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Barbell Logic


May 7, 2024

We discuss why and how lifters should do cardio: what is most effective and why include it in your program at all? We answer these questions and more.

Why and How Lifters Should Do Cardio: What is Cardio?

Cardio is the term for those activities that raise your heart rate and stress your cardiovascular system. Another term - the term we prefer - is conditioning.

Conditioning tends to come more with the idea of a purpose, like training versus exercise. Cardio is more something you should do to get out of breath and sweaty.

There are three general reasons people do cardio.

  1. Weight loss: Cardio is not a great way to lose weight or get leaner. Rather, focus on nutrition, lift to create a signal for muscle growth, and generally be active.
  2. Performance: Conditioning helps you perform your sport or activity. For most clients, this means not feeling so out of breath when they play with their kids, go for a hike, or perform other physical activities then enjoy.
  3. Health: You may perform cardio to be generally more healthy, especially your cardiovascular system.

Why and How Lifters Should Do Cardio: Energy Systems

Cardio encompasses three energy systems.

  • Aerobic: This is low-intensity, long duration. You are almost certainly primarily using your aerobic energy system now. This encompasses normal life along with low-intensity exercise, such as walking or an easy jog. You oxidize fat and carbohydrates.
  • Glycolytic: Medium-intensity, medium duration (~10s - 2 minutes). You use this for things such as running intervals. You break down carbohydrates.
  • Phosphagen: High-intensity, short duration (~10s or less time). You use this for short bursts, such as a 50m sprint, a jump, or a 1RM effort. This uses ATP readily available in your muscles.

Conditioning for lifters will typically stress the aerobic and glycolytic energy systems, as lifting stresses the phosphagen system (and the glycolytic as well).

Why and How Lifters Should Do Cardio: Conditioning for Strength Athletes

Most lifters will want to incorporate some easy aerobic activity and then high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

For the aerobic activity, things that simply get you active suffice. This can mean walks. If you enjoy other activities, such as swimming, running, or biking, by all means do those in Zone 2.

To include intervals, you should perform low-impact, low-skill activities for relatively short durations repeatedly a few times a week.

This can look like accessory circuits at the end of your workouts, hill sprints, prowler pushes, or some type of machine intervals (bike, rower, elliptical, etc.).

Why and how lifters should do cardio depends, but there are some general principles and best practices that make sense for your performance and health.

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