In recent years, there has been a big shift away from cardio and towards strength training. Sure, there is a new niche for long-distance running and other cardio-related activities, but these athletes usually forego strength training altogether. In a world where bodybuilding and strength-related training such as powerlifting and strongman dominate the fitness landscape, is there room for cardio?
Strength Training in the Limelight
Social media websites have made strength training a mainstay of the fitness world. People of all demographics and backgrounds have found a newly-kindled fire that is fueled by Instagram and other visual apps where people are sharing photos and videos of their physiques and accomplishments in the gym.
Although there may be a pinch of vanity in all this, the fact that people are finding the drive to engage in strength training is a positive thing. However, in the pursuit of a better, more muscular physique, cardiovascular activity has been left by the wayside by many.
The best place to start is with our experiences and observations. Bodybuilding competitions have been around for decades. The sport of bodybuilding has evolved from the pursuit of aesthetic and athletic physiques to packing on as much muscle mass as possible.
Bodybuilders from the so-called golden era of the sport, namely the 70s and 80s, included cardio in their workouts several days a week. As a result, not only could they train for hours but also get through an entire competition with ease.
Today, we see bodybuilders running out of breath mid-competition just from hitting a couple of poses. This happens as a result of the compounds they use in order to achieve their physiques combined with the lack of cardio when compared to their golden-era counterparts.
You might ask: isn’t that an extreme example to use in proving the necessity of cardio? After all, a strength training workout involving weights, when programmed correctly, can provide our heart with the activity it needs in order to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. So, why do cardio at all?
While the effects of different types of training on our health have surprisingly eluded scientists for years, new findings are beginning to shine a light on how our bodies react to cardio and strength training. Hypotheses that were the products of gym-bro discussions are now being proven or rejected by scientific data.
A 2018 study on the differences between cardio and strength training presented an important distinction. Their research showed that participants that performed cardiovascular training on an exercise bike produced three times the amount of FGF21 than their weight-training counterparts.
Fibroblast growth factor, or FGF21, is a hormone that positively affects metabolism. FGF21 also seems to play a role in cell growth and tissue repair, both of which are instrumental in muscular development and strength gains.
Synergy of Cardio & Strength
The aforementioned study seems to connect cardio to strength training via the FGF21 link. Achieving a higher metabolism means that you can burn more calories at rest. Strength gains and muscle growth require the consumption of adequate protein from your diet. On the other hand, achieving an aesthetic physique requires that you burn excess calories so that you can get to a desirable body fat percentage. This means that by doing cardio, you can boost your metabolism more than by strength training alone.
Another benefit of cardio on your strength regimen is that it can reduce the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Besides hydrating and getting enough sleep, cardio will mitigate the effects of a hard workout with weights. The boost in circulation from a light cardio session will help deal with the lactic acid build-up and inflammation that results from an intense strength training session.
Finding a Balance
The research is overwhelmingly supportive of strength training for people of all ages. Besides an increase in muscular strength, the benefits of such a regimen include stronger joints, lower risk of diseases such as diabetes, higher self-esteem and lower occurrences of mental issues. The physical and psychological benefits of a program centered on strength training can only be magnified by incorporating some cardio into your fitness regimen.
As with anything in life, your fitness goals are achieved through a balanced approach. Find the right amount of cardio to support your strength training pursuits. If you find equilibrium between cardio and strength training, you will watch your health, strength, muscle mass and endurance gains increase hand-in-hand.