If you’re changing up your workout protocol, you might be wondering what the affects are of adding cardio into your strength training program.
Your primary focus is to build up more lean muscle mass and increase strength and power output, but at the same time, you want to maintain good heart-health while also ensuring that you are keeping your body composition to a desirable level.
So should you do cardio or not? Are the benefits worth the risk?
Weighing the Factors of Adding Cardio To Strength Training
The Body Fat Factor
First, we need to address the issue of body fat as that is one of the primary reasons why athletes consider adding cardio to their strength training. They do it because they don’t want to gain body fat as they go about their muscle building plan.
But, what you need to remember here is that fat gain is not the result of lack of cardio. It’s the result of too many calories.
So if you want to prevent fat gain, the solution is simple. Eat less.
You don’t have to burn more, just eat less and your total calorie balance will go down. It’s far easier to control fat gain or loss through your diet anyway compared to doing hours on the cardio machines.
The Intensity Factor
The second thing that you need to take note of to properly determine if adding cardio to strength training is right for you is what the intensity that you are doing the sessions with is.
Are you doing intense sprint interval training or long steady state sessions?
If you’re doing intervals, it’s going to be a double edged sword. First, you will be more mimicking the activity of strength training with this variation of cardio, so for this reason it tends to be strength enhancing.
However, do too much of it and now it’s going to impact your weight room performance. Because both weight lifting along with interval training are going to be highly stressful on the central nervous system, if you are doing too much of both, you’re in for overtraining. And, if you’re overtraining, you can be assured of one thing and that is that you are not going to be seeing strength gains of any sort.
So there has to be balance here.
On the alternative side of things, you could do your steady state cardio training, doing the typical 40-60 minutes of exercise per session. This would then be endurance training and would not be as taxing on the central nervous system like interval training would be.
But, don’t be so quick to think you’re better off.
As one study published in the Sports Medicine training illustrated, when individuals do too much endurance training work, it impacts their ability to see maximum strength development.
The theory put forth here is that the body cannot adapt metabolically or morphologically to both strength and endurance training, thus maximum gains in both areas of exercise are limited.
So interval training is a better form of cardio training to do, but you really need to be careful you don’t do too much of it. You are walking a fine line by doing it in the first place.
So what’s the ultimate solution? If you’re simply looking to boost heart health and burn a few calories, simply do some very low intensity cardio training 2-3 times per week for 15-20 minutes.
This is all you really need for ‘heart health’ and if the intensity is kept low enough, it will actually make for good active recovery, meaning you will boost your ability to come back to your strength oriented sessions stronger than before.
The main thing to remember is to never overdo it. If you start to feel like you aren’t as fresh coming into the weight room, this is a good indication that too much cardio is occurring of any variety.
And, also keep in mind that if you are doing intense strength training workouts, you will be getting a cardiovascular workout at the same time, therefore there really is no need to perform additional cardio training for ‘health’ reasons in the first place.