Exercise 6 MIN READ

Running or Lifting – which one should you pick?

Each form of exercise comes with tremendous benefits and has distinct advantages. But the real question is – what works for you?

Written by Hisham Syed

Jan 09, 2023

Kickstarting your fitness journey can feel like a daunting task or trying to elevate your existing one can be equally daunting. As it may seem like you are bombarded with information on the various things you can do. Especially varied opinions that have split the internet, your friends’ circle or the fitness community on whether should you run or should you lift weights. Each form of exercise comes with tremendous benefits and has distinct advantages. But the real question is – what works for you?

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  • Metabolism is the body’s process of using a certain amount of energy it needs to function and how this can be improved upon,
  • Aesthetics is one of the reasons why most people want to exercise. The byproduct of good health may sometimes also mean looking fit,
  • Increasing muscle hypertrophy helps in increasing and maintaining muscle mass.

What is Metabolism?

Metabolism is the body’s process of using a certain amount of energy it needs to function. While diet, sleep and genetics play a vital role in basal metabolic rate, exercise keeps it firing efficiently. To compare endurance training (running falls under endurance training) and strength training for producing a particular metabolic hormone called FGF21. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted a study that examined the different levels of FGF21 after each exercise. Individuals who had endurance training experienced a significant increase in the production of the hormone compared to that in strength training.

Does that mean that strength training doesn’t increase your metabolism? Strength training is known to increase muscle mass or help maintain it. The higher amount of muscle in your body, and the lesser amount of fat, the higher your metabolic rate, as muscle uses more energy than fat while at rest. Your metabolism may stay elevated for a longer period after strength training in comparison to running.

Understanding weight loss

Understanding weight loss 1

One of the primary reasons for people to take up physical exercise is that weight loss has many variables attached to it. What you eat, your lifestyle, the genes you are gifted with, your metabolism, and even how you sleep, play a significant part. Duke University conducted a study to compare running and strength training for weight loss. Contrasts between running and strength training groups suggested that running decreases both body weight and fat mass significantly more than strength training does.

While the two modes of exercise produced statistically similar changes in body fat percentage, these changes were driven by different mechanisms. Strength training increased lean body mass whereas running decreased fat. Other findings from the trial also indicated that running reduced fat around the waist – visceral adipose tissue more than strength training did.

Calorie tracking and its importance

Calorie tracking has become an important part of the fitness journey because of the fitness trackers available on the market. Closing your workout rings or competing with your friends depends a lot on the calories you burn. Although every individual burns calories differently, there are generalized estimates for how many calories one can burn when one exercises. Let’s compare which exercise could help you get a one-up in competing with your friends or in your fitness journey. 

According to a study published in Pubmed, an individual who weighs 160 pounds (73 kg) will burn about 250 calories per 30 minutes of running at a moderate pace. If the person was running at a faster pace of 6 miles per hour, the calories burned would be around 365 calories in 30 minutes. 

If the person was strength training for a similar amount of time, the energy expended would be between 130–220 calories. While running burns a higher amount of calories, strength training is more effective at building muscle. According to research, you may also burn more calories in the hours following a strength training session. More muscle burns more calories at rest.

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Muscle building 

Aesthetics is one of the reasons why most people want to exercise. The byproduct of good health may sometimes also mean looking fit. According to what your goal is, building muscle or maintaining muscle while reducing fat could be necessary. Although running builds muscle, it’s primarily for your lower body such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, they are called the ‘powerhouses’ for your runs. It can also help you maintain weight provided your nutrition is on point.

With good nutrition and the right training program, running alone could provide the necessary means to a lean physique through consistent fat loss and muscle maintenance. The size of your muscle increases when you continuously challenge your muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy. Strength training is known to increase muscle hypertrophy and build muscle a lot more efficiently than running. You tend to see differences in muscle in athletes from different types of sports. Marathon runners like Eliud Kipchoge have very lean physiques, sprinters like Usain Bolt with more muscle and strongmen like Eddie Hall with the most muscle.

Heart health

It’s time we have a heart-to-heart about exercise. Having a healthy heart is known to prolong life and is a strong indicator of good health. However, which one is better for your heart – Running or strength training? Consistent moderate or intense running gets your heart pumping, increasing its longevity and capability over the long term.

One of the largest studies published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at data over 15 years from more than 55,000 adults, showing a positive relationship between heart health and running among the participants. Runners in the study were found to have a 30% lower risk of death than non-runners. They also had reduced chances of heart-related deaths such as heart attacks or strokes and lived three years longer than non-runners.

Strength training is also a healthy choice to be heart smart. A study published in 2019 by JAMA Cardiology had 32 obese and sedentary adults who did not have heart disease, diabetes, or atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes). All participants took an MRI of their hearts and were randomly assigned to a three-month program of endurance training, strength training, or no exercise.

Compared with the no-exercise group, those in the endurance training and strength training groups had less fat directly touching the heart, by 32% and 24%, respectively. But, only those in the strength training group had decreased fat that lies just outside the heart sac (called the pericardium). Having less fat in and around the heart sac is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.


It’s important to look at exercise holistically and the benefits it provides, aligning the forms of exercise to your fitness goals. For instance, if you want to clock a better marathon time or want to lose weight faster, running can be a great choice. If you want to increase your muscle mass, lose fat and have the strength to bench press 200 pounds, then lifting weights could be the way to go. While there is nothing wrong with performing each exercise on its own, combining the two can also be a great way to optimise your program. It could help you maintain and build muscle while burning fat.

If you are looking for a complete physical transformation, world-renowned celebrity fitness trainer Kris Gethin has designed a 90 Day Home Transformation program that combines the best of weight and endurance training. His decades of experience in training celebrities to reach their fitness goals has cumulated into the 3-month transformative series, where he guides you step-by-step through the workouts, nutrition and active recovery days to help you attain your dream physique. Packed with the knowledge of the slew of benefits that running and strength training offer, we hope you’re better equipped to start your fitness journey or take the existing one further.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

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