Is weight training good for your heart? Fitness trainers explain if lifting helps your cardiovascular system

Posted by for Strong Women

Is weight training good for your heart? Fitness trainers answer the most googled questions.

We’ll often judge how hard we train by how fast our heart beats. Something like running tends to get our heart rate up quickly and sustain it for the entire time you’re training, which is why we refer to it as ‘cardio’ – it’s working the cardiovascular system.

While your heart rate still goes up during weight training (have you ever tried to hold a conversation with someone during a set of squats? We rest our case), your heart will usually slow down again during your rest period. For that reason, we tend to think of weight training as a muscle building sport.

But that doesn’t mean that weight training isn’t good for your heart. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Each week, we ask fitness trainers to answer the most googled questions from women about weight training. This week, Zara Ozard and Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women ambassador, are explaining if and how weight training is good for your heart.

Is weight training good for your heart?

ZARA OZARD

“It is, because weight training increases lean muscle mass which improves blood flow. It can also help your heart to become stronger and therefore the blood can be pumped around the body more effectively. That helps to reduce blood pressure as there will be less strain on the arteries overall. It can also help lower cholesterol and keep your blood sugar levels stable. All of that in turn that helps reduce the chances of heart related problems and disease.

“Some new studies show that weight training can help heart health more than it has been thought to in the past. Iowa State University published one showing how weight training reduced the chance of having a heart attack or stroke by between 40 and 70%.” 

EMMA OBAYUVANA

“Yes it is good for your heart. Big compound lifts use a lot of work so your heart rate does go up when you train, but you can’t sustain that heart rate. Building muscle will also improve your cardio health.”

Is weight training or cardio better for your heart?

ZARA OZARD

“I would always suggest that you are doing both cardio activities like running or cycling as well as weight training because they both have different benefits. Cardio will sustain an increased heart rate but strength training encourages heart health in other ways. One isn’t better than the other: they’re both complimentary.”

EMMA OBAYUVANA

“Aerobic exercise (such as running), in which your body needs oxygen and gets your heart rate up for a long period of time, is generally good for your heart. Anaerobic exercise is more about bursts of movement that don’t require oxygen, like weight lifting, and tend to build strength. But if you want optimal heart health, you should focus on both to improve the pump of your heart as well as the muscles which support it.”

What should your heart rate be during weight training?

ZARA OZARD

“It’s more about what it shouldn’t be, and that’s too close to your maximum heart rate. It’s hard to say, and I think people should focus more on form and training, than checking their watch to see their heart rate during weight training.”

EMMA OBAYUVANA

“You shouldn’t really have your heart rate elevated beyond the maximum rate, which is roughly 220 minus your age. You would expect your heart rate to go up quite a bit when lifting as you’re working on power. I just focus on my form, the reps, and the weight rather than the heart rate.”

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