Cardio versus weights

Cardiovascular (cardio) workouts and weightlifting (weights) are two types of exercise that differ in intensity, duration, and the groups of muscles that they use. They also burn calories in different ways. While cardiovascular exercise helps the body burn more calories per session, lifting weights allows the body to burn more calories in the long term.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as any activity that uses large muscle groups, is possible to maintain continuously, and is rhythmic.

Cardiovascular exercise (cardio) is a form of aerobic activity. It increases breathing rate, burns calories quickly, and improves overall endurance. Examples of aerobic exercise include cycling, dancing, jogging, and swimming.

The ACSM define anaerobic exercise as intense physical activity of short duration, which uses fuel from energy sources within the contracting muscles rather than relying on inhaled oxygen. Lifting weights and sprinting are both examples of anaerobic exercise.

Strength training, including weightlifting, helps people gain muscle, which speeds up metabolism and burns more fat in the long term.

How long do the effects last?

jumping rope cardio
Cardiovascular exercise has a more lasting effect than weightlifting.

Cardio generally has a less prolonged aftereffect than lifting weights.

In many studies, experts use “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC) to measure this effect.

For example, the researchers working on a 2014 study used it to measure the positive effects of cardio on men with metabolic syndrome. EPOC refers to the amount of oxygen that the body requires to return to its pre-exercise or resting state.

Lifting weights usually lead to higher EPOC levels than cardio, resulting in more significant muscle breakdown. This means that the body continues to burn calories even after completing a weightlifting workout.

A 2018 study looking at the effect of resistance training in sedentary adult women found that this activity, which includes weightlifting, elevated the participants’ overall basal metabolic rate (BMR) for up to 48 hours. The BMR is the number of calories that the body burns at rest.

Which anaerobic exercises burn the most calories?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following high-intensity anaerobic exercises to burn calories effectively:

  • jogging or sprinting
  • competitive sports, such as football, basketball, and soccer
  • jumping rope
  • inline skating or rollerblading at a fast speed
  • cross-country skiing
  • swimming laps

Calculating the calories that weightlifting burns

Online calculators can help a person establish how many calories they burn, taking their weight and physical activity of choice into account.

For example, the Calorie Burn Rate Calculator outlines various calorie burn counts depending on body weight and the type and intensity of physical activity.

Similarly, the Omni Calculator uses the activity type and duration to estimate the total number of calories that a person burns. It also helps predict how much weight a person can expect to lose.

Another useful calorie calculator is Cornell University’s METS to Calories Calculator. The term MET refers to “Metabolic Equivalent of Task,” or metabolic equivalent. This calculator works out the number of calories that a person burns by assessing their body weight, activity level (METS), and the duration of the physical activity.

Making the most of your exercise program

stretching before cardio
Stretching before and after exercising can help prevent muscle strain.

Regardless of the chosen form of exercise, people can use the following safety tips to help make sure that they maximize the effectiveness of their workout:

  • Take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up and cool down by doing stretches.
  • Make gradual increases in physical activity, especially if not very physically active.
  • Rest between strenuous workouts, and do not exercise too much if feeling faint or ill.
  • Do not rush to lift heavy weights. Correct form and strength building takes time, so start with light weights to master the techniques.
  • Do not do any high-intensity exercise in hot, humid conditions as this can lead to severe dehydration.
  • Stop exercising if signs of overheating occur, such as a headache, dizziness, nausea, cramps, or heart palpitations.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that are suitable for the type of physical activity.

Takeaway of cardio vs. weights

Both cardio and weightlifting exercises have advantages and disadvantages, and their benefits and effects vary between people.

Evidence shows that lifting weights burns more fat and has more promising long-term results. However, the type of exercise that is better ultimately depends on a person’s goals, physical fitness, and capabilities.

Most experts recommend a combination of the two for overall health and fitness.

Pushups anybody?

The pushup is a simple exercise that can strengthen and tone many of the muscles of the upper body and core. There are many variations of the pushup that suit a range of abilities and focus on different sets of muscles.

In this article, we look at which muscles pushups work and some of the benefits of doing pushups. We also provide a guide to eight different types of pushup.

Which muscles do pushups work?

The muscles in the upper body do most of the work when a person does pushups. These muscles are:

  • chest muscle group, including the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor
  • shoulder muscle group, including the deltoid major and deltoid minor
  • upper and middle back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapeze muscles
  • biceps, at the front of the upper arm
  • triceps, at the back of the upper arm
  • serratus anterior, which sits on the side of the chest beneath the upper arm

However, pushups require many other muscles in the body to work to keep the body in a rigid plank position. These muscles may include:

Benefits of doing pushups

There are many benefits to regularly doing pushups, including:

Burning calories

Doing pushups can be a powerful full-body workout. They use up a large amount of energy in a short period because the movements require large muscle groups to lift and hold much of the body’s weight.

The more pushups a person does, the more calories they burn.

Improving cardiovascular health

Doing pushups uses large muscle groups to alternately lift and lower much of the body’s weight, which increases the heart rate. Raising the heart rate during exercise helps strengthen the heart muscle, enabling it to pump more oxygenated blood to the lungs and throughout the body.

Tiny blood vessels called capillaries, which supply blood from arteries to tissues and organs, also widen to allow for better blood flow.

Doing exercise that raises the heart rate can help:

  • lower blood pressure
  • regulate blood sugar and insulin levels
  • reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer
  • lower body weight or maintain a healthy weight, alongside a calorie-controlled diet

Protecting the shoulder joint

When people use the correct technique, pushups can help build up strength in the muscles around the shoulder joint. The muscles and tendons in the shoulder hold the upper arm bone in the socket.

When the muscles are weak, stress or injury to the shoulder can result in damage to the muscles and tendons.

Easy to do

Pushups are a simple exercise that requires very little or even no equipment, so a person can easily do them as part of an at-home workout. There are also many pushups variations to suit people of different strengths and abilities.

8 types of pushup

Below is a guide to eight different types of pushup. The exercises are in order of difficulty from the easiest to the most challenging.

1. Wall pushup

Wall pushups gif
Image credit: CDC, 2012.

Wall pushups are suitable for beginners or anyone with a shoulder injury. This type of pushup helps build shoulder and chest strength but places a reduced load on the muscles.

Muscles worked: arms, shoulders, and chest.

  1. Stand in front of a wall, just over an arm’s length away. Feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bring the hands to shoulder height. Lean forward, extend the arms, and place the hands flat on the wall. Hands should also be shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale and bend the elbows, lowering the body toward the wall. During this movement, squeeze the core and buttocks to maintain a strong, straight position.
  4. Pause for 1 second and then push off the wall with the arms, keeping the hands on the wall. The feet should remain flat on the floor. If the heels come up, move slightly closer to the wall.

Try to do 3 sets of 12 repetitions, reaching a total of 36 pushups. Take a short break between sets.

2. Modified pushup

Senior woman doing modified pushup outdoors using knees

The modified pushup is for people who want a more challenging exercise than the wall pushup but are not quite ready for a standard pushup. When doing this pushup, focus on tightening all the muscles to maintain a stiff, straight body.

Muscles worked: arms, shoulders, chest, and serratus anterior.

  1. Start on all fours, with the knees and toes touching the floor. Hold the legs and feet together.
  2. Look down at the floor to maintain a neutral head position. Place the hands below the shoulders, keeping the arms straight.
  3. Breathe in. While engaging the core and buttocks muscles, bend the elbows to lower the chest as close to the floor as possible. Pause here for 1 second.
  4. Breathe out. Push the arms straight to lift the body off the floor and back into the original kneeling position. Make sure that the back does not sag, the core remains tight, and the buttocks do not lift into the air.

Repeat the exercise 12 times and then do an additional 2 sets, with short breaks between them. This will make a total of 36 pushups.

3. Standard pushup

Gif of man doing pushups
Image credit: Frank C. Müller, 2006.

The standard pushup requires more work than the modified pushup because it does not involve using the knees to help support the body weight.

Muscles worked: arms, shoulders, chest, and serratus anterior.

