Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: They Told Me To Only Strength Train!

Q&A Wednesday: They Told Me To Only Strength Train!

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Q: I am currently going to a gym that says that you should only do strength training and not cardio.  They claim that if you build enough muscle, you should be able to burn the fat and that cardio will decrease your muscle gain.    Do you have link that may explain the advantages and disadvantages of this?

I’m mildly annoyed by this.

Yes, muscle development and maintenance burns more calories than carrying fat. This is why it’s better, in the long run, to strength train. You also, as a muscular person, can eat more calories without gaining weight. (No one ever understands this, but I have to bring up bodybuilders – they have to eat a lot of mostly protein, just to make sure that they can maintain their bodies. A muscular body is rarely a malnourished one.)

That being said, cardiovascular exercise serves two valuable purposes and I’m a little annoyed that a gym would misconstrue that:

1) Cardiovascular exercise burns fat. Directly. There’s no roundabout way to go about it. Muscle development is awesome because developing and carrying a cubic inch of muscle burns almost three times as many calories as a cubic inch of fat. However, most people don’t want to just build a bunch of muscle and wait for that to burn off whatever fat they’ve got… and I think that’s fair. We’re not talking about nutrition, here – we’re talking about vanity. Appearances. And if you’re not going for the “I can only see a little bit of my muscle because it’s hiding under all this stuff I haven’t burned” look, then it’s not going to work for you.

2) Cardio, most importantly, is exercise for your cardiovascular system. Your heart. Your lungs. Your arteries. Your heart and everything connected to it? Cardio works all of that out. When you inhale deeply during cardio, you are pumping oxygen, nutrition and blood through your body …through your arteries and veins. When you eat certain foods (like, for an indisputable example, trans-fats) that clog your arteries, you are eating foods that prevent your blood from flowing through your heart (and, really, your brain.) When you perform cardio, you’re not only exercising your heart, but you’re unclogging your arteries. (That’s why food manufacturers are so adamant about promoting exercise….it can work to counter some of the effects of a bad diet, but not all.) When blood pauses in flowing to the brain, that causes stroke. When blood can’t flow through the heart, that causes heart attacks.

The bottom line is that as a far more sedentary people, if we’re not performing cardio, we’re not exercising one of the most important systems in our body.

The frustrating thing about the gym’s advice, at least to me, is that they’re fronting like there aren’t activities that combine muscular development and cardio all at the same time.

Quality, targeted, focused, challenging strength training exercises that also burn calories exist. I just.. they exist. Presenting it as if it’s zero sum is a bit dishonest and doesn’t promote all-around fitness. (I wonder where this was/what kind of gym enthusiasts these are…gyms usually push the heavy cardio route because they know cardio promotes weight loss and “weight loss” is what keeps people in the gym, even knowing full bloody well that extensive cardio actually runs counterproductive to muscle development.) There are tons of exercises that get your heart rate going without weights and help with muscle development – burpees, mountain climbers, that-exercise-whose-name-escapes-me-but-consists-of-switching-between-a-plank-and-a-lunge, any variation of high intensity interval training with calisthenics or interval training in general – so I’m not sure why they wouldn’t just steer you in that direction. I just don’t get it.

Truthfully, if lifting [with proper form] doesn’t have your heart rate up while you’re in there, I wonder if you’re challenging yourself enough. There are tons of ways to flip lifting into something that is challenging both for your muscles and your cardiovascular system, but if you’re new to working out you might not know those… much like most people wouldn’t know a lot of the stuff I’m saying here… which makes it all sound like a lead in to a pitch for you to hire one of the gym’s trainers. Tsk, tsk.

I cannot stress this enough – overall health is the key goal, in my most humble of opinions. You can lose weight a thousand ways, but we’re going the path that brings overall improved health and well-rounded fitness. While I can’t say for sure what your gym’s stance is or why it is that way, I can only say that the best thing for any person is to shoot for overall fitness… you should be able to run from zombies when they come, yes, but you should also be able to climb a wall (or a lamp post? pole fitness anyone?) to get away from ’em, too.

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Jacqueline Stallworth May 23, 2012 - 11:15 AM

Awesome Erika! I loved what you said about strokes and heart attacks. I’m with you in striving for overall health! Keep educating us Erika……

Habibah Sulayman May 23, 2012 - 2:09 PM

Thank you so much for this blog post!! I am currently 315 lbs (down from 355lb) and people are always telling me that I am wasting my time with cardio! I have a trainer that does great with combining them–but you have people aka trainers/gyms misleading people and that is really sad. For people like me who have to release (I like that word instead of weight loss) almost more than half of their weight–every word of advice can either hurt or help and I need all the help i can get!! I do try to advance my level of cardio to continually challenge myself

Bree Tatum August 14, 2013 - 2:12 AM

First Habibah congrats! You are one the right track. I started around 330 pounds and now am at 324. Looking to release half of myself too (I like the release phrase lol). My personal trainer has me do 30 mins of strength and 30 mins of cardio and I have seen vast improvements in my overall well being. I couldn’t imagine abandoning either. Good luck in your journey!!

Kisha May 23, 2012 - 2:18 PM

Great article Erika!!!

I totally agree with you. Gym’s/people that say you only have to lift weights in order to lose are just as smart as people who say that they do not want to gain muscle under fat and only do cardio to lose weight. It’s obvious that you need both! Your articles are truly on point! I’ve been changing my lifestyle for the past year and one thing my kickboxing instructor told me was that you need cardio and strength training. My 68lb weight loss just proves that she is correct. Again, thanks Erika!!! You rock!

