The good old debate, can you get stronger while doing cardio. It’s definitely an interesting question since the 2 training methodologies are on both ends of the training spectrum. One (getting stronger) is considered to be done by doing short intense working sets, with calculated rest in between. Two (cardio) is generally done by putting in a consistent effort over a longer period of time. Where one is focused on getting the muscular system stronger and bigger, the other is focused on improving the aerobic system and capacity (your ability to use oxygen while moving/training). However much these 2 training systems differ from each other, I still believe that both systems can complement each other.
Check out my two blogs on how strength training and running can compliment each other here and here.
If your body is better at taking in oxygen and using it (because of cardio), your body will recover better when you’re resting in between strength sets. If your muscular system is stronger (because of strength training), you will notice that your legs don’t get as tired and it takes less effort to do the hilly parts of your runs for example.
So now that we have talked about how these 2 training systems are different from one another, while still being able to complement each other, let’s actually talk about the question we started this whole thing of with. Can you get stronger while doing cardio?
You have to ask yourself the question first, what am I trying to achieve? and what am I currently doing to get there?
If you’re actually just focused on getting stronger, why are you focusing on doing cardio? Just because the 2 can complement each other doesn’t mean that doing cardio will make you stronger all of a sudden. Lifting heavy weights at the right intensity with right stimulus and variance will make you stronger. Cardio is great and all but if your sole focus is lifting more weight, start lifting more weights. Not more as in more reps or sets but more as in your intensity. If you feel like you can still do 5+ reps after you’re done with your set, you’re not lifting heavy enough to get stronger. You have to follow the intensity that is linked to the amount of rep you’re doing. If you’re doing 5 sets of 5 back squats, you have to do that at 80-85% of your 1RM (or 8-9 on the RPE scale), lifting that heavy will force you to rest longer (3minutes) between sets.
What if you’re trying to become equally as strong as aerobically conditioned?
You will have to figure out what your strength and weaknesses are already. Is it easier for you to gain strength than aerobic capacity? you should probably spend more time doing longer conditioning workouts at a lower heart rate 60-70% of your workouts, while lifting 30-40 % of time. If this is the complete opposite for you, you will have to spend more time lifting weights than conditioning obviously. However, I would advise you to spend even more time lifting weights than conditioning since it tends to be harder to gain strength in comparison. I would advise you to hold a 70-80% (strength training) and 20-30% (cardio) split.
Obviously, this is me giving you very generalized advice without knowing anything about you. For most people that are looking to get stronger will have to remember what will get them there, up the intensity while lifting weights. Lifting more reps and sets won’t necessarily get you there, more weights during your sets will.
Nobody ever said that running made them able to bench press 20 kilos more, because it doesn’t. Just keep that in the back of your mind.
Nothing wrong with cardio mixed in with strength training but put your main focus on the things that will help you get to your goal.
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