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Can Weightlifting Be "Cardio" Too?

Many people’s question when they get into weightlifting is: “But what about cardio?” Well what if I told you that weightlifting can function not only to build muscle, but also as cardio?

There are a lot of coaches and trainers that try to emphasize the delineation between strength training and cardiovascular training. The argument is that when you're strength training, you should take ample rest time in order to maximize your strength output for that specific lift. I don't disagree with this statement. Trying to chase two goals during a workout is pretty difficult and you likely won't improve either one as much as you would if you just focused on one (strength training or cardio).

However, I also believe that weightlifting as "cardio" can have its purpose and can belong in a lot of people's workout routine. There are sports such as CrossFit or Spartan Races that require an individual to perform strength movements at an elevated heart rate and be able to sustain that level of output.

There is also an argument for the fact that some people just want to be healthy in the gym and they aren't striving to focus on strength training vs cardio training. They just want to move and stay healthy and feel good. If that's the case, then we shouldn't limit them on what they can or can't do just because "it's not the most efficient way to achieve a goal" that they don't even care about.

In a previous blog on cardio, we highlighted that, “The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmic in nature” (Patel et. al 2017). So how can we make weightlifting fulfill this definition? Below are some training strategies to help kill two birds with one stone.

How can I make weightlifting cardio?

  • Limit rest time

  • When trying to blend weightlifting and cardio, it's important to limit the rest time in between sets so that you can keep your heart rate and breathing elevated.

  • Circuit style training

  • An example circuit could look like 3-5 rounds of 10 reps each of cleans, goblet squats, and push presses. Effective circuits should utilize compound exercises (those that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously), short rest breaks, and high reps so that you can move the weight quickly.

  • EMOMs

  • EMOM stands for “every minute on the minute” and is a great way to keep your heart rate elevated. You can alternate exercises every minute or keep the movement the same.

  • Stamina Squats

  • This could be done with squats as a 10 minute EMOM. For example, you could do 5 front squats the first minute and 10 back squats the second minute and repeat until the 10 minutes are up. The weight should light (50-70% of your 1 RM).

  • Olympic weightlifting

  • If you’ve ever done snatches, cleans, or jerks you know how taxing they can be. This is because olympic weightlifting requires a high power output, which expends considerable energy, thus quickly elevating your breathing and heart rate. Dumbbells or barbells can be used for these movements.


  • Afterburn effect

  • The afterburn effect refers to the increased calories burned after exercise as your body works to return to homeostasis and send oxygen to your recovering muscles. This is a major benefit of weightlifting that isn't seen with traditional cardio.

  • Cardiovascular health

  • Your heart is a muscle, and is worked through resistance training just like the rest of your muscles. Recent studies have linked resistance training to improved cardiac health and function.

  • Efficiency

  • EMOMs, circuits, and having minimal rest time between sets can make for a very time efficient workout for those who have limited time in the gym.

Are you looking to vary your training or blend cardio and weight training but don’t know where to start? Here at Prime, we work to create a rehab or training program specific to your individual wants and needs. We work with people of all different fitness levels to help them reach their performance fitness goals. Whether you’re a marathon runner, triathlete, collegiate baseball player, or a weightlifter we can help you reach your goals and stay injury free while doing so. Reach out to today to schedule your initial consultation.

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