How Strength Training Outperforms Cardio For Toning the Body

patty soud, fitness by patty, girl strength trainingWhen it comes to working out, there is often a divide between genders where men prefer strength training, and women prefer cardio. Obviously, both forms of exercise have benefits, but if you are someone who thinks that only cardio is needed for weight loss, toning up/sculpting and improving metabolic process, then it is time for a quick (and painless) physiology lesson!

Think Strength NOT Bulk

Many women, and some men, tell me they want to lose weight, tone up, and increase their metabolism, but they do not want to lift weights because they are scared they will bulk up. I can promise you that for the vast majority of women and men, this will not happen. As a part of our genetic makeup, our bodies contain a protein, myostatin, which naturally inhibits massive, bulky muscle growth. Now, by bulky, I mean bodybuilder-style muscle and physique.

Because of myostatin, it is physiologically impossible to build bulky muscles naturally, unless you were born with a genetic inclination for them. Severe genetic mutations are incredibly rare, and you would most likely already know if you had that kind of genetic problem. So, stop worrying about looking like the Incredible Hulk because your genes won’t let you.

The Role Muscle Fibers Play in Shaping Our Bodies

I am sure you have heard that cardio exercise is the best for overall health because it involves the work of all your major muscle groups, and “the more muscles you engage in an activity, the better.” While it IS good to work all your muscles, you want to make sure you are also working the most muscle possible. While it may sound like “working all your muscles” and “working the most muscle possible” is the same thing, they are very different.


We have four types of muscle fibers, each providing us with different amounts of force over time. Type 1a fibers allow us to engage in exercise or movements that require very little force, and continue to work for a long period of time. These muscle fibers allow us to talk, walk, and do other low-force, long duration activities, such as many cardio exercises. On the other end of the scale, we have Type 2b fibers. These fibers help us generate a lot of force, but only for a very short period of time, such as lifting a heavy weight. Muscle fiber types 2a and 2x provide force and time amounts between the two ends of the scale, creating a progressive set of fibers with specific force and time abilities.

So, what do these muscle fiber types have to do with strength training being better than cardio? In order to get the most health and metabolic benefit from exercise, we need to work the most muscle possible. However, cardio workouts only activate the Type 1a fibers – those that require little force over a long period of time. On the other hand, when we do resistance training, first, the Type 1a fibers engage, but they don’t provide enough force so the Type 2a, and then Type 2x fibers engage, yet still are not enough to overcome heavy resistance. When the first three fiber types don’t do the job, Type 2b muscle fibers are activated, putting all four muscle fibers to work, and allowing us to overcome the resistance of the weight, band, etc. Therefore, resistance training truly engages all of our muscles and muscle fibers, where cardio only engages Type 1a fibers, thus producing greater results when it comes to body toning and sculpting.

Work Strength Training Into Your Weekly Routine

Now that our physiology lesson is complete, you should realize that you do not have to worry about getting too bulky because you have myostatin limiting your muscle growth. And, you have learned that cardio activities do not engage all your muscle fibers, but strength training does. Therefore, if you want to get the most health and metabolic benefit possible, it’s important to include strength training in your workout program. With all your new knowledge, you really don’t have an excuse for avoiding strength training, do you?