15 Reasons Lifting Is Better Than Cardio
Running and cycling are fine. But there can only be one king. – By BJ Gaddour
Many of you may not realize this, but the same company that publishes Men’s Health (Rodale) also publishes Bicycling and Runner’s World, among other leading health and wellness brands. We share the same offices and are basically siblings in the publishing world. But sometimes things can get a little heated between our respective brands.
Bicycling recently released an article called 7 Reasons Why Cycling is Better Than Running. Ouch!
Not to be outdone, Runner’s World upped the anti with a diss track called 37 Reasons Running Is SO Much Better Than Cycling.” I must admit the addition of “SO” was a bit savage.
At the risk of this creating some wannabe rap battle, we at Men’s Health thought we’d step on stage and put these runners and cyclists in their place by spitting the endless benefits of strength training. That’s right, we ride or die with resistance training and you should too.
Let me first say in my best Trump voice that nobody respects runners or cyclists more than me. Nobody. I regularly incorporate running and cycling into my weekly workout regimen and I believe they have an integral place in a well-rounded fitness program. That being said, when you compare both forms of exercise to strength training, well, they just don’t compare.
It’s kind of like going to a steakhouse. The steak, like strength training, is the main feature and it takes up a whole big plate on its own. It’s got that hefty dose of powerful protein to build you up and that satiating fat to energise you for days. And nothing makes you sweat like meat does.
Now cycling and running are like two good side dishes. Let’s say mushrooms and asparagus for example. You don’t need them, but they sure as hell make the overall meal better. But the steak is what you came for. And if you’re on a budget, you cut out the sides and get straight to the meat of it.
Not a fan of food analogies? Then chew on these 15 delicious reasons why resistance training is better than running and cycling.
1. Running only builds muscle in the lower legs.
Runners have great calves, there’s no denying that. But if all you do is run, that’s pretty much all you’ll have to offer other than what you were genetically blessed with. That’s because running primarily stresses the ankle joints and your cardiovascular system.
Sure, it’s a whole-body movement, but it really doesn’t require a big enough range of motion to stimulate muscle growth elsewhere. The exception would be for sprinting, but even sprinters add strength training workouts to their training plans as it’s the only way to maximize speed and power output. And let’s be honest—most runners are doing distance work, not sprints.
2. Cycling only builds muscle in the quads and promotes bad posture.
I must admit that cyclists have some of the best quads on the planet. And there’s no better way to build the quads than with cycling, particularly cycling intervals. It’s low impact, easy on the knees, and you can apply varied levels of resistance to work the entire strength through speed spectrum.
That being said, because cycling is so knee-dominant, it does absolutely nothing to develop the hips (or the upper body for that matter). That’s the reason why many cyclists suffer from “pancake ass.” Their quads are insane, but they have little to no gluteal development. This can lead to a host of problems including lower-back pain and pants that require a belt and suspenders to stay up.
Plus, the last thing you want to do after a long day of sitting at your desk with your hips flexed and spine rounded is do the same thing on a bike. It’s no wonder that many cyclists suffer from terrible posture.
3. Running creates a dangerous level of chafing.
I think the fact that you can’t run a marathon without putting some bandaids on your nipples says it all. Unless you’re 50 kgs soaking wet with a thigh gap, expect a terrible level of inner-thigh rawness and redness.
4. Cycling Does A Number On The Butt
Sitting on those those bike seats for prolonged periods of time is just plain uncomfortable. I know, I know—you’ll get used to it, right? Well, that’s what they say about herpes, too.
5. Strength is the muscle quality to rule them all.
A stronger muscle has more potential to do everything better. It’s capable of generating more power, building up more stamina, and taking pressure off your joints and connective tissues. And nothing builds strength like the progressive overload offered by strength training. It’s simple—get stronger and your performance potential instantly goes up.
6. Strength training is better for building muscle.
Both running and cycling (and any new activity for that matter) have the potential to build muscle, especially for beginners. But after a while, the muscle-building stimulus weakens and the main benefits come in the form of cardiovascular conditioning. Yes, you can bump up the resistance on a bike or wear a weight vest to run, but there’s no still way you can achieve the type of whole-body muscle-building stimulus that strength training can provide.
7. Strength training is better for boosting your metabolism.
Muscle IS your metabolism—the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest, period. Plus, strength training creates a level of muscle damage that increases metabolism post-exercise during the recovery and repair process. Yes, intensive and prolonged periods of running and cycling can also create muscle damage and generate a post-workout afterburn, but not at the level of regular resistance work and certainly not for your whole body.
In addition, a recent study from North Dakota State University showed that you can burn 346 calories in just 13 minutes of a simple 6-exercise resistance circuit.
Higher-intensity total-body resistance training is better for burning calories because it increases both anaerobic and aerobic energy expenditures. This means that you burn calories both during and after your workout. When you do long bouts of steady state cardio, the calorie-burn stops the moment you stop. You can remedy some of this by incorporating HIIT (high-intensity interval training) into your running or cycling workouts.
And if your goal is just to get your heart rate up as high as possible, try doing things like burpees, kettlebell swings, thrusters, and battle ropes. Go all out for 60 seconds and your heart rate will get just as high as with max-effort running or cycling. In fact, a recent study showed that 12-minutes of kettlebell swings had the same cardio and metabolic impact as running for the same period of time, but with the added benefit of being lower-impact and strengthening the often neglected muscles of your backside.
