You may be physically active, exercising and working out every day, or just getting into training, but one thing always remains the same…

You have a goal, and want to achieve it as quickly as possible.

One thing that many of us already know is that reaching these goals while training and eating properly does take time, and it is what you put in even when you are at your laziest that ultimately counts in the long run.

There can be no half measures.

Many of us want to lose weight or get bigger muscles, but no two goals are alike for the same people.

Here, we investigate the different sorts of body composition that doing strength training and cardio will give you, and understand whether the two are independent of each other or can coexist in a blissful symbiotic relationship that will give you the body that you have always wanted.

Strength Training

First things first, let’s talk about strength training and your body composition…

Strength training is any exercise performed with some level of resistance whereby muscles contract and strength, anaerobic endurance, and the size of skeletal muscles are built.

It is commonly viewed as exercise that makes use of weights but it can also be done using a person’s own bodyweight. In saying this, the way your body will be composed will be determined by the type of strength training that you do.

For instance, someone who does calisthenics will have a very different physique from someone who trains to be a bodybuilder. The person doing calisthenics will have a much more “toned” physique and will have strength evenly balanced throughout their entire body, while a bodybuilder will have much larger muscles but you may find that their body will be shaped according to which muscles they focus on the most – we all know the importance of not skipping leg day but bodybuilders will still normally find that they have a bigger upper body.

A number of studies have shown how beneficial strength and resistance training is for weight loss and preventing negative changes in body composition. Even at a low intensity, resistance training is effective in increasing muscle mass and strength and reducing total fat mass without change of insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetic patients.

Another study is focused on your goals and states that if increasing muscle mass and strength is the goal, a program including resistance training is required. However, balancing time commitments against health benefits accrued, it appears that aerobic training alone is the optimal mode of exercise for reducing fat mass and total body mass.

This is interesting as we will focus on cardio and aerobic training shortly, because your body composition is also closely linked to personal preference and your own fitness goals. Some people want to have that ripped, big physique and do appropriate strength exercises such as powerlifting to achieve them, while others want to be lean and toned but not too big. It all comes down to what you want to achieve and how you go about achieving it. Focusing your training plan according to building a physique that you will be pleased with is crucial.  


Aerobic training or cardio is any workout that varies from low to high intensity while pumping oxygenated blood into the muscles. It stimulates your heart rate and increases your breathing and can be performed in a number of ways including running, swimming, cycling, spinning, and rowing.

Your body composition will obviously vary depending on the cardio work out that you choose to do. For instance, long distance runners are often slender with little to no muscle or body fat, while sprinters are bulkier and more muscular. The same goes for swimmers who normally have what is determined as an ideal physique with broad shoulder and a strong upper body, as well as a toned lower body. Cyclists find that their legs do most of the work and although they are slender, their legs are built for power.

There is no one physique that defines a person who does cardio workouts because it is critically dependent on the exercise performed or sport you compete in.

Cardio exercises have long been considered as necessary for people who want to lose weight…

A 2012 study of 234 overweight and obese adults performed at Duke University found that the equivalent of 12 miles of walking or running per week was highly effective in reducing subjects' body fat, compared to resistance training without cardio.

Clearly, results will vary depending on if you run, swim, or cycle but all are effective forms of weight loss. The trick, however, comes in to play with how you go about doing such exercises.

Cardio is also associated with muscle loss, as well as fat loss, which may not be attractive to people who want to maintain a powerful physique, while also cutting excess weight. Yes, many people exercise because they want to lose weight, but this isn’t an issue for a lot of people who are already exercising. A lot of people want to do exercises that will build muscle and get them washboard abs.

A way to build muscle is to do HIIT. A HIIT workout requires you to alternate between exercises at a low intensity and a high intensity. And it is less likely to reduce muscle mass because it is similar to strength training. An example of how to do this is to jog lightly on a treadmill for 30 seconds and then spring full out for a minute and continue this for 10 minutes. The same can be applied to all cardio disciplines.  

A study from 1999 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition put two groups on a calorie restricted diet, with one doing ‘only cardio’ and the other doing ‘only resistance training.’ Both groups lost weight but:

·        The ‘only cardio’ participants lost 9lbs of muscle and decreased their RMR by 210 calories/day

·        The ‘only resistance’ group lost 1.8lbs of muscle (because of the deficit), and managed to increase their RMR by 63 calories/day

This brings another factor into play because your diet plays a crucial role in how you look.

Body composition training and strength training are not enemies, especially not in the long term. But even in the short term, strength training makes sense; otherwise, the body reaches a plateau all too soon. You need to keep pushing your body to the next level because continuing to train the same way forever is not conducive to you reaching your goals and going further.

There are also other components at play:

Diet and genetics.

In terms of diet, you need to remember that what you put into your body will also determine what you get out. It would be impossible, without the use of something extra, to build a very muscular physique if you were only eating 3 small meals a day. Bodybuilders are religious about their diets and normally eat clean and a lot, numerous times a day with big meals and snacks throughout.

The main takeaway is that your body uses this food as fuel. If you are training hard then you won’t get fat or put on weight if you eat multiple times a day because your body is using this nourishment to build muscles and burn as energy.

Lastly, there is your genetic factor. In the coming weeks we will be taking you through what it means to “train to your genes”, depending on your power/endurance profile.

Briefly, power responders are normally recommended to train with heavier weights at a lower repetition and endurance responders with lighter weights at higher repetitions for the best results. Those with an even spread can afford to split up their routine between the two. You will discover more about this in the coming weeks, so stay tuned, but for now, keep in mind that the body composition and physique that you want can be achieved in a variety of ways based on your goals, training, diet, and performance level.

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