When it comes down to how we like to work out, two distinct camps usually emerge. There are those who love cardio – and live for mixing up their HIIT workouts, and then there are those who prefer a barbell and squat rack kind of life.
I fall firmly within the latter group. While my three or four strength training sessions a week are one of the biggest joys in my life and have a positive impact on my mental health, my single weekly cardio session often makes me want to curl up and cry.
Because I hate running and you’ll only ever find me in a spin class if I’m short on time, I struggle to find the motivation to dedicate a whole session to it – even when I know how important maintaining my cardiovascular health is.
Even so, that doesn’t mean it’s always the most exciting part of a workout to complete. However, on the suggestion of one of my friends, I’ve started trying something new: a 15 minute cardio blast at the end of my strength training.
Here’s why it’s transformed my weekly workout.
Why is cardio so important?
“Cardio is important because it lowers blood pressure, decreases the risk of heart diseases and improves blood flow,” says personal trainer Darina Draganova. “But cardiovascular training is misunderstood at times, because not everyone is aware of all it’s other benefits,” she explains. “For one, it helps build your aerobic base which is incredibly important for recovery, stress management and even sleep.”
The benefits of adding a cardio finisher to your strength training
“If you finish your workout and do some lower intensity cardio, like treadmill walking, your body will deplete the last of it’s stored glycogen which switches on your aerobic energy system,” Draganova explains.
“For me, it’s important that my clients enjoy their workouts rather than being strict with cardio and becoming demotivated,” Draganova says. “I always tend to prioritise resistance training, but cardiovascular training is nevertheless just as important, and one could really benefit the other.”
For me, adding in cardio finishers makes my weight training more effective. Even after a heavy leg day, I’ve found that a session on the stationary bike helps keep the blood pumping to my legs, reducing stiffness and DOMS.
Plus, only having to commit to such a short amount of time rather than a full hour means I enjoy it much more. I actually look forward to it as a post-lifting winddown session where I can pop on a podcast and pedal the time away – which is something I never thought I’d say.
When should you add cardio into your workout?
As the name suggests, a cardio finisher should be completed at the end of your workout. This is because high-intensity intervals are taxing on the nervous system and can drain you of energy, meaning you’ll tire quickly if you do them before the bulk of your lifting. Not only can this throw off your routine, you risk injury from bad form caused by lifting while exhausted.
The same rule applies for completing cardio in between strength training sets. If you’re looking to build strength, it’s important to give yourself the proper amount of time in order for your central nervous system to recover.
Therefore, it’s best to use cardio finishers as a fun way to push yourself at the end of a workout. You might be out of breath and dripping with sweat, but you’ll end on a high.
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How to add a cardio finisher to your strength training workout
“Ideally, you should focus on the same muscle group you’ve been working on throughout your session,” Draganova advises. “So if you’ve had an intense lower body workout, your finisher should be something like spinning instead of rowing.”
“Pick something that is enjoyable,” she adds. “The crosstrainer is a great option as it is low impact, works out the whole body and you can easily play around with the intensity. Also you can focus on specific muscle groups better depending on your positioning, so that’s another plus.”
After your quick-fire cardio, why not have a go at one of our 30-minute strength training classes?