- Aerobic or cardio exercise is important for overall fitness and health.
- You don’t have to do hours of walking; Strength training also works if you experience an elevated heart rate.
- Shorter rests, longer workouts, and explosive movements can increase cardio with weights.
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It’s a myth that you should focus on running or lifting weights in your exercise routine. Cardio and strength training complement each other, and combining the two can make you fitter, experts previously told Insider.
There’s good news if you don’t like running – you can benefit from cardio and build aerobic capacity without it.
Certain types of weight training can get the heart pumping enough to count as cardio, according to Stan Efferding, record powerlifter, pro bodybuilder, and trainer. Lifting weights can also be less fun than traditional cardio.
“When I say cardio work, I don’t mean jogging,” he told Insider. “If I prescribe a 40-minute session on the treadmill for someone, the likelihood that they will do it consistently is not high and it’s not fun.”
Adding some cardio-focused strength training to your routine is beneficial even if you’re a runner or aerobic athlete, as building muscle can also improve speed and endurance.
Shorten your rest periods between sets
Weight training is usually anaerobic, which means that you will produce a lot of energy in a short period of time. Because the body doesn’t have time to draw in enough oxygen for fuel, it relies on glucose (sugar stored in the blood). As a result, you can only sustain anaerobic effort for a short period of time.
Athletes often rest a few minutes between sets of anaerobic exercises to give their muscles time to recover and build as much strength as possible for sports like powerlifting.
However, resting also lowers heart rate. Exercise becomes aerobic when the heart rate increases and is maintained at that elevated level long enough for oxygen to fuel the movement. In aerobic work, you breathe harder, but can sustain the effort for longer (based on VO2 max or ability to use oxygen effectively).
To make weight training an aerobic exercise, one strategy is to speed up the rest, so that the body works more steadily over time, rather than alternating between intensity and recovery.
“It’s about exercising hard enough to keep your heart rate up,” Efferding says.
Lack of rest means you won’t be able to lift as much weight, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Combining different training styles can help you build your overall fitness, which Efferding calls “general physical readiness,” so mixing heavy days with rest and lighter days at a faster pace can be beneficial.
Evidence shows that combining strength and cardio also offers the best health benefits, helping you live longer and reducing your risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Try training again with a lighter weight
Another way to make weight training aerobic is to lift lighter weights for longer periods of time, such as in AMRAP-style workouts.
The goal is to move continuously as quickly as possible, Dominick Fortino, trainer and owner of Dutch Kills Fitness, previously told Insider.
The main benefit of long training for any athlete is learning how to pace yourself, maintaining a high intensity without getting too tired.
Pacing training helps not only to build stamina and endurance but to better understand what your body can do so you can get the most out of your training.
However, it’s important to make sure you’re lifting the right weight for your goals, aiming for as challenging as you can for all of your workouts. Being too light on some exercises, especially with large muscle groups like the legs, won’t benefit your strength training and is just a waste of time, personal trainer Miriam Fried previously told Insider.
Incorporate explosive training
Specific weight training can also increase your heart rate rapidly for cardio benefits. Fast, full-body movements like hang power cleans, kettlebell swings, medicine ball throws, or thrusters are good options.
Plyometric movements like squat jumps, burpees, box jumps, or tuck jumps are weightless, but they build strength and increase heart rate at the same time. Mixing it into a weightlifting workout can get your heart and lungs working, helping you complete your workout to improve your stamina and overall fitness.
Finally, activities like rowing and constant kettlebell training can help you improve endurance while being more effective at building muscle than running because it also provides resistance, personal trainer Noam Tamir previously told Insider.