Can weight training be a form of cardio? Fitness trainers explain how to get your heart rate up during strength training

Posted by for Strong Women

This is how to get your heart rate up in your weights session so that you can build muscular and cardiovascular strength at the same time. 

We all know that our exercise routines should include a nice balance of strength training, cardiovascular work, mobility and stretching. Perhaps for you that looks like a few weight sessions, a run and a weekly yoga class, or maybe you do a sweaty circuit at the end of your lifting to get it all done in one workout.

The thing is, exercise isn’t that black and white. While there’s definitely certain styles of training that targets just one skill, such as strength or endurance, most exercise works multiple aspects of your fitness. 

For example, you may have noticed that your strength sets are getting your heart pumping fast. But does that count as cardio? Each week, Stylist’s Strong Women ambassadors Alice Miller and Emma Obayuvana answer some of the most asked questions from women who want to get into lifting. Today, they’re explaining whether weight lifting can count as cardio.

Can weight training be classed as cardio?

Alice Miller:

“Yes, which will surprise some people. There’s so many different variations of cardio, and weight training can be one. Just think about how much your heart rate elevates when you’re doing your normal weights session. As long as your heart rate is above around 60% of your maximum heart rate, you will get a sweat on, you’ll be out of breath and you’ll be working the cardiovascular system.”

Emma Obayuvana:

“If you increase your heart rate and keep it elevated, that is working your cardiovascular system. Most of us will raise our heart rate when we’re lifting weights, so yes it definitely can be cardio.”

Weight training can be considered cardio if it's getting your heart rate up

Can you do weight training as your only form of cardio?

Alice Miller:

“It is really going to depend on what your goals are. Powerlifters very rarely do cardio because their sole purpose is to get stronger and to build up muscle, so running wouldn’t help them reach their goals. If you just want a good all round level of fitness, it would be good to do a couple of cardio sessions a week. I would say spread out the level of intensity, but don’t do back to back HIIT sessions. That is the biggest no no.”

Emma Obayuvana:

“I wouldn’t say weight training should be the only form of cardio that most people do. Something like running or swimming has a greater cardiovascular load than strength training, so I wouldn’t discard traditional cardiovascular training. It’s important to do to ensure that your heart is healthy and that your lungs are strong – as long as you don’t have any pre-existing heart or breathing problems.”

How can you make weight training a form of cardio?

Alice Miller:

“Look at how much time you’re spending under tension. That means working on the tempo so you spend more time lowering or lifting the weight and your heart rate stays elevated for more time. If you’re more advanced, you can also do a type of training called interval weight training. This combines athletic lifts with aerobic exercise, and it’s usually structured across three blocks in a session. An alternative to that would be CrossFit style workouts as these challenge people across different domains and modalities.”

Emma Obayuvana:

“If you want to make sure that your weight training taps into cardio, you could perform your exercises as circuits or decrease the rest time between sets. If you do that then make sure your form is perfect as you’ll be moving faster through the movements and giving your body less recovery times so you’re at greater risk of injury.”

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Images: Getty

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