How To Incorporate Cardio Into Your Strength Training Routine

Kim Brenton
Written By: Kim Brenton
September 6th, 2013
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
32.7K Reads
Set aside traditional cardio and burn some extra calories while you are pumping iron. Kim Brenton shows you how to kick your resistance training workouts up a notch.

If I could get a dime for every time someone has asked me if I was a runner.  And then another one for the confusion that follows when I tell them I rarely ever do “traditional” cardio.

You’ll hardly ever see my butt parked on a piece of cardio equipment at the gym.  I start off all my workouts with approximately 5 minutes of warm up on a stepmill or elliptical just to get my heart rate up, and then it’s straight to the weights.

The only instance where I spend any significant amount of time (15+ minutes) doing traditional cardio is within the last 6-10 weeks of training for a bodybuilding competition, where I need to be leaner than usual.   Even then, I’ll only do either 2 sessions of HIIT, OR four 20-minute sessions of steady state cardio per week- still nothing crazy.

Why, you ask?  Simple - I don’t enjoy traditional cardio (I don’t run unless I’m being chased) and it’s not necessary for either my cardiovascular health or maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.  If you think about what cardiovascular activity is - any physical activity that raises your heart rate, then you realize that there are so many choices of cardiovascular activity outside of the most popular pieces of gym equipment.

You can even incorporate cardio into your strength training routine by doing circuit training, super sets, or simply having short or active rest periods where you keep moving by performing another exercise between sets- like burpees, push-ups, ab work, the possibilities are endless.  I keep my body fat percentage in check by maintaining a decent amount of lean muscle mass and eating a fairly clean diet.  That’s it.

A common misconception that many people have is that they need to do a lot of cardio and eat less, which they think will result in a skinnier, more toned body.  Hate to break it to you, but no.  You will lose fat that way, but you won’t change the shape of your body.  You’ll simply become a smaller, swishier version of yourself.

Although I’m a huge advocate of participating in an exercise method you truly love, I have to tell you that strength training is the only exercise method that can change the composition of your body.  So if your goals are to shape and tone your body, strength training needs to become a part of your normal routine.

I know this can be intimidating.  It definitely was for me.  I felt awkward and out of place - a typical skinny girl, lost on the lifting floor.  But I stuck with it, and I began to see changes.

Then I felt stronger.  Then I was constantly searching for more information and looking for new strength training techniques to try in the gym.  Next thing you know, I was a national level NPC competitor.

And I am by far a unique case.  I’ve had the privilege of watching some amazing people begin their journey on the lifting floor and have watched them transform right in front of my eyes.

If you’re interested in giving strength training a try, but don’t know where to start, give this a read.  It’s an article I wrote for Muscle & Strength a while back about how to get started with lifting.

All my cardio bunnies, calm down.  I’m not saying don’t do traditional cardio or that running, or the elliptical is bad for you.  Not at all!  If that’s what you enjoy, go for it.  I think both strength training and traditional cardio have their place.

I’m merely suggesting that instead of spending hours upon hours on the traditional cardio machines, take some of that elliptical time and spend it pumping iron.  And if you’re ever short on time in the gym and you’re wondering which you should knock out, you already know my answer - always strength training over cardio.

Reasons to Choose Strength Training

Author Kim BrentonStill not convinced?

Here’s a list of reasons why I always choose strength training over cardio:

Strength training builds lean muscle.

As lean muscle increases, so does your resting metabolism, which means you’ll burn more calories at rest.  Basically, the more toned you are, the easier it is to control your weight.

Boost stamina.

As you get stronger, you won’t fatigue as easily.

You’ll tone without getting “bulky”.

Many women have the misconception that strength training will result in big, bulky “manly” muscles.  I don’t even have the time or space in this post to explain to you why this is silly.  Building muscle mass is not something that just accidently happens overnight.  The amount of food, dedicated HEAVY lifting, and sleep required to make those kinds of gains just don’t happen by accident.

And you know what?  If you wake up one day, look in the mirror and decide that you are more muscular than you’d like to be, you could change up your lifting routine that day.  None of the changes you make in the gym and the kitchen are permanent.  That’s the beauty of strength training.  You can design your routine to accomplish a variety of different goals.

Decreased risk of osteoporosis.

Research has shown that strength training can increase spinal bone mineral density.

Reduces risk of injury, back pain, and arthritis.

Not only does strength training build stronger muscles, but it also builds stronger connective tissue and increases joint stability.

Strength training builds confidence.

Once you discover that you’re a lot stronger and more capable than you realize, your confidence will increase.

Makes you happy.

A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling.

That photo up there on the RIGHT?

That’s me - 6 months after having a 9 lb baby.  Guess how I got there.  Yep.  You got it.

Now go lift!

Posted on: Sat, 09/07/2013 - 17:46

i agree with these words 100% "Strength training builds confidence."

Posted on: Fri, 09/06/2013 - 21:08

Great article Kim, I try and instill the same knowledge with my female clients and they are always amazed at the results compared to there "normal" routines. After a while and getting over every little oz on the bathroom scale they are just happy with how much better they feel and look. This from age 17 to 60, and don't get me started on trying to explain the "bulky muscle" question. Thanks