May 3

Adding cardio to resistance training plans

Fat loss

Cardio training can be hugely beneficial to include in every single training programme, including those focused on strength and muscle building.

I already see a good number of the lifting population getting riled up at this comment, but stick with me, in about 30 seconds, you’ll see why every plan should include some type of cardio training.

Simply put, a healthy cardiovascular system is essential to health, on virtually every level. Cardio training can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce blood pressure, improve your immune system, improves mood and sleep quality, improves libido, improves daily energy, and more. Simply put, you’ll live longer, and healthier, with a high-functioning cardiovascular system.

Hopefully, this is enough to justify including some level of cardio work in your programme.

Still not convinced?

Of course not. Because you want to know two things.

  1. Will adding cardio to my strength plan make me small and weak?
  2. Will adding cardio help me to manage weight and body composition?

The answers to these, in order, are no, and yes.

In fact, if you get this right, adding some cardio will help you to train harder and recover faster, both between workouts and between sets. This long-term could lead to even greater strength and muscle gains than avoiding it completely.

The rest of this article is going to ignore the unimportant questions such as “are you less likely to die if you have a well-functioning CV system?” and dial in on the big question….

“How do I add cardio to my plan to get the health and body composition benefits, without getting weak?”

Let’s dive in.


Strategies for adding cardio into resistance training plans

First off, I want to make a key point. The things I’m discussing today are methods to optimise training. If you’re new to exercise, this doesn’t apply. Focus on high-quality training, nutrition, and recovery. You’ll do just fine.

If you’re already experienced in the gym and struggling to find the balance between strength training and cardio (as goals are either body composition or strength focused), then these methods can help you to manage the total, type and timing of your cardio sessions.

This will avoid those drops in strength you see from mismanagement here, and still allow you to get most of the health and body composition benefits of cardio training.


Total volume and frequency of cardio sessions

The key mistake I see with the addition of cardio into strength/ hypertrophy plans is the disregard for the sheer amount of additional stress it can put on the system. Cardio is great and has a multitude of benefits for us all.

That doesn’t mean more is better.

If you want to maintain performance in the gym, immune function, and adaptation, then you need to be mindful of the type and amount. The rules of the game still apply- we still need to manage recovery.

Ideally, shorter sessions up to 40 minutes, 2x per week will be plenty to increase energy expenditure and reap the benefits of cardio training, within a useful frequency and volume to avoid collapse in progress due to insufficient recovery.

Remember, if you’re doing nothing at the minute, you have more options. If you’re currently making the mistakes of too much volume and frequency, then to reduce this and still optimise benefits, you need to consider the type of sessions.


Type of cardio sessions

Following on this theme of total recovery management, there’s two areas we need to be aware of here.

  1. Mode of training (eg. Running vs cycling)
  2. Type of session (eg. Continuous or intervals)


Mode of training

Starting off with mode of training, unless you have dual goals where running-based exercise is a must, it’s probably not ideal if strength goals are a priority. This is probably far more of an issue if you’re not currently well-adapted to running, and here’s why.

Running-based exercise is not only extremely taxing on the CV system as we’re supporting our bodyweight (particularly for heavier individuals). It also leads to higher eccentric muscle damage, and therefore, higher recovery demands.

Again, this is going to be dependent on the individual. If you’re currently pretty strong with a fair amount of muscle, the damage may compromise both the quality of your recovery and the resistance training sessions alike.

Cycling, airbike, rower may all be better options to minimise this eccentric damage and recovery demands.


Session Type

Moving on to session type, if we cut the duration, we’re tempted to increase the intensity. You have a choice here, but it probably doesn’t include the response that’s automatic for most people, to simply work harder for the 30-40 minutes to make up for the shorter duration.

We can either take the hit in terms of Calorie use, and keep to a continuous, low to moderate intensity session. Here we can manage Calories easily with nutrition intervention (if needed- as we will see most people probably over diet during this phase).

However, the other option is to switch to high intensity intervals. This has the dual benefit (particularly with non-running-based exercise) of activating higher threshold muscle fibres, making the contraction more similar to lifting sessions, yet still achieving the aerobic adaptations that will improve health and recovery. This may be a little more energetically demanding and require a little more recovery, but providing it doesn’t impact the strength sessions, can be a brilliant tool to optimise the shorter session structure, and may lead to additional specific hypertrophy in its own right!

So, if a priority here is making sure the strength session isn’t negatively impacted by adding cardio, then I suppose we need to look at the final big issues. Timing and nutrition.


Timing and nutritional considerations

Again, let me pull this back. We’re looking to optimise. That means these methods are ideal for those of you struggling to build strength and muscle with cardio training, or those needing to maintain strength and muscle during a diet.

In both cases, we should be able to tick all boxes.

So, how do we set up our week to make sure that the cardio isn’t having a negative impact on the strength session? In addition, if a molecular interference effect is something to be mindful of, how do we best manage this to make sure we’re both training with sufficient intensity in the weight room, and not impacting the subsequent adaptation.

The solution here is twofold.

  1. Nutrition- To ensure we’re starting each session with adequate fuel for the lifting sessions.
  2. Structure of week- To ensure we’re allowing time for adaptation after the resistance sessions.



With regards to nutrition considerations, the key here is to both make sure that we’re fuelled up for the key strength sessions (although not necessarily the cardio sessions). This means leaving time after cardio sessions to refuel and rehydrate before the weights sessions.

Ideally, this will be leaving between 6 and 24 hours between sessions to allow for fuelling requirements. (NOTE: Cardio training which leads to a lot of muscle damage-. Too high recovery or intensity, wrong modality, new stimulus, will need longer to both refuel and recover).



The intuitive solution here would be to finish strength sessions with cardio?

This may be reasonable, certainly for practical considerations such as timing etc. However, there’s another consideration here. When we strength train, we switch on certain signals telling our body to adapt.

If we continue the strength session by adding cardio to the end, we may have an impact on this signalling cascade, leading to altered adaptation to the strength session.

Ideally then, we’re going to keep the cardio sessions away from the strength sessions.



In summary, you shouldn’t be afraid to add cardio into strength/ hypertrophy plans. We can still build strength and muscle mass with cardio included in the plan.

The real consideration is how much, what type, and how do I add cardio.

For lots of people in the gym, particularly new trainees, this is a non-issue. You will adapt to your training providing you manage recovery.

It’s actually the same for experienced exercisers, but we have the additional considerations brought about by the SAID principle. We will adapt to the demands we place on our bodies.

If we add too much cardio in a highly energy restricted state, we will lose muscle and strength in addition to bodyfat. You’ll lose that battle 10/10.

But if we include SOME cardio, in a modest energy deficit, that considers total recovery demands and adaptation, we can reap the benefits of cardio training, without sacrificing muscle and strength.


I really hope you find this article useful, and if you want to dig deeper into the whole concurrent training idea, here’s a recent blog where I discuss concurrent training in more detail.

To work with us here at FX, or to work with me directly online, contact us here.


Josh Kennedy MSc, ASCC, CSCS

FX Fitness


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