How to Incorporate Cardio in an Effective Strength-Training Program

I know I told you I wasn’t going to do it – that is, start talking more and more about fitness on this blog. This is a food blog and it will remain as such. However, one of my readers, Amelia, asked an important question in response to The Burn Box, and I would like to share my response with all of you and invite anyone who wishes to discuss. The question is:

After much deliberating and in need of a new training plan to follow I have decided to start the NROLFW. I read the book this past weekend and started on Monday. I have lifted heavy in the past, then of course read mixed reviews about lifting vs. cardio and my lifting began to slack off. So far I like the plan. However, I am a bit confused on the cardio part. I was used to running about 25 miles per week, but I’m not sure how that would effect and/or fit into NROLFW. Any thoughts/ suggestions/ or help you can offer about how to incorporate a healthy amount of cardio would be great! I am following the suggested meal plans in the book and doing my best to stay in the 40/30/30 range. Thank you!

You may have noticed me reference NROLFW. This is short for The New Rules of Lifting for Women, a great program which teaches the importance and benefits of heavy lifting for women. More than just a workout program, the author tells women something we don’t often hear: that we don’t need to do that much cardio. That the hours we are used to spending on the elliptical or pounding the pavement are just not very effective for muscle building and fat loss, and that if we want to see progress in our strength training program, we need to limit the long-endurance cardio.

Many women simply don’t want to accept this because it goes against everything most of us have been taught for years. I had a hard time myself. The book suggests that you really only need your lifting program, and that’s three times per week. As someone used to working out 5 or 6 days per week, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that and so I confess I’ve always maintained an extra 2-3 days of cardio on top of the lifting program. Here is my response to Amelia:

Hi Amelia, First of all, thanks for the kind words! It really means a lot.

As for cardio w/NROLFW, the book explains it best, but my understanding is that the body can’t effectively train for long endurance-style cardio and build muscle/strength at the same time. They are two opposing biological mechanisms. As your body gets used to longer endurance cardio, your metabolism is becoming more efficient: that is, learning to run itself on less fuel, in order to conserve energy for what lies ahead. The idea between heavy weight lifting in order to build strength is that you train your metabolism to become less effective: that is, requiring lots of energy to repair and build muscles. This is done through short spurts at high intensity followed by recovery.

This is not to say you can’t do any cardio along with NROLFW, and my personal opinion is that you can do more than what the authors suggest. However, I wouldn’t suggest doing anything extreme like training for a long distance event, does that make sense? If you enjoy cardio, I would still keep up with it, but maybe you can mix it up a bit. Take advantage of HIIT workouts (which are a part of the program beginning in stage 2 or 3). Usually, I don’t do these on the same day I lift, instead I make this part of my cardio day – I will do the HIIT and then round out an hour or so with steady-state work such as running. Try plyometric drills (body weight matrix is coming your way!) or bunch jumping. Give a shot at kickboxing or step aerobics. Again, the ieda is that we are constantly mixing things up so our bodies don’t get complacent with one kind of activity. Hope this helps!

I feel confident in saying I’ve been pretty successful with this program over the past year, with the amount of cardio I’ve done. Could I have done better, and is there still room for improvement? Of course. As I said (and you can see in my workout log in the “Burn Box”) I still do a decent amount of cardio. Sometimes I wonder if even that is “too much”, though. What do you all think? For those who have been wondering about how to mix cardio with strength training, does this explanation help? For this with experience, what has worked for you? Have you had to make changes with your cardio routine along the way to see more progress?

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5 Responses to “How to Incorporate Cardio in an Effective Strength-Training Program”

  1. 1

    legend_018 — January 17, 2010 @ 3:52 pm Reply

    hey just wanted to say that i have NROLFW. It's great. I am not using it right now, as I'm trying to do the Workout of the Day over at Crossfit, but it's a GREAT book to have.

  2. 2

    legend_018 — January 17, 2010 @ 3:54 pm Reply

    oh and right now I'm testing the short, but sweet cardio sessions. I'm curious to see how well it really works since most people think that you have to work out for at least 45 minutes on a cardio bike to gain results. I've been doing a 9 minute tabata workout using my jumprope. 20 secs on, 10 sec break for 9 minutes with 1 minute break in the middle.

  3. 3

    kellycooks — January 18, 2010 @ 2:42 pm Reply

    Wonderful post :)I know you don't want this blog to become too much of a fitness blog, but I feel like you have so much knowledge to share, you should explore it! (Whether that's here, or in another blog or format, is up to you!)

  4. 4

    hoosier — January 23, 2010 @ 9:41 pm Reply

    When I started working with my trainer for my wedding I was running 3 times a week, swimming, and working out hard on the moving stairs. He told me that I was working out too "hard" and I had to cut it back. It went against everything I knew! I started walking at an incline on the treadmill for 45 min a time (3.0mph) and moving stairs at a level 5 for 45 min. That was all I needed. I really transformed my body by doing heavy lifting and low intensity cardio. It works!

  5. 5

    legend_018 — April 5, 2011 @ 1:24 am Reply

    hey just wanted to say that i have NROLFW. It's great. I am not using it right now, as I'm trying to do the Workout of the Day over at Crossfit, but it's a GREAT book to have.

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