Not everyone is a fan of cardio, and some particularly strength-adapted athletes are downright terrible at it.
At the same time, if you’re not doing any cardio, it’s probably holding you back, both in performance and long term health.
Finding the right cardio for you may take time. Here are a few options you can use to get in a cardio workout that don’t involve just slogging it out on the treadmill.
Cardio is an absolutely necessary part of any serious lifter’s toolkit. Cardiovascular health will not only help you live longer in the long run, but can also help your lifting by improving your ability to recover between sets and thus perform a higher volume of training in the long term.
While pseudoscientific statements like “cardio kills gains” are starting to be debunked and smart lifters are realizing that you can efficiently combine cardio and heavy lifting, the reality is that many lifters haven’t heard the news or still refuse to change their ways.
Worse, there are a lot of other lifters out there who won’t do cardio, not necessarily because they don’t think it’ll be useful, but because they just don’t like doing it.
Now that’s fine and all, but it’s a self-defeating attitude. Sometimes, the thing you want to do the least is precisely the thing that you need to do in order to improve.
In a previous post, I covered how I used to adore Bruce Lee, and I how learned from him a valuable cardio secret: how useful cycling is as a form of cardio that minimizes impact and blends well with heavy lifting. This is one of the methods I recommend for people who hate cardio, but since then I’ve added in a lot of other methods as well.
Here are some less well known (or non-traditional) cardio methods that you can use if you’re a meathead who hates cardio but still needs to get their sweat on:
Cycling - As mentioned in the above post, cycling is much less stressful on the joints, and it can even cause a bit more hypertrophy than your standard cardio if you crank up the intensity a bit.
Incline Walking - Hop on a treadmill, crank up the incline, and keep the speed low. Like cycling, this can even cause a bit of hypertrophy due to the added resistance, plus it’ll really hammer your calves, and is also minimal on impact. You can also add resistance via a weighted vest or something similar, for bonus points. This is one of my absolute favorites.
Weighted Carries/Yokes/Sleds - Walking with some added weight is a time-honored way to get in some cardio while still keeping the intensity high enough to stimulate a bit of muscle growth. Dragging sleds, carrying sandbags or rocks, walking with a weight on your shoulder, even pushing a heavy wheelbarrow - these are all ways to get your heart pumping.
Intervals - Interval training is an effective way to make a short cardio workout still pack a hefty punch. However, it’s no magic bullet, and the high intensity of these workouts can be considered either a blessing or a curse, depending on how much you like that kind of activity. If nothing else, being able to get your cardio over with quickly is usually worth it for lifters who don’t want to make a long cardio slog.
High Rep Sets/Circuits - High rep sets and circuits are probably my least favorite option. While you can still get your heart rate up with this kind of work, it’s usually a) less than you can do with traditional cardio, b) not as effective as you might think for building much size/strength, and c) likely to cause potential injury or recovery issues. That said, there are still many cases where this kind of training can be used effectively as cardio. For example, I have many clients without much gym equipment who would be better suited to doing some high rep bodyweight work. This option may not be the greatest, but if nothing else works, it’s still a solid fallback.
Going For A Walk - If nothing else, consider going for a walk a few times a week. Toss on a podcast or an audiobook. Listen to some music. Schedule a phone call and walk around your neighborhood while you talk. See if you can walk somewhere instead of driving, or skip a leg on public transit. Take the stairs. It’s not ideal because it would take a real long time to get a serious cardiovascular effect, but the little stuff can still add up.
If you hate cardio, that’s fine. Welcome to the club. But if you’re not doing cardio? Well, that’s a mistake. Get creative if you have to.
About Adam Fisher
Adam is an experienced fitness coach and blogger who's been blogging for 5+ years, coaching for 6+ years, and lifting for 12+ years. He's written for numerous major health publications, including Personal Trainer Development Center, T-Nation, Bodybuilding.com, Fitocracy, and Juggernaut Training Systems.
During that time he has coached hundreds of individuals of all levels of fitness, including competitive powerlifters and older exercisers regaining the strength to walk up a flight of stairs. His own training revolves around powerlifting and bodybuilding.
Adam writes about fitness, health, science, philosophy, personal finance, self-improvement, productivity, the good life, and everything else that interests him. When he's not writing or lifting, he's usually hanging out with his cat or feeding his video game addiction.
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