Cardio Training for Weightlifters: A Minimal Program
Cardiovascular conditioning is critical for all lifters, especially those over age 50. Being big and strong is great and a big contributor to your overall health. Cardiovascular health is part of your long game if you want to have a great quality of life as well as a long life.
Many lifters I know gag at the thought of doing aerobics. Im going to suggest some ways that you can need to do some serious cardio, even though it does not have to be your primary activity.
First of all, why do cardio?
Some common and powerful reasons are: 1) strong heart function; 2) keeping veins and arteries unclogged by plaques; 3) increase the oxygen uptake capacity of the lungs; 4) help control high blood pressure; 5) a major impact in preventing strokes.
If those reasons were not enough, here are some more: 1) improves brain function in older adults; 2) promotes the health of all major organs in the body; and 3) is a major factor in preventing dementia.
Oh and did I forget to mention that cardio conditioning helps control diabetes, helps move metabolic waste through the lymphatic system (and eventually out of the body), can help enhance eyesight, and cleanse the skin.
You may notice that I did not say anything about fat loss or increasing the size of your biceps.
What do I mean by cardio training?
There are two types of cardio training: aerobic and anerobic. The distinction is that aerobic training is relatively low intensity and can be sustained for long periods of time. Anerobic training is high intensity and can only be maintained for a short period of time.
The difference between the two is how energy is provided to the muscles to do work. Aerobic training uses oxygen to metabolize carbohydrates. Distance running, jogging, moderate cycling, lap swimming, are examples.
Anerobic training means without oxygen and involves breaking down glucose to provide energy. This can only be done for short duration activities such as sprinting, high rep weightlifting, high intensity intervals, and other maximum effort activities.
For maximal conditioning it is important to do both types of training. However, Im going to suggest that weightlifters begin by introducing some aerobic training to their routines. This takes a minimum amount of time and energy, and IMHO is easiest to maintain consistently over a long period of time.
How Much is Enough?
There is no scientific standard that says this much cardio is necessary to obtain the optimal health benefits. My own assessment based on over half a century of working out is that there is probably a minimum level of cardio training that can confer most of the health of benefits, and a slightly higher amount of work that will provide additional benefit. However, if you are only considering health, there is minimal additional health benefit to be gained by doing a huge amount of cardio work.
For example, the cardio health of a marathon runner may be only slightly higher than the health of a powerlifter who does minimal cardio training. Clearly the marathoner can run much further at a faster pace than the powerlifter, but that is a function of sport specific training not an indicator of better health.
What are the options for cardio training?
Your options depend first of all on where you train. If you train at a gym there are usually several machines available such as stationary bicycles, treadmills, rowers and elliptical devices. Some gyms even have swimming pools. Often there will be aerobic dance classes you can take, but often they run for most of an hour so the time demand may be too much for you to do regularly.
One big advantage of gym training is that you can try each of the different aerobic training options and see which you like best. You can even alternate them.
If you train exclusively at home, you will have fewer options unless you buy an exercise bicycle or some other gadget. These can get very spendy. My strong suggestion is that you find some gym that will let you try out different devices before you invest any money in purchasing your own.
Some people love to cycle. That is great, particularly if you enjoy it.
As some of you know, I have been a regular runner since (gasp!) 1966. I enjoy running and enjoy doing it outside. I have managed to exercise on a treadmill exactly twice since I began running way back when.
I have two serious bits of advice for anyone considering using running for their aerobic training. The first is find good running shoes that will give you solid support. The second is that you must work on having a smooth stride that minimizes the shock of impact when you run.
In any event, select some form of aerobic training that you enjoy and work it into your regular training routine.
Aerobics can be either high impact (running and dancing) or low impact (minimal jarring or bouncing). High impact activities can lead to joint and muscle injuries that hamper your primary training or lead to a chronic problem.
Running puts a lot of stress on your joints. I dont recommend running to anyone who weighs over 200 lbs unless you have a prior history of running where you developed a very smooth stride and a minimal impact foot strike.
For most weightlifters I would recommend low impact forms of cardio such as cycling, rowing, or swimming. After all the intent of doing cardio is better health, not a new reason to visit the sports medicine clinic.
A minimal program for lifters
The following approach is for lifters who want to get the benefits of cardio training, but really do not want to expend major amounts of time or energy.
Your basic strategy is to do aerobic training three times a week for 10-15 minutes. This can be low impact (cycle) or higher impact such as running. You can do it at the end of your weight training workout, or on days when you dont lift weights.
The simplest will be a variety where you do not have to buy new equipment. If you train at a gym, you can use their exercise cycles, treadmills, or rowers. They may even have a lap pool.
Get on a device (or swim) and do so at a steady pace that makes you breathe a bit harder than normal, but not a lot harder. Stay at this pace for 10 minutes.
Like I said, that is the minimal program.
For someone already doing hard training in another sport such as powerlifting, this minimal amount of training will be very beneficial. For someone who is not doing any other training, 10 minutes a day three times a week will not accomplish much.
The key thing for us veteran lifters is do something and do it consistently.
Bottom Line: Do some aerobic training.
The minimal aerobic program I discuss above is something any weightlifter over age 50 should include in their workouts to build their long-term health. Going beyond minimal training only for the health benefits is something you might consider as part of building a seriously high conditioned body.
If you want to explore possibilities for cardio training beyond the minimal, check out Aerobic Training for Weightlifters. It is based on my 50+ years of both running and weightlifting.
In future blogs and newsletters Ill explore more combinations of aerobic, anaerobic and strength training that you can do to get in top physical condition. These options are something you can consider as part of your long-term program to be in great shape indefinitely.
Enjoy the Journey and Lift Big!