• Brittany Ellingsen, CSCS

Strength Training vs Cardio: Which one is functionally "better"

Most people I know have a routine of waking up in the morning and scrolling through 3-5 different apps while checking their social media. I have that routine and generally start with Facebook, went to my Instagram, and then twitter. Twitter, of all things, got me thinking about our natural body mechanics and what's better for us-strength training or cardio.


Reading the sentence "an above-average aerobic capacity is virtually worthless" pissed me off at first. After I calmed down I started actually thinking again. No, it's not worthless. However, the average person isn't out running sprints every other day, running races, or any other track event that runs running or cycling at a high level. Some people are absolutely. Being in the field I am and surrounded by the people I am I think of the majority of humans being athletic and participating in sports and events like I do. I am probably extremely wrong with this view.

Most people probably don't participate in athletic events like races, sports, or lifting competitions. WHICH IS FINE. The thing we all have in common is that WE ALL MOVE IN A DAILY BASIS. WE ALL SQUAT, HINGE, PUSH, AND PULL IN MULTIPLE DIRECTIONAL PLANES. Most of the time I don't make statements as absolute facts because there are a lot of "it depends" in the world of fitness and movement. I will say all of us moving in some way is an absolute fact.


We all should be doing some form of purposeful strength training. Why? Strength training improves muscular strength through movements like SQUATTING, HINGEING, PUSHING, PULLING, AND CARRYING. When we are working out in these movements we are preparing our body to handle everyday life in a more efficient manner. When we aren't purposefully strength training these movements and pushing our bodies to adapt to heavier loads we slowly start to break down from atrophy (decrease in muscle cell size, aka loss of muscle and strength).

FUN FACT: Atrophy naturally occurs around the age of 30. This can be prevented and hypertrophy can occur (increase in muscle cell size, aka gains city. Ladies, you won't get bulky, you have to train and eat in a very specific manner to bulk like a body builder).

Running, cycling, sprinting, swimming, etc., are all great forms of cardio. The downside? You are only working one specific movement. You aren't adapting and improving all the natural occurring movements of everyday life. Can you get stronger from these movements? Yes absolutely, but not to the extent of strength training and weight lifting. Is an above average aerobic capacity virtually worthless? NO.

Telling me that an average aerobic capacity is virtually worthless is like saying it's worthless to be at an above average health in our 70's, 80's, and 90's. This doesn't mean you should just be doing cardio though.


If I had to choose between strength training or cardio being "better" or more important, I'd have to chose strength training. You are strengthening in multiple movement types and planes of motion. All while decreasing the occurrence of atrophy. However, I think the most beneficial way to train is the combination of strength training and cardio training.

Example of a strength training exercise that can also be used as a "cardio" exercise: The Farmer Carry. Heavier weights for a shorter distance: increased muscular strength. Lighter weights for a longer distance: increased muscular endurance.

When you strength train without doing any cardio you aren't improving your aerobic capacity in any way. An improve aerobic capacity can lead to improved blood flow which increases muscular recovery rates. You can recovery more efficiently between squats sets if you have even a little bit of cardio in your routine. It can be long slow distance, it can be HIIT training, it can be sprints.

When running or doing other conditioning work without strength training, you aren't improving strength in other muscle fiber types. With running especially, repeated motions can lead to overuse injuries. Runners can experience a lot of knee issues, tennis players experience a lot of shoulder issues from repeated movements like serving and swinging. Strength training increases the ability of the muscle mass to take the pressure off of the joints and decreasing chances of creating overuse injuries because of having the strength to last longer during repeated movements. Also, specific corrective exercise strength training programs can decrease muscular imbalances that can occur with sports.


When deciding what to do for your workouts, do what you ENJOY. If you enjoy running or swimming, DO THAT and try to combine it with strength training exercises that are beneficial to you and that you enjoy. If you enjoy weight lifting, powerlifting or other forms of strength training, DO THAT and try to include some cardio. Hate running? Don't. There are plenty of other ways to get cardio in that you may enjoy more.

Want to start strength training more and don't know what to do or what would be beneficial for you? Hate running but want to start doing some type of conditioning more? Or want to improve your running ability and/or strength? Contact me today at for information on long distance training and/or personalized at home programs for you to follow.

Have any other opinions on this article and want to discuss them? Message me on Facebook or email me today and I'd love to hear your opinions, facts, and/or questions!

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