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Boost Your Exercise Efficiency Through Mixing Cardio and Strength Workouts

If the idea of a “cardio day” fills you with anxiety, you’re not alone. While many individuals enjoy aerobic activities (cheers to all the marathoners!), there are others who see the necessity of integrating it into their routine to reap its cardiovascular benefits.

A recent research article published in the European Heart Journal in 2024, centered on individuals with excess weight or obesity and high blood pressure, disclosed that substituting half of your cardio session with strength exercises can yield comparable cardiovascular advantages.

The group that combined resistance and aerobic workouts observed a 6% drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Likewise, the group that exclusively participated in aerobic exercises experienced a 5% decrease in LDL cholesterol. Both groups encountered a 1-inch reduction in waist circumference.

These favorable results were absent in groups that only conducted resistance training or no physical activity at all, underscoring the significance of incorporating cardio. Nonetheless, the study implies that splitting your workout time between aerobic and resistance exercises can still offer some benefits akin to concentrating solely on cardio.

An additional advantage was that exclusively the combined exercise group demonstrated enhancements in both cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength.

All the exercise groups in the study worked out for an hour, with the combined group segmenting their session into 30-minute intervals for aerobic and resistance exercises.

Dr. Duck-chul Lee, the investigator of the study and a professor of physical activity epidemiology at Iowa State University, remarked that the combined exercise regimen led to better compliance rates over the year-long study.

“This indicates that integrating weight training may be more sustainable than exclusively focusing on aerobic exercise for individuals with excess weight or obesity,” Dr. Lee suggested.

Below are effective strategies to mix cardio and strength exercises in your workout routine – along with alternatives if you favor one type over the other.

Incorporating Cardio and Strength Workouts

By blending your workouts, you are likely to observe enhancements in both your cardiovascular and resistance training performance. Aerobic activities can enhance your muscle stamina, making weightlifting more bearable for extended durations.

Ellen Thompson, CPT, head personal trainer at Blink Fitness in NYC, elucidates, “Integrating different exercises in one session assists in sustaining a well-rounded workout by targeting diverse muscle groups.”

Here are Thompson’s suggestions for merging cardio and weightlifting across 30-minute, 40-minute, and 60-minute workout sessions.

30-minute workout

Warm-up: Initiate with five minutes of gentle cardio like jogging, brisk walking, or cycling to elevate your heart rate.

Circuit training: Alternate between strength and cardio exercises. Execute each strength move for 45 to 60 seconds followed by 30 seconds of cardio. Repeat this cycle three times.

Sample circuit:

  • Push-ups (strength) for 45 seconds
  • High knees (cardio) for 30 seconds
  • Dumbbell rows (strength) for 45 seconds
  • Mountain climbers (cardio) for 30 seconds
  • Squats (strength) for 45 seconds
  • Jumping jacks (cardio) for 30 seconds

Cool down: Conclude with five minutes of stretching to enhance flexibility and alleviate muscle soreness.

40-minute workout

Warm-up: Commence with five minutes of dynamic stretching or light cardio to prime your body for the workout.

Strength training: Concentrate on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups concurrently. Finish three sets of each exercise with 10 to 12 reps per set. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Sample compound exercises:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Chest presses
  • Bent-over rows
  • Lunges

Cardio: Engage in 30 seconds of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) followed by 30 seconds of low-intensity recovery for 15 minutes.

Sample cardio exercises:

  • Sprinting
  • Jump squats
  • Burpees
  • Jumping lunges
  • Speed skaters

Cool down: End with five minutes of static stretching to enhance flexibility.

60-minute workout

Warm-up: Commence with 10 minutes of light cardio integrated with dynamic stretches to enhance blood flow and loosen your muscles.

Strength training: Divide your routine into upper- and lower-body training. Complete three sets of each exercise, with 10 to 12 repetitions per set, and rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Sample upper-body exercises:

  • Bench press
  • Pull-ups or lat pulldowns
  • Shoulder press
  • Biceps curls
  • Triceps dips

Sample lower-body exercises:

  • Squats
  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Leg press
  • Step-ups
  • Leg curls

Cardio: Participate in 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio like jogging, cycling, or utilizing the elliptical machine to sustain your heart rate.

Cool down: Conclude with 10 minutes of static stretching to enhance flexibility and reduce muscle tension.

“Integrating different exercises in one session assists in maintaining a well-rounded workout by targeting diverse muscle groups.” —Ellen Thompson, CPT

Overcoming Obstacles in Combined Workouts

If you encounter difficulties incorporating variety into your workout schedule, it may stem from ingrained habits, uncertainty about techniques, or challenges with convenience.

Sarah Pope, CPT, a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Life Time Westchester, remarked, “Our bodies and minds tend to adhere to what’s familiar and comfortable. It’s when we surpass those mental boundaries that we uncover our true strengths and capabilities.”

When introducing cardio into your routine, view it as an enjoyable means to inject diversity into your workout regime. Similarly, persisting with the same regimen might heighten the risk of injury, according to Pope.

If you are uncertain about executing certain cardio exercises, this uncertainty could hinder your progress. If feasible, seek guidance from a personal trainer to grasp the correct technique, at least initially.

Incorporating both cardiovascular and resistance exercises into your routine aids in preventing fitness plateaus.

“Over time, your body can adapt to specific exercises,” Thompson emphasized. “This adaptation can lead to a plateau in progress. By incorporating a range of exercises, you challenge your body, disrupt plateaus, and stimulate growth.”

Remember, a gym is not obligatory for both cardio and strength training. While utilizing a fitness center to access treadmills, stationary bikes, weight equipment, and dumbbells may be convenient, you can also opt for outdoor workouts.

“Individuals can run outdoors and include resistance exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups, and bodyweight squats before or after running,” Dr. Lee recommended.

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