We all know that lifting big hunks of iron that are sufficiently heavy that we can only muster five repetitions while progressively overloading your barbell for every performed exercise every session will make you strong. But there are some of us that are interested in also increasing our cardiovascular conditioning. Is this possible or wise or even prudent?

Dr. Ken Cooper has done a remarkable job in convincing (brainwashing?) the masses into believing cardio = fitness, to the point of believing cardiovascular/aerobic fitness is the only approach. His research is the reason most public sector fitness tests (military, police, fire, etc.) are so similar. In some countries, jogging is still called “Coopering.”

There is plenty of evidence that a reasonable amount of cardiovascular fitness correlates well to improved health and wellness.

However, this level of cardiovascular fitness does NOT necessarily require cardio/aerobic exercise to obtain or maintain. If you can meet the markers of cardiovascular fitness suggested by Drs. Cooper and O’Keefe without jogging, running, or other sustained-effort aerobics then you’ll reap the same health benefits.

There is also plenty of evidence showing resistance training offers even more health benefits than aerobics. In a study lasting nearly two decades involving 8,762 men aged 20-80 it was found that, “Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453303/

TL;DR: Increased muscular strength trumped all other indicators of health and was the single best predictor of reduced mortality in a 18.9 year study involving 8,762 test subjects.

Even Dr. Cooper has amended his recommendations to include more strength work to overcome limitations in aerobics-only exercise: Father of Aerobics Pumps More Iron (http://www.cbass.com/CooperBook.htm)

In addition to the obvious strength benefits, a good barbell program also provides needed cardiovascular fitness. Here’s an example from Dr. Ben Been.

I offer for your examination the results of my first foray into doing a Starting Strength session while wearing a heart rate monitor chest strap:

Heavy weight training with a Heart Rate chest strap today. At age 52, my (supposed) max HR is 168.
Squats: 3 sets of 5 @ 310 (Personal Record)
Presses: 3 sets of 5 @ 145 (failed, got 5,2,3)
Deadlifts: 1 set of 5 @ 295 (didn’t even attempt, was smoked after DL warmup sets. Too much volume, not nearly enough food prior.)

Session Duration: 52 minutes and change (didn’t wear the strap for squat warmup sets ~10 minutes)
Max Heart Rate: 144
Avg Heart Rate: 115
Calorie Burn*: 496

Compare and contrast this with a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session on the Prowler on Tuesday:
Protocol: 20 seconds sprint @~85% pace/1+40 rest, 8 rounds;
Session Duration: 20 minutes
Max Heart Rate: 151
Avg Heart Rate: 125
Calorie Burn*: 226

* my gut tells me not to put too much stock in the calorie burn guesstimate, but my old kettlebell instructor tested his $19 Timex HR monitor’s results against a MetCart at Vanderbilt and it was within 10%. Luckily, I don’t really care about calorie monitoring, I just like to compare things.

So the Prowler has a higher average intensity for a shorter period of time. However, I note that the strength session looks identical to a longer, slightly less intense HIIT session.

What does all this mean you should say when somebody asks you “yeah, but what do you do for cardio?”

And this from Mark Hurling

I wear a heart rate monitor when I lift to keep an eye on the “quality” and “value” of the cardio I am getting. Even on the more moderate loads of a 5/3/1 routine it ranges from peaks of 90% of MHR to never less than 70%. This includes the 3+ minute rest periods between sets. My log shows it.

Anyone who believes there is no cardio benefit from lifting has never bothered to keep an eye on what’s really going on with their body when they lift [or they have never lifted heavy].

If the goal is to compete and win in an endurance sport, such as a 5K race, then regular running is required to prepare. If the goal is an overall increase in fitness and performance, or just increased health, then dedicated cardio/aerobics exercises are not necessary. Military and police personnel would be wise to realize this.

Even if endurance athletics is your goal, strength training is still vital. Just ask six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion Mark Allen:


Bill Coyne reports the same:

Strength Training is Critical for Endurance Athletes

Strength Training is Critical for Endurance Athletes

NBC report on same: