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Resistance Training, Cardio

Should I Prioritize Cardio or Weight Training If I Have Limited Time?

By Shannon Cole on Aug 14, 2023 9:00:00 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time


Being on limited time doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your health and fitness goals. We tend to think that the only way to achieve the results that we want entails hours at the gym, 5 to 6 days per week–but that is not the case.

The million-dollar question is whether cardio or weight training should be prioritized over the other when time is limited.

This depends on a few factors, so let’s get started.

But First….

Whether you decide weight training or cardio will work better for you with your limited time, there are methods at both ends of the spectrum that can help you reach your goal.

It is possible to get in an effective cardio or weight training workout in less than 30 minutes. It may take some creativity, but when programmed correctly, an effective weight training and cardio workout can be implemented in a short amount of time. 

What Are Your Goals? 

Prioritizing cardio over weight training, or vice versa, will largely depend on the types of goals you have. If you’re not even sure what your goals are, ask yourself these questions:

Are you trying to get stronger, or improve your endurance?

These are performance-based goals, and you can accomplish both when you have the right programming in place. When working with limited time, you can either schedule 20 to 30-minute runs that focus on improving time, or performing more anaerobic or HIIT style cardio workouts. If you want to lift heavier and break PRs, focus on 2 to 3 exercises per workout, stick to a 6 to 8 rep range, and complete about 4 sets of each exercise. This can easily be done within 30 minutes. Just be sure you are resting at least a minute between each set. 

Is your overall goal focused on getting healthier and having more energy? 

If you’re not concerned about aesthetics or performance, you’ll get the most bang for your buck with resistance training. Not only does it improve your balance and metabolism, but it’s been shown to reduce stress, improve bone health, and decrease risk of injury. I would also recommend walks, yoga, hiking, and easy-to-moderate intensity bike rides if you are looking for activities outside your 30-minute workouts, all of which are beneficial for overall health and not too strenuous.

What do you enjoy more?

With less than 30 minutes, you need to make it worth it. And if you are not feeling the type of workout you plan on doing, then it probably won’t happen, or at least at the desired intensity needed to see results. It is really easy to brush off a 30-minute workout, because many people assume you won’t get much out of it anyway. Not only is that inaccurate, but 30-minute sessions done 3 to 4 days a week helps people see substantial results when programmed correctly–and adhered to. Don’t be indifferent toward your workout; it should be something you enjoy.  

Have you hit a plateau?

Whether you have limited time or not, switching things up can help break you out of your plateau. For example, I primarily lift weights, but I’ll take 2 to 3 periods throughout the year to focus on cardio training; doing so initiates a new stimulus that my body hasn’t been challenged with in quite some time. If you are used to resistance training, start a new HIIT routine, like MAPS HIIT, or if you’ve become too comfortable with the spin bike or treadmill, give MAPS 15 a try to help build muscle and improve strength.

When you are trying to decide what to focus on with the limited time you have, answer these questions and see what works best for you. Whatever you decide, whether cardio or weight training is the way to go, you need to make sure you are working at a high intensity if your goals are focused on performance or aesthetics. Taking a blasé approach to your short workouts won’t work if you are trying to lose weight, improve performance, or lift heavier.

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Shannon Cole

Shannon Cole is an ISSA certified personal trainer and lives in the Dallas area. She is a certified nutrition coach through NASM and NCI, and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Sports Science and Rehabilitation. After obtaining her B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication she eventually gravitated to personal training, and hasn't turned back since. Her passion for athletics and fitness initially stemmed from her high school years playing golf, and her love for the sport still hasn't faded; her career goal is to obtain her Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) certification and develop strength and conditioning programs for golfers. You can usually find her working out in her garage gym, or training for the next Spartan Race with her husband.

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