  1. Start on all fours, but extend the legs so that the knees do not touch the floor. Tuck in the pelvis and keep the head in a neutral position by looking down at the floor. Place the hands under the shoulders and keep the arms straight. This is known as the plank position.
  2. Breathe in. While engaging the core and buttocks muscles, bend the elbows to lower the chest as close to the floor as possible. Pause here for 1 second.
  3. Breathe out while pushing the arms straight to lift the body off the floor and back into the plank position. Make sure that the back does not sag, the core remains tight, and the hips do not lift into the air.

Try to do 3 sets of 12 pushups.

4. Wide pushup

Woman doing wide pushups

The wide pushup is only slightly different to the standard pushup. It involves widening the distance between the hands, which places more focus on the chest muscles.

Muscles worked: chest, shoulders, and back muscles.

  1. Get into the plank position, as in the standard pushup, but place the hands further out to the side.
  2. Follow the same technique as the standard pushup for lowering and raising the body while tightening the core and buttocks. The elbows will point further out to the side as the arms bend.

Try to do a total of 36 pushups, dividing them into 3 sets with short breaks between.

5. Narrow pushup

Man doing narrow pushups

The narrow pushup is another variation of the standard pushup, but it is usually more difficult. It reduces the distance between the hands, which means that the arm muscles have to work harder.

Muscles worked: triceps and chest muscles.

  1. Get into the plank position but, this time, place the hands closer together and directly below the chest.
  2. Follow the same technique as the standard pushup for lowering and raising the body while tightening the core and buttocks. The elbows should tuck back into the body as the arms bend and straighten.

Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions to reach a total of 36 pushups.

6. Elevated pushup

Man doing elevated pushups outdoors

The elevated pushup position raises the feet above the body, meaning that a person needs more strength to get back into a plank position. A person can increase the elevation over time as their strength improves.

Muscles worked: shoulders, upper back, and triceps.

  1. Start in the plank position and then raise the lower half of the body by placing the toes on a sturdy object, such as a box, chair, or bench.
  2. Place the hands underneath the shoulders, keeping the arms straight.
  3. Breathe in. Engage the core and buttocks muscles and bend the elbows to lower the chest as close to the floor as possible. Pause here for 1 second.
  4. Breathe out. Push the arms straight to lift the body off the floor and back into the plank position. Make sure that the back does not sag, the core remains tight, and the hips do not lift into the air.

Again, aim for a total of 36 pushups, dividing them into 3 sets of 12 repetitions with a short rest before each new set.

7. Clap pushup

Man doing clap pushups.

The clap pushup, which is a type of plyometric pushup, is one of the most demanding types of pushup. A person can try this once they are very confident in their upper body strength.

The clap pushup can help increase muscle strength, power, and body awareness.

Muscles worked: shoulder, chest, and arms.

  1. Begin in the plank position with the hands slightly wider apart than the shoulders.
  2. Breathe in. While engaging the core and buttocks muscles, bend the elbows to lower the chest as close to the floor as possible.
  3. Breathe out. In one smooth movement, forcefully push the body upward by straightening the arms and lift the hands off the floor, bringing them together to clap once.
  4. Land with the hands back on the floor and a soft bend in the elbows.

This type of pushup requires a lot of strength, but a person will find that they build up endurance over time.

For this exercise, it is best to start with 5 to 10 repetitions over 3 to 5 sets. Rest sufficiently between sets to allow the body to recover.

8. Pike pushup

The pike pushup is another demanding pushup variation that loads more weight onto the shoulders and triceps when pushing back up.

Muscles worked: shoulder, serratus anterior, upper back, and triceps.

  1. Start on all fours with the hands placed shoulder-width apart, the heels off the ground, and the head looking down. Lift the buttocks into the air, keep the arms straight, and bend at the hips to form an upside down V shape. This is a similar position to the Downward Dog in yoga.
  2. Breathe in. While engaging the core and buttocks muscles, bend the elbows to lower the head and let it gently touch the floor, if possible.
  3. Breathe out. Push the arms straight to raise the head and shoulders back to the starting position.

A person can try using a yoga block or something similar if they are unable to touch the floor with their head. For this pushup, it is best to begin with short sets of 1 to 5 repetitions and then work up to larger sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

Takeaway

Pushups are a type of exercise that uses the weight of the body to work the large muscle groups and raise the heart rate. As these simple exercises do not require any special equipment, a person can easily incorporate them into their home exercise routine.

