How to Use Cardio to Make Your Strength Training Better

You should stop ignoring the potential benefits that come with aerobic exercise.

Times are changing, but odds are that if you’re a weightlifter, you have an aversion to aerobic exercise. Perhaps it’s because you’ve heard that it can sabotage your strength gains and muscle growth. Or maybe it’s because you have limited time to work out, and believe that every second spent pounding the pavement (or grinding out miles on the bike or laps in the pool) is a second that could have been better spent pumping iron. Whatever the reason, it’s time to move past this persistent myth.

Here’s the truth: Weaving cardio into your strength training program can not only enhance your lifting performance, but also advance every other training goal, including muscle growth and strength development.

The reason is that the stronger and more efficient your cardiovascular system is at delivering oxygen and nutrients to working muscles (and clearing metabolic waste away from them), the more power you’ll be able to put into every rep, the more reps you’ll be able to do (thanks to greater fatigue resistance), and the faster you’ll be able to recover between sets and exercises.

That all adds up to better workout performance, and better performance equals better (and faster) results. Plus, adding cardio to a strength training program can help you burn additional calories, giving extra definition to your hard-earned muscle—as long as you’re smart about how you go about it. Overdo the aerobic work, and the myth gains some credence by way of overtraining.

Your move: You can either weave cardio into one or more of your weekly strength sessions, or do it between them. If you decide to layer it into a strength workout, you can either design a calorie-crushing finisher, or combine the two modalities by doing circuit or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Then give yourself 48 hours to recover before your next workout.

If you do cardio between resistance workouts, focus on “steady state” aerobic exercise, such as a low to moderate intensity run or bike ride. As long as you maintain a “conversational” pace and log at least a couple of miles, you’ll reap the cardio benefits mentioned above. Go faster than that, however, and you risk hampering not only your recovery from your last strength workout, but also your performance in your next one.