Inserting cardio between sets of weight lifting is an efficient way to bust out your workout and burn calories. But if you are looking to gain significant muscle or are just starting out at the gym, you may be better off resting between sets. Evaluate the pros and cons of integrating cardio between weight-lifting sets to understand whether this form of training is for you.
Calorie Burn and Design
Inserting cardio between weight-lifting sets, sometimes called a circuit, could burn as much as 298 calories in 30 minutes for a 155-pound person – at least 30 percent more than strength-training with rests between sets. If you have limited time at the gym, a cardio-weight circuit helps you fit in all your exercise in a shorter period of time – no sitting around between strength sets just waiting for your next go. Cardio between your strength sets of chest presses, lat pulldowns, triceps dips, squats and crunches could be as simple as adding a minute or two of jumping jacks, jogging on the treadmill or cycling on a stationary trainer.
A traditional weight-training session with rest between sets doesn’t typically raise your heart rate for an extended period of time. You might raise your heart rate into a work zone while doing the 20- to 40-second set of resistance only. When you insert cardio between the resistance sets, you keep your heart rate up throughout the workout, which makes your session count as a cardio workout as well as a resistance-training routine.
Body Composition and Adherence
People looking to become leaner and improve their health will certainly benefit from inserting cardio between strength sets. A study published in the September 2008 issue of the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that athletes who participated in regular workouts that integrated cardio and strength training achieved significant improvements in strength, muscle endurance, body composition and flexibility as compared to when they trained with cardiovascular exercise only. You may also improve adherence to your routine because you can get in and out of the gym faster as well as keep the routine interesting.
Beginners and Endurance Athletes
Beginners or people coming off a long exercise hiatus may fatigue easily when inserting cardio between strength-training sets, which could compromise form and potentially lead to injury. Endurance athletes who need to train to become efficient at long bouts of cardio are better off completing their 10-mile runs or 50 miles on the bike without breaking to strength train every few minutes. These athletes should adopt a strength-training regimen outside of their endurance cardio sessions that complements their goals.
If you are looking to gain significant mass or strength, you are better off resting between sets of very heavy lifts. The journal “Sports Medicine” published a paper in 2009 noting that the rest interval between sets of strength training is a key variable that affects your results. If you leave three to five minutes of rest between sets of exercises lifting loads equivalent to between 50 and 90 percent of your one repetition maximum, you will successfully complete more repetitions over multiple sets, resulting in greater muscle strength and power development. To gain a bigger physique, you should plan on resting between sets of six to 12 repetitions for 30 to 90 seconds to promote growth. When you lift heavy weights, cardio will only fatigue you when performed between sets, so you can’t hit each set as intensely as is necessary. because your muscles don't have a chance to rebound for the next set as efficiently.
- Sports Medicine: Rest Interval Between Sets in Strength Training
- IDEA Health and Fitness Organization: Strength and Cardio Supersets
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Concurrent Training Enhances Athletes' Cardiovascular and Cardiorespiratory Measures
- American Council on Exercise: When Strength Training, is it Better to Do More Reps With Lighter Weights or Fewer Reps With Heavier Weights?
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Fitness: Circuit Training Workout: Burn 30 Percent More Calories
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.