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Strength vs. Cardio

Written By Steve Risi - Exercise Physiologist

Strength vs. Cardio


What’s better – Strength or Cardiovascular exercise?  Well, that’s a great question that I’m sure many of you have asked – especially if you opened this article.  “What’s best?” usually comes down to what your goals are.  This idea can be used across the board in fitness, and in life, but in short your answer to that question is “it depends!”

When it comes to comparing Strength versus Cardiovascular training there are several areas to consider.  Each method has benefits, “drawbacks”, and specifics that you want to explore when making a decision.  One burns more calories during while the other helps you burn more throughout the day.  One requires a little bit more time, whereas the other is straight forward and convenient.  Let’s explore each of these and determine, “WHICH IS BETTER?”

Strength Training (ST) provides benefits that one might not notice immediately.   Here at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, we stress the fact that even though you will likely lose a bit of muscle mass as you lose weight, you can greatly reduce that amount by incorporating ST.  ST is a way to challenge the muscles and create a reaction within them to tell the body they are needed so that during weight loss, ST reduces muscle loss. Muscle mass is the highest metabolic engine we have.  It burns up to 5 times the amount of calories at rest compared to fat tissue.  What this means, is that when we are not able to exercise due to our busy lives, our muscles are burning calories just to exist!  It’s like earning your calorie burn ahead of time and reaping the benefits after your strength workout.

Strength training is also low to zero impact on the joints and, if done correctly, can build muscular balance for joint stability and strength.  We never strengthen joints… we strengthen the muscles that move and stabilize the joint.  A drawback to some forms of strength training is that you sometimes need equipment and those individuals without much experience using equipment should have some guidance to decrease injury risk.  On the flip-side, there are a magnitude of exercises that can be done without any equipment at all.  Google can be a great resource for finding body weight exercises for specific areas of the body.

When in a time pinch, not having the proper attire can be a barrier for strength exercises.  Can you do pushups at your desk in your work clothes?  Can you find a set of stairs and go up a flight or do 12 reps up 2 stairs at a time?  What about using resistance bands attached to your door?  More than likely you are starting to think about other ways to do mild, quick strength training anywhere.

Cardiovascular (CV) exercise has its own benefits and “drawbacks” you might want to think about when determining which method is right for you.  CV exercise does still use the muscles, yes, but in a different way.  This means they are simply stressed differently.  Instead of stressing them from an intensity (weight) standpoint, CV activity stresses more from an endurance (duration) standpoint.  Your muscles are contracting at a much lower force and completing more repetitions over the length of activity time when compared to ST.  With the CV routine typically requiring longer sessions of constant activity with no breaks, you will be burning more calories during that bout when compared to traditional ST.  CV will, however typically require a little more time and prep, especially if you perspire more than others and want extra time to bathe.

The answer is, it depends. What are your goals? How much time do you have? Did you prepare and bring your sneakers?  If your goal is to fit in exercise in brief periods during the workday, then strength training may work better.  If you want to constantly be moving, then cardiovascular exercise may work better.  I always stress the importance of strength training, but going for a walk can help you out in many ways as well!  Pick one, and GO GET IT!

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With more than 40-year years of experience in delivering wellness and weight loss programs, the Duke Diet and Fitness Center has established itself as one of the leading weight loss and total body health destinations for health conscious individuals seeking a residential style health program focused on natural weight loss.

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