There is no single perfect exercise, and focusing on one area of fitness at the expense of another won't do your health any favors. You need both strength and endurance training if you want to be in peak physical condition, and incorporating both into your workout routine doesn't require any special skill or equipment.
Understanding the Difference
Strength training targets your muscles, improving their mobility and strength, and potentially yielding visible muscle development. Endurance training comes in two forms. Muscular endurance helps your muscles sustain their activity over a long period of time, while cardiovascular endurance is a measure of your ability to keep working when your heart is racing and your breathing is elevated.
Why Strength Matters
Strength training isn't just for body builders. Building healthy muscle tissue can help you avoid disorders such as osteoporosis by strengthening your bones and improving bone density. It can also help improve mobility in people who already have arthritis. A Tufts University study, for example, found that regular strength training decreased pain by 43 percent, improved overall muscle function and reduced symptoms of arthritis in patients who already had the disease. Because muscle is more dense than fat, it also requires more energy to sustain. This means that regular strength training can cause your body to burn more calories, helping you lose weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that adults should do strength-based routines at least two days per week. Effective strength training routines work all major muscle groups -- legs, arms, back, chest and shoulders. Stick with weights that are challenging but that aren't painful to lift, and increase weight as you gain strength.
Why Endurance Matters
No matter how much you can lift, if you don't have muscular endurance you can injure yourself with repetitive lifts. Cardiovascular endurance makes it easier to exercise longer and with more intensity, but can also make simple tasks such as walking up stairs easier. Regular cardio can help you avoid heart problems and improve your circulation. Cardiovascular exercise also plays a key role in reducing the risk of diabetes, cancers such as breast and colon cancer, arthritis and depression. These benefits occur through several mechanisms. For example, controlling your weight plays a role in reducing diabetes risk, while the endorphin release that coincides with regular exercise can improve your mood. Because endurance training burns more calories than weightlifting, it can also help you maintain your weight. The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardio per week, or 300 minutes for maximum benefits.
The Right Routine
You can get your daily cardio with routines such as running, swimming or jumping rope. Strength-based routines such as kettlebell swings, body weight exercises and weightlifting can all improve your muscle health, and performing multiple reps will improve muscular endurance. If you want to combine strength with endurance, try circuit training, which pairs several circuits of muscle-strengthening activities with two to three circuits of cardio.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do You Need?
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Why Strength Training?
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physiologic Responses and Long-Term Adaptations to Exercise
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Benefits of Physical Activity
- Tufts University: Growing Stronger -- Strength Training for Older Adults