“Don’t do any cardiovascular exercise because it will destroy your gains.” This is what I and countless others were told in regards to cardio and weight training. But is this really true?
The answer is no, of course it is not true. Like everything else, when the power of a mono-myth reaches a certain threshold, it is eventually forgotten to be a myth and is instead perceived as gospel. In other words, years of repetition and mental conditioning are presented as “truth”.
The problem with this so called “truth” is that most of the research done on the effects of combining cardio and weight training were done on either untrained, elderly or middle aged non athletic populations. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with untrained populations. However, the data from these experiments does not help the barbell scholar readers who are interested in taking their training to the next level.
First of all, untrained, elderly or non-athletic populations who are under the time constraints of a graduate student who needs to quickly finish his/her thesis is not going to be performing compound multi-joint exercises (squats, box jumps, running). They are going to be performing isolation exercises (curls, leg extensions, cycling) because they are easier and safer to administer.
Despite the fact that this may be satisfactory for some people, it is not satisfactory for me. With that said, the purpose of this post is to dive in and explore how to combine cardio and weight training.
Benefits Of Cardiovascular Training
Since most of the content on this site is focused on strength training, let’s do a little overview of cardiovascular training.
Cardiovascular training is a form of training that places stress on the heart, lungs and the energy systems. Results from this type of training include a more efficient and effective heart and lungs and a shift of energy consumption to fat. This is why you will never see an overweight elite endurance athlete.
How Does Cardiovascular Training Benefit Strength Athletes
Most of this is common knowledge, so then the question becomes how does cardiovascular training benefit a strength athlete?
1. Faster Recovery
After a lifting session with tons of volume, you are going to feel pretty wiped out and sore. This soreness is due to a build up of waste material and damaged muscle tissue. It is the cardiovascular system that helps to remove all of these damaged tissue and waste products. Therefore, the cardiovascular system is responsible for helping you recover from your strength training sessions.
That’s not all either, with an increased aerobic capacity, your body will be more predisposed to burning fat during exercise, thus sparing carbohydrate. It will also help you to remove CO2 and lactic acid from your bloodstream, thus restoring your body’s pH balance. So it is safe to say that cardiovascular training will also help you recover quicker between sets as well.
2. Improved Body Composition
It is no secret that cardiovascular training will help with losing body fat. One of the main benefits of cardiovascular training is it’s ability to make the body better at consuming fat as a fuel source. Lower body fat leads to increased testosterone levels and decreased insulin resistance, which helps to recover quicker from workouts.
Lower body fat levels are also better for athletes who want to maximize performance while reducing overall body weight. This applies to physique athletes, combat athletes, gymnasts and Crossfitters.
3. Good For Your Health
I don’t want to sound like a wuss, but let’s not kid ourselves, your health is the most important part of any training program out there. Will it matter if you are this great lifter/runner/athlete and then you die from health complications? Yes it will matter because it would all be in vain. Is 30 min per day of light jogging, swimming, rowing, walking, etc. really too much to ask? For the small time investment, your health will return huge dividends.
Cardio and Weight Training
Ok, so now we understand how cardiovascular training can benefit strength athletes, but HOW exactly do we implement this?
Well, the answer all depends on what type of goals you have:
1. Strength Athlete Looking To Improve Performance
This is the more complicated of the three, so let’s start with this. Strength athletes need to maintain there strength in order to succeed in his/her sport. With this said, a strength athlete should not try too hard with their endurance training. You heard me right.
One of the problems with strength/power athletes is they have to learn to slow down with everything. Since they are so used to performing heavy lifts, or max attempts, they become mentally all psyched up for everything. Aside from mental burnout, this can also result in doing too much of the wrong thing.
This happened to me when I took a break from olympic weightlifting and switched to calisthenics. I was always getting all psyched up for every set and I was mentally burning myself out and physically wearing myself down because I did not know how to pace myself.
Pace yourself, more specifically in the fat burning zone. The fat burning zone is about 60-70% of your max heart rate.
To find your max heart rate take 220-your age and multiply it by the percentages in the fat burning zone to find your target heart rate range.
For example, lets say you are 24 years old.
220 – 24 = 196 bpm
196 X 60% = 117 bpm
196 X 70% = 137 bpm
Target Range = 117 to 137 bpm
So there you have it, when you do your cardio make sure you keep your heart rate between this range so as not to hinder your strength training goals. You can keep track of your heart rate with a heart rate monitor such as a FitBit.
As for duration, keep your time on the pavement to about 30 minutes total. No more, no less. Anything more than this may result in too much total volume on your training regimen. Remember, you are training to be an elite strength athlete, not an elite ultra-marathoner.
2. To Lose Weight
This is probably the easiest of the three. To lose weight, simply start running and try to increase both the pace and the duration each time you run/swim/bike. Along side this, you should also be performing some type of resistance training. For weight loss, I typically have my clients start out with bodyweight only for resistance work and then progress them into weights when they master the bodyweight basics.
When resistance training and cardiovascular training are combined together, fat loss is accelerated than either one by itself. As long as the diet is clean and you keep hitting it hard with your workouts, the weight will melt off in no time.
3. Endurance Athlete Trying To Improve Performance
To begin, I am a strength coach and I specialize mostly with strength athletes. With that said I do have plenty of experience training well conditioned endurance athletes. Therefore, the following methods are what I use with my clients. I am not a triathlete, or marathon, coach. I am just pointing out what I notice works for my clientele.
Endurance athletes often need to give the endurance work a break when they first come and see me. This is because most endurance athletes that I see often have large muscular imbalances, which if left untreated will lead to injury. Aside from mobility work, many of them also need to perform more strength work to decrease their running time.
In terms of cardiovascular work, since they are so aerobically trained, I throw them a curve ball and make them do intense anaerobic conditioning. This includes sprints, med ball circuits, box jumps, bodyweight circuits, etc. The goal here is not to train them for something else, but to increase their anaerobic threshold to improve their aerobic power. This leads to faster mile times, improved mechanics and increased mental toughness.
Myths are a powerful thing in society. They can turn your greatest pleasure into your worst nightmare. Certainly, the myth of cardio and weight training is one of those powerful myths. Hopefully you are now enlightened to the fact that you can train both cardio and weights together regardless of sport or goals. Remember, though that does not give you an excuse to be lazy with your planning. The knowledge is right here in this post. Use it! Share this knowledge and help take others to a new level in performance.