Does Cardio Count for Strength Training?

Ben Greenfield
1-minute read

Does Cardio "Count" For Strength Training?

Listener Christee asked: "Does using an elliptical machine with incline and resistance count toward strength training? I’d like to skip the squats and lunges, which are hard on my knees, and focus my free weight strength training on my upper body."

To answer this question properly, I need to explain what happens when you strength train with weights.

In "How To Build Muscle," I explain that the tension from the weight of resistance training with dumbbells, barbells, and machines stretches the muscle fibers and causes tiny tears in them.

When the cells in your muscle fibers sense this trauma, they begin to rally the muscle-building troops from your body to repair the tears, and your muscles grow stronger and become more "toned."

For a response like this to occur, the muscle needs to be subjected to amounts of force that are typically only possible to produce for 8-12 repetitions. In contrast, even a "high resistance" elliptical trainer workout involves literally hundreds of repetitions. So trying to "strength train" with cardio is impossible if your goal is muscle gain.

If your goal is simply to make your legs stronger, then a high resistance elliptical trainer, bicycle, incline treadmill, or stairmaster workout can certainly do the trick, but at a much slower rate of progress compared to doing squats, lunges, or deadlifts.

If your knees hurt while doing squats, lunges, or any variations of them, then try this:

  1. Going through less range of motion

  2. Using machines like leg extension and leg curl for 6-8 weeks before progressing to squats and lunges 

  3. Ensuring your hamstrings are flexible.

Man on Elliptical image courtesy of Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.