Cardio vs. Weight Lifting: Which Will Make You Look Better?

Along with eating a balanced and healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise is the key to getting fit, toned, and strong. Whether you want to build muscle, or simply lose some serious weight, getting enough physical activity in during the day is paramount to becoming healthy and fit. But, as with anything, there’s a bit of a tug-and-pull relationship between the two major types of exercise you may find yourself engaged in: cardio and strength training.

What are the benefits of each?

Man flexing his muscles Here’s what to know when looking at cardio vs. weight lifting. | Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Here’s the quick and easy of it all: Cardio workouts are going to burn fat, calories, and help you lose weight. Lifting weights, on the other hand, are going to help you build muscle, and actually put on mass or weight. With that in mind, which types of exercise are going to make you look better? Consider what your goals are, first and foremost.


A runner takes a break on the track Here’s what cardio can offer you. |

What does it do?

As mentioned previously, cardio workouts are going to get your heart rate up and get your respiratory system in gear. By getting your heart rate up to a certain level, your body will efficiently and effectively be burning calories — or, accessing the fat stores where your body stores excess energy. If you’re overweight, or looking to drop some pounds, you’ll want to engage in cardio exercises to help your body actually learn to efficiently burn energy. It’ll help you regain your metabolism.

What are the typical results?

Tired man running on a treadmill You can expect to increase your stamina on the treadmill. |

There are no “typical” results, per se, and any success you see from cardio exercises are going to come from hard work and dedication. Running for 10 minutes once per week isn’t going to get you far, for example. But if you can find a running program, or something similar, that is easy to implement and you enjoy doing? You’ll probably notice your body becoming more fit and toned within weeks.

Weight lifting and strength training

A man doing hammer curls with dumbbells Here’s what weight lifting can do for you. |

What does it do?

While cardio exercises are focused on burning energy, strength training and weight lifting generally has one goal in mind: building strength and muscle. The way that this actually happens, at a physiological level, is that through the motions of actually lifting, your body is tearing through old, weak tissue. When you rest, your body then rebuilds itself to be bigger and stronger. You’re gaining mass, so that also means you need to be taking in additional calories rather than burning them off.

What are the typical results?

lifting weights You’ll see strength gains if you work at it consistently. |

Again, no “typical” results here. But if you take on a lifting routine and stick to it? The sky is really the limit. There are tons of lifting regimens out there, but the key is to focus on full-body workouts and to make sure you’re working the muscles throughout your frame. If you don’t, you’ll end up with muscle asymmetry — which can lead to some serious problems down the line.

If you start lifting, you’ll definitely feel it almost immediately. You’ll probably start seeing the fruits of your labors within a couple of weeks. Just don’t forget leg day.

How you can get started

women running on treadmills at the gym Here’s how to get started with cardio and weight training. | Halfpoint/iStock / Getty Images Plus

For cardio, you can check out any number of running programs — there are dozens out there, but some have proven to be more successful than others for most people. But if you hate running, or have limited means or areas to run, you can simply try a jump rope. Or, if you have access to a pool or body of water, swimming may be the absolute best cardio exercise you can do.

Like cardio programs, there are numerous weight lifting plans you can try out. There are several that are great for beginners, so perhaps stick with one of them and see how you like it. If you’re apprehensive and have never lifted before, see if you can get a personal trainer, even if it’s for a few sessions. Or, ask the trainers at your local gym, who would likely be happy to help. Another way to learn is to simply observe, or ask some other lifters for a quick run-down.

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