Should I stop now, or do you want me to keep going? Fine…
8. Strength training is better for improving mobility.
Unlike cycling or running, strength-training moves like squats, pullups, and pushups take your joints through a full range of motion when properly performed. This in turn improves your mobility, which is so critical if you are a desk jockey or have a sedentary occupation.
Take the lunge, for example. It will develop your hips and thighs more than running or cycling, improve hip mobility, and strengthen imbalances between sides. In fact, sound lunging mechanics are the foundation of good running mechanics. I’m a firm believer that you should be able to perform 10 minutes of non-stop walking lunges through a pain-free, full range of motion before you’re ready to run for the same period of time. (Trust me on this—it’s a game-changer).
In this way, strength training sets the foundation for proper movement mechanics and actually allows you to optimise your cardiovascular training. But all cardio and no strength training will leave you tight, imbalanced, and weak.
9. Strength training is better for reducing the risk of injury.
It’s often said the the rise of running created the physical therapy industry. The inherent imbalances that running and cycling create within the human body due to the limited range of motion and repetitive movement patterns can lead to overtraining injuries.
Sound strength training actually can bulletproof your joints and reduce the risk of injury from all types of training. That’s why many runners and cyclists now incorporate strength work into their training plans. It allows you to strengthen imbalances and prioritize movements that running and cycling don’t effectively train.
10. Strength training is better for improving aesthetics.
Strength training allows you to maximally develop every skeletal muscle in your body, not just your calves and quads. It allows you to build the size, symmetry, and proportions that can help you proliferate your gene pool.
Surely, many of you may find this reason to be vain. I would agree. But it doesn’t make it any less true.
Everything else being equal, the more muscle mass you have, the less body fat you’ll have. We covered this increased metabolic engine earlier. This is why bodybuilders and strength/power athletes like sprinters have lower body fat percentages than endurance athletes. It’s often said that you’ll never find an overweight sprinter, but there are plenty of runners and cyclists who carry a lot of extra weight on their frames.
If your goal is to be a lean, mean, fitness machine, you simply cannot do without strength training. But there are plenty of men and women out there who are ripped who don’t do a whole lot of running or cycling.
11. Cycling requires a bike.
Whether you want to do it indoors or outdoors, you need a bike to ride. And a good bike ain’t cheap. You can do strength training with calisthenics anytime, anywhere without having to purchase a Peloton. Your body is your barbell with planks, pushups, pull-ups, bridges, squats, and lunges. You can even do bicycle crunches for free. Ha.
12. Running requires a treadmill or good weather.
If you live in a northern climate, running outdoors is really not a great option during the winter. It’s also dangerous to run during wet conditions and on slick roads. Yes, you can get a treadmill but they’re even more expensive than bikes and they’re called “hamster wheels of death” for a reason.
13. Strength training provides way more exercise variety.
Cycling and running don’t offer a whole lot in the variety department. Sure you can cycle standing or seated and do both indoors or outdoors or uphill or downhill. And yes, you can even employ different environments and travel on different terrains. Yay!
But there are literally HUNDREDS of ways to do pushups, and that’s just a single upper-body and core exercise within the massive resistance training exercise database. That’s why resistance training offers a more complete workout that frankly is a lot more fun to perform.
14. Strength training is better for anti-aging
As we age, we lose muscle mass and bone density. This can make us fat and more susceptible to injuries. Studies have shown time and time again that the best way to reverse these effects are with a dedicated resistance training programme.
The reason most middle-aged men and women suddenly appear overweight is actually due to the annual loss of muscle mass that starts after you turn 30. This loss of muscle mass decreases metabolism and you literally get fatter while eating the same amount of calories that you did when you were younger. The weight gain happens gradually, almost to the point where you have plausible deniability that it’s even happening at all. But then all of a sudden it hits you in the form of a belly. And belly fat greatly increases your risk of negative health outcomes like metabolic disorder, diabetes, hypertension, etc.
In addition, the muscles we tend to lose first are the fast-twitch fibers that make us lean and athletic. Strength training is the best way to target these fibers and prevent us from getting fatter and slower.
15. Strength training is better for longevity.
There’s no doubt the greatest predictor of quality of life in your golden years is your strength and mobility. We’ve already touched on how strength training allows you the best opportunity to maximize both. Strength training also gives you the best chance of avoiding life in a wheelchair as you get older.
Running is also inherently a pretty high-impact exercise that will not be in the cards for many people 50 and over. Now cycling is pretty safe and low-impact and is something that you could do forever, but again, it doesn’t do anything to help your upper-body and core muscles and because you’re stationary it doesn’t do much of anything for your nervous system.
But you can strength train forever, modifying the level of difficulty indefinitely. And it can keep your motor skills sharp, your joints mobile, and your muscles responsive and supple. I truly believe there is no better method to help prevent life-changing falls for at-risk seniors. And by helping you stay at a healthy bodyweight, strength training gives you the best chance to avoid preventable medical issues down the road, too.
In conclusion, here’s a powerful quote from the G.O.A.T of fitness, Jack LaLanne:
“One of the reasons so many people fail is they get on this treadmill for an hour or an hour and a half. That’s totally unnecessary. If it’s cardiovascular, you don’t need more than 15 to 17 or 18 minutes if it’s vigorous.”
Jack performed strength and cardiovascular training up until the day before he passed away at the ripe age of 94. And if you want to be able to move with passion and purpose until the day you die, strength training is an absolute must.
And because you can actually get your cardiovascular training from resistance work if you train with enough intensity and utilize shorter rest periods, it’s pretty clear that running and cycling are secondary albeit effective forms of exercise. But there can only be one king.
Mic drop and exit right…