Can weight training be a form of cardio?

This is how to get your heart rate up during your weights session to build muscular and cardiovascular strength at the same time. 

Whether you prefer weight training to running or yoga to HIIT, we all know that a well-balanced workout routine will include a little bit of everything. That might mean that your week includes a few strength-focused sessions, a run and a yoga class. 

But the thing is, exercise isn’t always that prescriptive. While there’s definitely certain styles of training that will target one skill at a time, such as how three to five reps per set works on strength, most exercise works multiple aspects of your fitness. 

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For example, you may have noticed that your legs feel a bit stronger after running, despite the exercise being famed for it’s cardiovascular benefits. Weight lifting can also get your heart pumping fast, but does that mean it counts towards your cardio goal? We asked Alice Miller and Emma Obayuvana, fitness trainers from the Strong Women Collective, to explain. “

“This will surprise some people, but lifting can be a form of cardio,” begins Alice. “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.” You can work out your rough max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220, for example, the max heart rate of a 30-year-old would be around 190 BPM. 

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

If you dislike traditional forms of cardio, that’s great news. But does that mean you can swap out any other training for lifting weights? It is really going to depend on what your goals are, says Alice: “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. But if you just want a good all-round level of fitness, it would be good to do a couple of solely cardio-focused sessions a week.” 

Emma agrees, saying that “running or swimming have greater cardiovascular loads 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.”

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However, we can up-the-ante in the gym to make weight training have a bigger impact on our heart. To start, look at how much time you spend 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,” says Alice. 

Emma recommends doing supersets or circuits as well as decreasing the rest time between sets to make sure your weight training taps into the cardiovascular system. “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,” she says. 

If you’re more advanced, you can also do a type of training called interval weight training, which combines athletic lifts with aerobic exercise. “An alternative to that would be CrossFit style workouts as these challenge people across different domains and modalities,” Alice adds. 

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Images: Getty

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