Cardio vs weights: the big debate

February 9, 2017



Expert trainer and owner of W10 Performance gym Jean-Claude Vacassin on an age-old debate in fitness. Plus, part three of his four-week back to fitness guide.


I f there’s one discussion in fitness that’s guaranteed to get people hot under the collar, it’s the cardio-versus-weights training debate.


Some believe the ticket to a lean and athletic physique is to hit the weights and steer clear of cardio. Some go so far as saying that cardio actually makes you fat (it doesn’t).


Others assert that weight training is for knuckle-draggers and that if you want to shift a few pounds, cardio is the only way.


So, who’s right?


The fact is that both work. Look at triathletes and bodybuilders: both lean, both using completely different approaches. Most of us would be best served doing a combination of the two, based on our individual goals and preferences. We can do this by alternating resistance training and cardio days or doing what we refer to at my gym as metabolic resistance training (MRT), where you hit both at the same time.


The approach you choose comes down to the time that you have available. If you have three sessions per week, use MRT. If you’re more advanced or have more time, you can separate your sessions.


However you choose to do it, remember that fat loss will always come down to creating an energy deficit (consuming fewer calories than you expend). This is why nutrition is so important when it comes to shifting fat.


Eat too much, and it doesn’t matter what you do in the gym. The trick is to find a balance of training that allows you to keep your diet in check (cravings are a killer), while still allowing you to train with oomph.




If you’re looking to add lean mass, be prepared to put the effort in.


For most people, this takes time, specific effort and consistency to gain muscle. Genetics have a say, too, in that certain body types are more predisposed to adding muscle mass than others (though it can be done whatever your body type).


Put simply, the key to muscle growth is to provide the body with overload – a stimulus that is more than or different to what it is used to. This forces it to adapt and grow. For most beginners – people with less than two years’ proper training experience – full-body programmes are a good option, especially if the goal is also to drop body fat.


Here is an example of a full-body workout with the goal of hypertrophy. The exercises are in a super-set format to save time, but you can do them separately (i.e. do all the sets and reps of 1 before moving on to 2) if preferred. Try this three times per week on non-consecutive days, resting in between or doing cardio.


1. Squat: 5×10 » The squat is perhaps the most effective lower- body and core exercise you can do. Keep tension throughout, work through a full range of motion and keep your torso angle consistent.


2. Lat pull-down: 5×10 » Sit with your thigh against the pad. Take a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width and pull, leaning back slightly as you do so. Return to the starting point slowly, moving your torso forward slightly so that you are directly under the bar at the top.


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3. Dumbbell bench press: 4×12 » Hold the dumbbells with a semi-supinated (palms facing each other) grip. Squeeze your shoulders down and back, keeping your upper body tight as you press the weights upwards. Return slowly to the starting point.


4. Bent-over row: 4×12 » Hold the bar just wider than shoulder-width. Hinge forward at the hip until the bar reaches knee level. Keeping your core tight, row the bar to your belly button, making sure that your elbows pass your ribs in the top position. Squeeze your back in this position before slowly lowering to the start.


5. Dumbbell lunges: 3×15 (each leg) » Holding a dumbbell tightly in each hand, step one of your legs forward, allowing your knee to come past the toes. Lower your thigh towards your calf, before squeezing your backside and returning to the start position by pushing off your whole foot. Repeat on the other leg.


6. Lateral raise: 3×15 » Start with the weights by your side. Keeping your trunk stable, lift the weights into a crucifix position until your hands are level with your shoulders. Hold this position for a second before lowering the weights to the start point. Tip: rotate hands slightly as you lift, making sure your little finger is higher than your thumb in the top position.


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7. Tricep dips: 3×15 » Using dip bars, start at the top of the movement with your arms extended. Squeeze your shoulder blades together before lowering yourself down, so that your biceps came towards your forearms. Squeeze the chest and triceps to return yourself to the top position. Tip: think about rotating your shoulders at the top.


8. EZ bar curls: 3×15 » Stand tall, holding the bar in both hands at thigh level. Keeping your chest up, shoulders squeezed back, contract your biceps, raising the bar so your forearms come up towards you biceps. Squeeze for a second at the top of the movement, before slowly lowering the weight to the start position.


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Optional conditioning finisher » 10 jump-squats, 10 push-ups. Repeat x10