Resistance training and cardio exercise can indeed co-exist. In fact, blending them together creates the ideal time-saving gym session. All you have to do is make a few intensity-amplifying tweaks to your existing strength workout and it can drive up your heart rate, burn more calories and improve your cardiovascular health, says New York City-based trainer Laura Miranda, DPT, CSCS, exercise physiologist. Get started on getting more from your workout by following these six strategies that marry weights and cardio. You just might find you’re having more fun, too.
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6 Tips for Turning Up the Cardio on Your Strength Workout
1. Vary your rest.
The first way to spike your heart rate while strength training: Perform each move back to back with as little rest as possible — that is, while still maintaining good form. Miranda prefers a ladder approach to accomplish this goal. After the first round of resistance exercises, rest for 20 seconds. On the second set, rest for 15 seconds; and the third, pause for a 10-second break. As your body gets less and less time to recover, it taxes your aerobic system, she explains. Keep in mind, because you can’t lift at max weight with this many sets, it’s a good goal for fat loss, rather than strictly strength gains.
2. Hold weights in both hands.
Rather than putting all your effort into single-arm movements for exercises like curls, rows or extensions, pick up two dumbbells or kettlebells. Then, go to town. Doing upper-body bilateral movements — like bicep curls with both hands moving at the same time — increases your heart rate more than when focusing on one arm at a time, according to a 2017 study in The Journal of Strength Conditioning Research.
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3. Pepper in plyometrics.
Explosive movements — think squat jumps and jumping lunges — are super effective and efficient for cranking up your cardio, while still building muscle. To maximize the payoff of these powerful moves, perform at least 15 reps of each exercise. This can keep your heart rate elevated for up to 50 minutes post-exercise, according to one study.
Miranda also recommends combining plyos with a strength and coordination move to lessen some of the jarring impact on your body. For example: Do a dumbbell lateral lunge, followed by a bear crawl, then end with broad jumps. Take a brief rest before cycling through those three exercises again.
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4. Lighten your load.
“Explosive movements are super effective and efficient for cranking up your cardio.”
In a traditional strength workout, you’d pick up a weight heavy enough that you could only do a few reps for up to 45 seconds, says Miranda. But to hit the sweet spot where lifting turns more aerobic, opt for lighter weights that allow you to perform a set for one to two minutes. You might even drop the weight altogether and work for longer periods (i.e. go from a weighted squat to simply bodyweight squats). Or, grab a set of five- to eight-pound weights and perform a move like dumbbell uppercuts for one minute. Trust us, it will burn.
5. Try a two-fer.
Why do a squat or a bicep curl or an overhead press when you can be super efficient and do all three at once? Compound movements like this one require you to use more muscle groups, which gives you a greater metabolic boost, says Miranda. Even better, these multi-move exercises test your coordination. Some others to add to your exercise repertoire: a push-up with row, reverse lunge with triceps extensions, curtsy lunge with bicep curl or a glute bridge with chest press.
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6. Go beyond everyday exercises.
No doubt you’ve done a burpee or 10. After all, they’re used in many workouts because they’re an efficient way to get your heart rate up between strength sets. “When you choose movements that your body is not used to doing — like getting on and off the floor, as you do for a burpee — it enhances the difficulty of your workout,” says Miranda. (Typically, we’re used to simply sitting, standing and walking.) A burpee requires you to use all major muscle groups at once, which is probably why research shows this move is nearly as good as bicycle sprints in terms of gaining cardiovascular benefits.
Another similar way to enhance the cardio challenge: Do moves that work your body in different planes of motion, says Miranda. For instance, a forward lunge, followed by a side lunge, then wrap it up with a backward lunge. “Our bodies are not used to moving in those sequences,” she says. Wood chops or 180 squat jumps will also do the trick. So not only will you feel your muscles getting fatigue, but you’ll breath heavy while you’re at it. A single workout for strength and cardio…you’re welcome.