Cardio for lifters – the why and the how.
By Coach Hunter Bennett
Weight training should be an integral part of any fitness regime, where it can increase muscle size, improve strength, boost athletic performance, and provide a host of other health benefits that can literally add years to your life.
However, lifting alone is not enough to achieve optimal physical fitness.
Incorporating cardio into your exercise regime will not only further improve your health, but also accelerate the results of your strength training.
And before you ask about “cardio killing your gains” read this article on the interference effect, where we completely debunk this myth.
Benefits of Cardio for Weightlifters
1. Improved Training Capacity
Incorporating cardio into your training can improve endurance and enhance your ability to recover during training sessions. This allows you to perform more high-quality reps and sets in your strength sessions, enhancing increases in strength and size.
2. Burn More Calories
Adding cardio to your routine can help facilitate a calorie deficit, thus promoting weight loss and helping you achieve a leaner physique (if that’s in line with your goals).
3. Better Training Recovery
Low intensity cardio has been shown to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery between workouts. In this manner it can help improve training outcomes by increasing session quality across a long-term training program.
4. Boosts Health
Aerobic exercise has been shown to have a profound impact on health, reducing risk of metabolic disease, heart disease, and mental illness, while also reducing your risk dying young.
I mean, do you really need another reason?
Cardio for lifters: How to Incorporate Cardio into your Weightlifting Routine
The good news is that when it comes to cardio, a little goes a long way.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that adding as little as 60 minutes per week can yield improvements in both aerobic capacity and health.
However, if you want to incorporate cardio in a way that minimises the potential impact on your strength training sessions, these are things you should consider.
1. Go Low Impact
High impact exercises like running, jumping, and sprinting, all cause significant muscle damage. This takes time to recover from and is likely to impact upon your ability to strength train to a high standard (especially if you are somewhat untrained with respect to cardio).
With that in mind, opting for low impact modalities like rowing, cycling, swimming, the assault bike, or the ski erg are your best bet.
2. Start Low Intensity
Most people with a strength training mindset tend to think that harder is better. But this isn’t always the case – especially when it comes to aerobic training.
Starting off with a couple of 20–30-minute sessions per week at a low intensity (i.e., you can maintain a conversation) will be more than enough to stimulate some cardio gains.
3. Dabble with HIIT
Once you have built up a foundation of aerobic capacity, incorporating 1-2 short HIT sessions per week is a great way to further stimulate improvements in aerobic capacity. Importantly, it also helps improve anaerobic capacity, which is likely to benefit some of your higher-rep strength work.
It is important to note that when considering HIIT for lifters the same considerations apply with respect to modality – go low impact to minimise fatigue.
4. Consolidate your training stress
While it may seem counterintuitive, there is some merit in performing your heaviest lower body strength sessions and your cardio sessions on the same day (i.e., strength in the morning, cardio in the afternoon).
While this will make your cardio session harder, it gives you more total time to recover before your next hard gym session, which can have a profound impact on training progress.
Cardio for weightlifters: Final thoughts
Cardio helps improve endurance and recovery, burn calories, and boost health. In short, it should be an essential component of any fitness regime, especially for those who sit further along the “strength training” end of the spectrum.
And using the tips in this article you can implement immediately.