Thu. Apr 25th, 2024
an athlete doing barbell exercise in a gym
  • Aerobic exercise or cardio is important for fitness and overall health.
  • You don’t have to do hours of running; strength training works too if it gets your heart rate up.
  • Shorter rests, longer workouts, and explosive movements can improve your cardio with weights.

It’s a myth that you have to focus on either running or lifting weights in your workout routine. Cardio and strength training complement each other, and incorporating both can make you fitter overall, experts previously told Insider.

There’s good news if you hate running — you can get the benefits of cardio and build your aerobic capacity without it.

Certain types of weight training can get your heart pumping enough to count as cardio, according to Stan Efferding, a world-record powerlifter, pro bodybuilder, and coach. Hitting the weights can also be less tedious than more traditional cardio workouts.

“When I say work on cardio, that doesn’t mean go out jogging,” he told Insider. “If I prescribe a 40 minute session on the treadmill to people, the likelihood that they’ll do it consistently isn’t high and it’s not enjoyable.”

Adding some weight-based cardio to your routine is useful even if you’re a runner or an aerobic athlete, since building muscle can also improve your speed and endurance.

Shorten your rest periods between sets

Weight training is typically anaerobic, which means you’re generating intense effort in a short period of time. Since your body doesn’t have time pull in enough oxygen for fuel, it relies on glucose (blood sugar) instead. As a result, you can only sustain anaerobic effort for a short time period.

Athletes will often rest for several minutes between sets of anaerobic exercise to give the muscles time to recover and build as much strength as possible.

However, rest also brings your heart rate back down. Exercise becomes aerobic when your heart rate is elevated and maintained at a higher rate long enough that oxygen becomes the fuel for the movement. In aerobic work, you’re breathing harder, but able to sustain the effort for longer (based on your VO2 max or ability to use oxygen effectively).

To make weight training an aerobic exercise, one strategy is to shorten the rest, so your body is working more steadily over time, rather than alternating between intensity and recovery.

“It’s about training hard enough to keep your heart rate up,” Efferding said.

Less rest will mean you won’t be able to lift as much weight, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Incorporating a variety of training styles can help you build overall fitness, what Efferding calls “general physical preparedness,” so a mix of heavy days with rest and lighter days with more speed can be beneficial.

Try longer workouts with lower weight

Another way to make a weight workout aerobic is to lift lighter weights for an extended time period, such as in an AMRAP-style workout.

The goal is to move continuously at a steady pace, Dominick Fortino, a trainer and owner of Dutch Kills Fitness, previously told Insider.

A major benefit of long workouts for any athlete is learning how to pace yourself, maintaining a high intensity without exhausting yourself too quickly.

Pacing workouts helps not only to build stamina and endurance but to better understand what your body is capable of so you can get the most out of your training.

Incorporate explosive exercises

Specific weight exercises can also spike your heart rate quickly for cardio benefits. Fast, full-body movements like hang power cleans, kettlebell swings, medicine ball throws, or thrusters are great options.

Plyometric movements like squat jumps, burpees, box jumps, or tuck jumps aren’t weighted, but can build strength and raise your heart rate simultaneously. Mixing them into a weightlifting workout can put your heart and lungs to work, helping round out your training to improve stamina and overall fitness.

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