Cardio vs. Weight Training – Which is Better and Which Should You Pick?

For as long as fitness has been a thing, we’ve known that cardio is good for us. It delivers numerous benefits, it brings about euphoria, and it’s an incredible tool we can use to accelerate our fat loss.

So, naturally, cardio has become the de-facto choice for many people looking to get fit and lean.

But, on the other hand, we have weight training. At first glance, it seems brutish, and only useful if you’re looking to pack tons of muscle.

But, things might not be as cut and dry as most folks think. In fact, both cardio and weight training offer numerous unique benefits.

The only question is, if you only have the time to do one, which one should you pick?

Cardio 101: Benefits, Uses, and More

The most apparent benefit of cardio is that it improves our cardiovascular health and makes us more endurant. Thanks to the effects of aerobic exercise on the cardiovascular system, this exercise modality has also been linked to longevity.

Better cardio is also beneficial for folks interested in strength and muscle gain, as it allows us to recover more quickly, do more work before we become fatigued, and progress a bit faster.

The other prominent benefit of cardio, of course, is that it aids in fat loss. But, we have to clear one thing up here:

Cardio itself isn’t a magical tool you can use to melt fat. It merely burns calories, which helps put us in a caloric deficit – the state where we consume fewer calories than we burn, so the body is forced to tap into its fats stores for the remaining energy it needs.

So, cardio is quite beneficial for us – there’s no shady business here. But is it better than weight training?

Weight Training 101: Is It Better Than Cardio?

Research seems to agree on that. According to Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D. (a foremost expert in muscle hypertrophy), if a person only has the time to do one type of physical activity, it should be weight training.

Like cardio, weight training offers many health benefits (most of which overlap with those of cardio), but it also provides two unique benefits that we can never hope to reap from cardio – muscle growth and strength gain.

Physical strength is incredibly beneficial because it makes us more functional and better able to handle everyday obstacles, especially those of physical nature. Muscle growth is useful because it improves our metabolic health, increases insulin sensitivity, boosts our confidence, improves our posture, and improves our overall appearance.

Does weight training attract many vain individuals? It does. But that doesn’t mean that its benefits are purely aesthetic. Quite the contrary – weight training improves our quality of life on many fronts.

Plus, if you’re concerned that weight training won’t improve your endurance and cardiovascular health, know this:

Research has shown that high-repetition weight training leads to similar improvements in VO2 max when compared to steady-state cardio and high-intensity cycling.

This is not to say that cardiovascular exercise is useless. You should do some of it. But, if your primary goals are to get fit, toned, a bit more muscular, and maybe even shed some fat, then weight training should be your priority.