Cardio Doesn’t Have to Be Discriminated Against by Meatheads

You can avoid your aversion to long, slow, boring cardio by mixing it into your lifting.

Are you allergic to cardio? Does the mere mention of it create visions in your head of long hours spent on the treadmill or stationary bike? Are you already bracing yourself for another article listing the boring benefits of boring exercises? Been there, read that. I promise to be different this time.

For most lifters, cardio is like eating your vegetables; you’d rather just skip it. We normally relegate it to the tail end of a training day, if we do it at all, even though we know it is still an integral part of health and fitness. But cardio doesn’t have to be discriminated against by meatheads. There are ways to integrate cardio and resistance training to reap big rewards.

You Aren’t Condemned to the Treadmill

Many deafly believe that slow, steady-state cardio (i.e., long walks on the treadmill) are the best way to burn fat and calories. The conventional wisdom has been that if you want to get lean, do cardio; if you want to get big, lift weights. It’s true that you burn calories performing any activity. Heck, you burn calories just binge watching your favorite series on Netflix, but there’s more to it than that.

The higher the intensity of an activity, the more your body will rely on carbohydrate as fuel. This readily available sugar in the muscle tissue, bloodstream, and liver is like a boy scout—always prepared. Why would your body go to all the trouble to burn fat, when it can just tap into some quick-burning carbs?

This doesn’t mean that high intensity exercise avoids burning fat for fuel entirely. It’s just that the percentage of fat used for energy is small. The lower the intensity, the more fat (percentage-wise) is burned. Does this mean you should just keep your butt on the couch, since you burn more fat than carbs while watching the Walking Dead? Not exactly. While you’ll burn more fat as a percentage, you still burn less energy in total.

The best plan is to combine the best of both worlds, and reap huge rewards when it comes to both getting lean and building some muscle and strength. By combing both modes of exercise, you will be efficient with your time, create an intense thermogenic effect (fat burning), increase your muscular and cardiovascular endurance, be more mentally focused on your training, and stave off boredom with minimal equipment requirements.

How do you pull this off? One way is to integrate cardiovascular components in between sets of resistance training. Some of these exercises are burpees, lunges, plyometric pushups, kettlebell swings, various core exercises, bodyweight squats, box jumps, jump squats, mountain climbers, sprints and shuttle runs, among others.

All of these cardio moves can be done without any special equipment, and in a small amount of space. No need to monopolize a ton of room or numerous machines.

Cardio Should Have Progression, Too

Another concept that may be new to some is progression of cardio. You’re most likely used to the practice of progressive resistance training; adding weight to the bar or increasing reps over time. With cardio conditioning, you’ll increase exercise time while reducing rest time. This will be a slow transition, as you’ll need time to adapt.

For example, if you have a designated time of one minute of rest between sets of a resistance training exercise, you’ll have that minute to manipulate for cardio. Your progression could look like this:

  • Week 1: 20 seconds of mountain climbers, 40 seconds of rest
  • Week 2: 30 seconds of mountain climbers, 30 seconds of rest
  • Week 3: 40 seconds of mountain climbers, 20 seconds of rest

As your conditioning improves, you’ll be more adapted to take on more of a challenge and reduce rest while increasing workload.

Hybrid Lifting and Cardio Program

Below are three examples of cardio conditioning integrated with upper body resistance training. As you’ll see, the resistance training exercise and the cardio conditioning exercises are alternated for each body part. Cardio progression is also factored in through manipulating the work to rest ratio. Try each workout for three weeks before moving onto the next level. Another option is to stick with one workout for a 6-9 week period and manipulate the work to rest ratio on your own.

Workout 1 Sets x Reps Cardio/Rest (sec)
Incline bench dumbbell press

Box jump

3 x 6 20/40
Wide-grip pull up

Plyo push-up

3 x AMRAP 20/40
Alternating dumbbell shoulder press

Reverse lunge

3 x 6 20/40
Reverse-grip chin up

Kettlebell swing

3 x AMRAP 20/40
Parallel clip

Mountain climber

3 x AMRAP 20/40
Bicycle crunch

Hanging leg raise

3 x 15-20 20/40
Workout 2 Sets x Reps Cardio/Rest (sec)
Flat bench dumbbell press

Jump squat

3×10 30/30
Inverted row

Side lunge

3 x AMRAP 30/30
Standing barbell push press


3 x 8 30/30
TRX curl

Seated V-up

3 x AMRAP 30/30
Diamond push up

Kettlebell swing

3 x AMRAP 30/30
Windshield wiper

3-point plank

3 x 10 30/30
Workout 3 Sets x Reps Cardio/Rest (sec)
Feet-elevated push up

Jump split squat

3 x AMRAP 40/20
Bent-over two-arm row

Reverse lunge

3 x 12 40/20
Wide-grip upright row

Turkish get-up

3 x 12 40/20
Lying dumbbell extension

Bench step-up

3 x 12 40/20
Incline bench curl

Fast crunch

3 x 12 40/20
3-way sit up

Hanging knee raise

3 x 15-20 40/20