Does Weight Training Count as Cardio?

If you're lifting weights, can that count as your cardiovascular workout as well? The answer might surprise you.

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read

I’m a big fan of weight training, and over the cold winter months I actually spend 3-4 days a week in my home gym or at the local YMCA hoisting dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.

But I'm often asked how much a person needs to do cardio if they’re already weight training? Does weight training strengthen your heart in the same way that cardio does?

Luckily, a recent study answered that very question. The study, entitled “Long-term intense resistance training in men is associated with preserved cardiac structure/function, decreased aortic stiffness, and lower central augmentation pressure,” (yes, that’s a mouthful) investigated endurance runners and other athletes who did relatively intense weight training. They found that weight training is not only healthy for your heart, but also for your cholesterol, your blood pressure, and your waistline. This backed up what I talked about in the episode Is Weight Training Bad for Your Heart?, in which you learn how weight training actually strengthens blood vessels and makes your heart much, much stronger.

So let’s get back to the original question: Does weight training count as cardio? The answer is a definitive yes – if the weight training is of adequate intensity and is performed in a controlled way that places stress on the muscles.

To ensure you’re at an adequate intensity, your heart rate should be above 60% of your maximum heart rate by the time you finish a weight training set. An easy way to find your maximum heart rate is to simply subtract your age from the number 220 (e.g. I’m 31, so my age-predicted max heart rate is 189, and 60% of that is 114).

An easy way to ensure you’re placing adequate stress on the muscles is to spend at least 3 seconds in the “up” phase and 3 seconds in the “down” phase of the lift. If you’re lifting for pure cardio, longer is better, and you can increase that to as many as 10 seconds if you’re patient! You should also be taking at least 60 seconds to complete each set, so a 3-second up, 3-second down scenario would involve around 10 repetitions.

If you have more questions about how weight training counts as cardio, then leave them over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

Weight training 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.