Grace @ Grace Dishes May 23, 2012 - 3:11 PM

I LOVE CARDIO. I think a healthy combination of both is great. I’m a believer that you should do whatever YOU enjoy for it to be something you will do in the long run!

NeenaLove May 23, 2012 - 5:12 PM

Wow! Very helpful information. I love how you explained the stroke and the heart attack.

Gillian May 23, 2012 - 9:35 PM

Great post Erika. I’m fitness and nutrition coach and also a diehard fan of strength training, for the great results of tone and fat loss that can be achieved in a shorter time frame. At the same time a good training program as I advise my clients, needs to incorporate cardio and strength training to maximise results. This should include interval training to keep your body guessing, high impact training, resistance body weight training and my beloved free weights 🙂

Debra May 30, 2012 - 1:40 PM

This blog about Strenght training is everything!! I do both cardio and stength training. I love how the strenght training tones my body, however, I love how the cardio gives me a natural high all day!

Smu December 23, 2012 - 3:50 AM

Hi Erika, lovely article 🙂

I totally agree with you on both counts. Cardio makes me feel good, all hot sweaty and healthy. And gives you that nice kind of soreness in the muscles that tells you you’re making some progress 😀
I mostly walk or run a bit, so it feels like my muscles are lengthening and burning off stuff directly.

On the other hand, I love love my workouts at home. I’ve recently been trying out resistance bands for strength training and boy do I feel good!! Everything looks so much better, and I feel stronger with every day, especially upper body strength, posture and tone. I think I’d lean towards strength training if given a choice and incorporate a bit of cardio in a 60:40 ratio.

christine January 16, 2013 - 2:08 PM

I despise that hour on the treadmill lol but love the results. When I first started I kept looking at the counter and wondering why 60 minutes seemed so damn long. I swore up and down that the counter was stuck! Now I’ve gotten into the “zone” and it seems to fly by. Getting back into the weights made me realize how weak my upper body is.

SAVVYMOM February 13, 2013 - 11:20 AM

I have this month’s COSMOPOLITAN with Miley Cyrus on the cover. There is an interview with a TRAINER fr (x) but anyway, This trainer talks about a “famous gym” in NYC where he/she formerly worked. The trainer “outs” the whole culture at this famous gym but it really could be a number of gyms..Horrible advice to people who attended the gym from how to workout, how to eat…and just being “anti health” in many ways. Health was not the primary concern. Even the trainer’s health was in jeopardy because there was so much pressure.

Erika, again, wonderful piece and I hope you get a chance to read the article in COSMO. I am a firm believer in talking with your doc, a nutrionist and working out with purpose and doing things that are sustainable for a lifestyle..not a “diet”.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 13, 2013 - 2:39 PM

Hmm…does the gym begin with an E or have the letters R or SC in its abbreviation? LOL

Bex March 13, 2013 - 11:53 PM

1) lol was the plank/lunge thing ‘froggers’?

2) LOL surviving the future zombie apocalypse is my main reason for working out too no way. hahaha

3) If the original poster is interested in some of these combined strength/cardio moves/workouts NTC (nike training club) is an app i am currently obsessed with! most of the billions (and i may be exaggerating the number slightly here) of workouts are a very good combo of both, that like erika said, will surprise you at how out of breath and heart-pumping they are while still focusing a lot of strength training. theres only one category of workouts thats much less cardio in them but the other three categories, and in different difficulty levels are awesome.

i personally find i rely on this app to do the majority of my workouts now (unless i go to the gym to use a treadmill, or run outside or something for some extra cardio). im self consious about my shirt shifting and how i look when im working out and rather than pretend im not, i realized admitting it, and working out at home means i workout harder, do exercises i wouldnt otherwise do in public, and focus more on the proper execution of work outs, even if my stomachs falling out of the band of my pants…. only my cats can see so i dont care and keep going lol. NIKE TRAINING CLUB is the name of the app! AND did i mention its FREE!?

(no i dont work for nike, nor have i ever lol, cross my heart lol)

Myra August 7, 2013 - 6:39 PM

Thank you for this very informative article. I’m currently losing inches but no longer losing weight. I was told I should stop with the free weights so I’m happy to find that this information was incorrect. Thank you!

JP September 18, 2013 - 9:39 PM

Kettlebells combine both Cardiovascular and Muscle Development. Trust me you can’t go wrong. It fights fat fast as well!

Eleanie December 26, 2015 - 7:54 PM

I have to do both, plus I enjoy both. Cardio and weight are what works for me.

Brandon September 4, 2016 - 8:29 PM

Great article that will help many people not be scared of cardio. In my experience I use cardio depending on what my goals are at the time. If I am trying to build strength it really takes a toll on my joints. So I do cardio, but keep it to low-impact training like cycling. Conversely, if I am trying to lose weight I run more, and longer, but I also change my strength training to lower intensity. Also, I keep those strength workouts and cardio at least six hours apart.

This could be that the trainer was trying to ease her into a program and specifically wanted her to lay off cardio at first. There is a great book by Rodale publishing called The New Rules of Lifting for Women that touches on a lot of these points and diet. I introduced my wife to it and it changed her life.

Thanks for helping people!

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