Addressing the Biggest Myth About Weight Training

David Liira

We all seem to believe it...even some personal trainers.

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People say it all the time. “Weight training isn’t cardio. It doesn’t count.”

In the grand scheme of things, weights may not be the most ideal form of cardiovascular activity, but it’s ridiculous to overlook it entirely. Too often we get into this mindset that only organized, endurance-based activities like running or biking count. It’s high time we realized that cardio training is far more flexible than that, including your activities of daily life and, yes, even weight training

Today let’s look at redefining what cardiovascular training is, and build some strategies for making weight training more effective for the heart and lungs. If you’re tight for time or don’t like the traditional cardio work, there’s no reason why you can’t do both activities at the same time!

Yes, weight training can be cardio.

Many people’s understanding of the wide scope of cardio exercise is quite limited. First of all, it can be defined as any activity that requires an elevated heart rate/breathing rate. Before moving onto the topic of strength training, it’s important to realize a few things about training the heart and lungs.

  1. It doesn’t need to be biking, swimming, or running.
  2. It doesn’t need to be an hour long to be effective.
  3. It won’t kill your gains in the gym (it’s all about your calories).
  4. It won’t damage your joints (for you runners out there).
  5. The list goes on…

When it comes to strength training, we can confidently put it under cardiovascular training as well. Sure, it’s not entirely focused on the aerobic energy-generating process, but you’re still training your heart and lungs. Why is this the case?

Our muscles require oxygen to function, so when we start using them hard enough and for long enough, we start breathing faster to get more oxygen into the system and our heart starts beating faster to pump that oxygen out to the muscles for them to use. Anything that engages this process is cardio. It can be climbing a fight of stairs, hiking up a mountain, running a marathon, getting after it on the elliptical, and countless other activities. — Matthew Boutte

When we lift weights, we’re requiring the musculoskeletal system to work on overdrive, thus increasing the demand on the cardiovascular system to deliver the necessary fuels to sustain this level of activity. Next time you go lift weights, just feel your pulse after the session. It’s hard to argue that weights = cardio training when you feel your heart racing!

Simply put, if you’re exerting your body, you’re going to be doing some form of cardiovascular training!

Easy ways to make weight training more like cardio.

It’s important to mention that there are certain training methods in the gym that are further from cardiovascular work. If you’re doing powerlifting or Olympic lifting with quick bouts and long rest periods, this will more accurately reflect anaerobic or ATP-PC system work. In this case, your heart rate may spike, but you won’t sustain an elevated rate like you would with other activities such as running or hiking.

While it's still recommended to keep purely cardio-focused days and gym days separate to get the most out of both, there are some advantages to combining the two. It can be more fun, stimulating, and most importantly for many of us, efficient from a time perspective. If it’s your goal to try and merge cardiovascular and strength training into one session, here are a few tips…

  • Get more musculature involved! Exercises that challenge multiple areas of the body at once (deadlift, back squats, planks, etc…) will be sure to get your heart rate up.
  • Limit your rest time. Try keeping your rest times shorter by doing supersets to challenge more muscles in less time.
  • Do a HIIT circuit! Many gyms and studios offer circuit classes that get you moving around and performing cardio and strength-based movements in the same workout.
  • Use free weights. Using devices that get you up on your feet will typically challenge the cardiovascular system more. Having a mix of dumbbell, barbell, and kettlebell training will get your heart racing!
  • Utilize an airdyne, treadmill, or bike. If you want to stick with more of a traditional style for weight training, an easy way to get some cardio in is to hit a machine at the very end of your session. Even 5–10 minutes of moderate-intense cardio training can go a long way if you make it a habit!

Whether you’re trying to combine cardio and weight training or not, know that they’re innately inseparable to some degree! This is great news that should only further advocate gym training for those with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, or those wanting to work on overall fitness development, weight loss, and more.

In closing,

There is virtually no reason why you can’t consider your weight lifting sessions as cardiovascular training! As you’re exerting your body, the heart and lungs will naturally follow suit and get a workout of their own. If you despise activities like running or you’re super tight for time, take comfort in the fact that your time spent in the gym is also doing your cardiovascular system a huge favor.

Happy training!

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Kinesiologist & Blogger. 15k+ followers. Dedicated to writing relevant, up-to-date pieces on health and the human condition. My job (and joy) is to save you time and money by delivering the tools you need to take control of your own wellbeing. https://www.davidliira.com/

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