldn’t keep it up and I would resort to an all or nothing mentality where I would barely get consistent workouts in, period, and my weight would creep back up. The cycle would repeat every couple of months. And when I was killing cardio I was also controlling my food. All or nothing, right? So my body changed. And it was great. Or so I thought. It changed for the worse just as much as it did for the good. That rollercoaster got old fast. The funny thing is that with all that cardio, I still didn’t get the result I really wanted. I do not have a genetically full round butt and all that cardio zapped my glutes of any shape! Case and point for straight up cardio just making you smaller. This was not my goal, I still wanted to be tight and hard, not smaller but soft. So then I had a novel idea to workout the way I train my clients! First, the pressure was off. I knew I could fit in 30 minutes most days. And because it was only 30 minutes, I could push myself and sweat and it just made me feel good. And currently, on days I may not be feeling the hardcore intense workouts, I do my cardio. Maybe 30-45 minutes on treadmill incline walking, a run outside, the arc trainer, a walk outside, or lighter treadmill intervals. I choose those workouts by what would make me feel good, not what I “have” to do. I’ve tried so many things including 2-3 of those intense workouts a day when I was training for my competitions. That burned me out too, go figure! I would swap sleep for workouts just because I thought I had to. Through all of it, I’ve learned what’s worked and what doesn’t and it’s cost me energy, time, sleep, and stress. And guess what? I’m not at the weight I suppressed myself down to! Honestly, what was the point of that? So now I try to save my clients from this.
I have created a business where we focus on combining our strength and cardio into one efficient workout that gets you in and out in 30 minutes. So many clients ask me when they sign up, “Is 30 minutes really enough?” It can be, for sure. If your goal is overall health, core strength, balance, and even fat loss – you can get it done in 30 minutes most days of the week. First, you must be consistent. But the cool part is that your workout is always different and there are many ways to change it up so that you won’t get bored and can keep that consistency! Second, you must push yourself. If you want to get the most out of your workout, you can’t coast through it. If you need a recovery day for a lower intensity workout, you take it. But if you’re feeling good, let’s kick butt in 30 minutes and get on with our lives!
At my studio, we use body weight resistance, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, barbells, treadmills, assault bikes, spin bikes, towers, battle ropes and we mix it all up for a different workout everyday, and I’ve been writing workouts for a decade. You can join me in my studio, online (coming soon), or in your own basement or backyard. You can get an effective 30 minute workout where you combine resistance training with cardio and leave your workout knowing you did enough. Just because you didn’t spend over an hour in the gym doesn’t mean you didn’t kick butt. And if you are just starting out, know that you can do this. My clients tell themselves they can do anything for 30 minutes and so can YOU.
Want to know something even better? When you add resistance to your workouts, your muscles are forced to recover afterwards. This is because your muscles get tiny little micro-tears in them which need to be healed and get stronger. (This is why rest is important!) It’s this recovery that burns even more calories, thus helping change the composition and shape of your body, plus you get stronger! When you just walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes, your body isn’t forced to repair and recover, so those extra calories aren’t burned. Plus, the more muscle mass you have on your body, the more calories your body burns at rest! Are you seeing the perk of resistance training yet? Add cardio intervals to your training and now you’re really cooking with gas! (See my workout below.). So is one better than the other? Depends on your goal. But for the general population who wants to be better conditioned, this is a great bang for your buck, plus it’s fun!
So please don’t get too caught up in weights before cardio or vise versa. Or faster cardio or fueled cardio. Don’t even worry about steady state cardio versus interval training cardio right now. For now, move. If you aren’t currently working out as consistently as you would like, start with the goal I start my clients with- don’t go more than two days in a row without working out. Preferably, I like to tell them to shoot for a workout 3-4x a week to start. If you say you’re going to workout everyday, it might be a week or two and then you realize that isn’t possible, (nor in your body’s best interest) and you may feel defeated. Set the 3-4x a week to start and get in the groove. That’s just two hours for the whole week. You’ll say you can do it. You’ll do it. And you’ll build confidence in yourself and momentum!
Aside from being able to do this anywhere, you can also do this with minimal equipment. I was a competitive gymnast for ten years. Gymnasts are clearly some of the most solid, balanced, flexible athletes in the world. But have you ever seen them at a gym? Not really. They use their body for resistance! You can build muscle. You can lean out. You can change the shape of your body. You can get stronger, more balanced, more coordinated, and best of all, more confident, in 30 minutes most days.
I’ve included the following workout which you can do at home, with no equipment, in 30 minutes. Keep it in your arsenal and use it again, you can even change up the combos for many different workouts. And if you are feeling straight cardio, try my treadmill run!
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and let me know if you try these workouts!
30 minute Full Body Tabata Workout
Set your timer for :20 work, :10 rest, 8 rounds. Give yourself 1 minute between rounds.
First Set, alternate each move (4 sets each)
1 min – rest if needed, 6 burpees for extra challenge, then rest th for remainder of the minute
Mountain climbers in plank
1 min rest or 6 burpees
Running in place
1 min rest or 6 burpees
1 min rest or 6 burpees
Skater hops side to side
1 min rest or 6 burpees
Warm up one lap
Run 400m @ slow pace (I did 6.0mph)
Run 400m @ pushing pace (I did 9.0mph)
Repeat this 8x for 2 miles.
Cool down walking at least 400m.