There are also many pushup variations to suit different strengths, fitness levels, and needs. As a person becomes stronger and increases their endurance, they can progress to more advanced types of pushup.

Exercises which Burn More Calories

In this post we talk about five exercises which burn more calories.   Isolating muscles is so outdated. Unless you’re rehabbing from an injury or working to strengthen a weaker part of your body, the rule of thumb should be to work as many muscles as possible with each exercise (while of course maintaining good form). The more muscles you can incorporate into each set, the more effective and efficient your workout will be.

You don’t need more time to work out; you just need more intensity in your exercises. By swapping these five simple exercises, you can maximize your effort and calorie burn while minimizing your time spent at the gym.

Squats instead of the leg press machine

While a leg press is good for isolating your quads, it leaves something to be desired as a total-body routine. The truth is you have to add so much more weight on a leg press machine to get the same effect that squatting vertically would have. And whereas the leg press includes little to no stabilizer muscle involvement (because the machine gives you total upper body support), squatting forces you to recruit those stabilizer muscles groups in order to complete each rep. That is, your hip adductors (inner thighs) to keep your knees spaced shoulder-width apart, as well as your ab muscles to hold your torso in place as the knees bend. Talk about a full body exercise. Don’t forget to keep the knees right on top of the heels as you squat down for less pressure on the joints and you’ll really feel those hamstrings and glutes fire.

Squat exercises

Plank on a BOSU ball instead of crunch exercises

In terms of overall total body effectiveness, we all know that the plank is superior to the crunch. By holding your entire body in an isometric contraction you’re strengthening everything from your abs and glutes to your legs, back, and chest. But we’re cranking it up a little further. Adding some sort of balancing factor to your plank’in this case a BOSU ball will have your whole body, especially your core, feeling the burn in no time. Simply place your forearms on the rounded side while you do your plank. You can also try them with your arms on the flat side. Once you master holding your BOSU ball plank for at least 30 seconds, start adding in some variations slow mountain climbers and then adding a twist to the opposite side as you bring the knee into the chest are just a few to get your mind working. Any variation after that is fair game. Get creative!

Plank exercise

Pull-ups instead of bicep curls

Despite popular opinion, a pull up is a much more effective way of targeting those guns than a typical curl would be. Plus, with a pull-up, you’re working your entire upper body and engaging your core muscles too. The key is intensity. You can’t cheat a pull up; you either got it or you don’t.  And don’t get discouraged if you can only muster one or two to start, know that you are still exhausting your muscles and therefore building strength. If the thought of even one seems daunting, try wrapping a resistance band around the bar and hook your feet (or bent knees) into it for some assistance getting up. Then, once you become more proficient you can take the band away and start to add more repetitions to your exercises.

Pull-up exercisesPull-up exercises

VersaClimber instead of the bike

If you are one of those people who loves to sit on the bike and occupy your upper body with a book or magazine while your lower body does all the work, listen up. Cardio success is not about the number of calories burned during your 45-minute session. It’s about elevating your heart rate enough for a prolonged period of time (about 20 minutes at 80% or higher) to achieve the “afterburn” effect, boosting your metabolism so you continue to burn additional calories throughout that day and the next. The VersaClimber is a great option because it incorporates upper and lower body movements at the same time, which not only keeps you engaged in the workout but also means you can cut your time spent on the machine in half. So, give it a try. In addition to preventing boredom, switching up your cardio routine will keep your body guessing and you on track to achieving your fitness goals.

Versaclimber exercises

Dumbbell bench routine instead of traditional bench press

Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is not the best move for the upper body. While it may do a good job of isolating a few specific muscles, using two dumbbells instead of the traditional bar will increase your range of motion and recruit more muscles in the shoulders and back as well. Not only that, but you can add some core work into the equation by alternating arms one at a time to challenge your balance and force those abs to join the party. If you really want to kick it up a notch, try switching out the bench for a Swiss Ball and get some more stabilizers involved!

Swiss Ball exercises