Should you do cardio or weights? Why both are essential to lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle

Female Weightlifting

Lifting weights reduces your risk of injury and can boost your metabolism - Image Courtesy: valentinrussanov/Getty Images

  • Incorporating both cardio and weight lifting into your workouts makes for a well-rounded, healthy exercise regimen. 

  • Cardio improves heart health and burns more calories than weight lifting alone. 

  • Lifting weights boosts your metabolism, builds muscle, and reduces your risk of injury. 

  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Cardio and weight training are both incredibly popular and useful tools in a broad array of athletic training. It can be difficult, especially for those just starting out, to decide which may be most useful for them. 

While the best training regimens tend to include forms of both, knowing the varying benefits and general recommendations for each can give people a great starting point for their fitness journey.

Benefits of cardio

Cardio exercises primarily work the cardiovascular system, which is made up of our heart and blood vessels. There are multiple forms of cardio, each with its own unique benefits – from steady-state like running or biking, to high-intensity bursts like sprints or plyometrics.

Regardless of which form you choose, cardio provides a host of health benefits: 

1. Cardio improves heart health and endurance

Cardio exercises are meant to get your heart rate up, which trains your body to use oxygen more efficiently. Regular cardio workouts can

Over time, this can reduce your risk of diabetes and mortality from a wide array of cardiovascular conditions, including: 

“If I could put all the beneficial effects of cardio into a pill, it would be the most highly prescribed drug in the world,” says Tim Werner, a professor of exercise science at Salisbury University. 

Cardio is relatively low-risk, even for people with heart disease. However, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends people with cardiovascular conditions tailor the intensity of their workouts to their fitness level, and it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen. 

2. Cardio burns more calories than weight training

Here’s how many calories a 185-pound person would burn doing common forms of cardio for an hour:

  • Runningbetween 600 to 1,100 calories 
  • Cyclingbetween 650 to 1000 calories 
  • Swimmingbetween 500-840 calories 

If you’re crunched for time, you may opt for high-intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT. HIIT alternates between short bursts of high-intensity activity — like sprinting — with equally short breaks. 

3. Cardio is budget-friendly

Most aerobic exercise only requires a pair of running shoes and free time. Almost anyone can walk or run without a gym membership or fancy equipment. 

Not everyone may enjoy the intensity of HIIT, or the time commitment of steady-state cardio, but there is a form of aerobic training for everyone. Ultimately, any form of cardio requires little equipment and boasts numerous health benefits. 

That’s why the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends people get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a week, or 75 minutes for those working out at a higher intensity. Whether one should sprint quarter miles or jog through the forest preserve comes down to which they enjoy more — and are more likely to stick with.

Authored By:

This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and creator of The Sculpt System app.