Do you need to do cardio if you’re lifting heavy? | question from a reader

Lisa, although relatively new to strength training, has been bitten hard by the weight lifting bug. She lifts heavy, takes appropriate rest days, pays attention to nutrition and has completely re-shaped her body over the past year or so. Yay Lisa! 


Recently, she asked me a question via my Facebook group (not a member? It’s as easy as clicking on this link and ‘liking’ the page);

Do I really, really need to do cardio on off-lifting days?

By the tone of the question, I’m assuming that Lisa doesn’t really like cardio. That she’d prefer to be lifting weights and would be happy if I told her it that cardio was unnecessary 😉

While I’d love it if that were the truth (not a huge cardio fan myself…), there are several compelling reasons to incorporate cardiovascular training into your weekly strength training schedule. Note that by ‘cardio’, I don’t necessarily mean long, slow distance training on a treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike. Different types of cardio can help you achieve different health and fitness goals.

5 reasons you may need to do cardio even if you’re lifting heavy

  • accelerated fat loss. Although there are certainly many body builders and fitness models who maintain their athletic physiques with little to cardio, for those of us still seeking fat loss, strength training and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio are a winning combo. For best results, HIIT should be performed either at the end of your strength training session (so as not to tire out the muscles you’re trying to build) or on alternate days (especially on days where you’re training primarily lower body). The best thing about HIIT? It takes very little time, getting you out of the gym much more quickly than long, slow distance cardio.
  • active recovery. Did you know that low to moderate-intensity cardio is great for active recovery?  While it’s true that your body needs time to recover and regenerate after a heavy lifting session, movement can reduce the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as well as help to maintain joint range of motion. Examples of great active recovery activities? Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and dancing. Think of your ‘off-lifting’ day as an opportunity to be active outside the gym.
  • stress release. Many people enjoy the therapeutic effects of a trail run or a leisurely outdoor cycle. The repetitive nature of the movements can help reduce tension, release stress and quiet that pesky little voice in your head. Don’t think of it as cardio, but rather, really cheap therapy 🙂
  • increased movement. North Americans don’t move enough. Even those of us who get to the gym to the gym daily, often spend our remaining waking hours seated. Wearing a pedometer has made me acutely aware of how sedentary I am on non-workout days. A 45-minute walk around the block rewards me with approximately 4000 steps; almost half-way to my daily goal of 10 000.
  • habit creation. For many people, the easiest way to create a new habit is to make it a part of their daily schedule. Going to the gym Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the perfect frequency of exercise for beginners, may not be enough to create the new routine that’s crucial to longterm success. Use those ‘rest’ days to solidify your new routine, opting for low intensity cardio options including walking (either on the treadmill or out of doors), swimming or a cardio dance class.

Which do you prefer? Cardio or strength training?

If you answered ‘strength training’, tell me ‘what’ you do for cardio and ‘why’? 

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 2.10.18 PMUltimate Booty Workouts, while primarily a strength training book, does include cardiovascular training in it’s 12-week program. Want to strengthen and define your derriere? Make sure you’re lifting heavy and including muscle-revealing cardio intervals!

Order your copy today at Amazon.caAmazon.comBarnes and Noble and Chapters/Indigo



  1. I definitely prefer strength training, but I know that cardio is important for all the reasons you mentioned above. I incorporate HIIT into my workouts and am slowly training to complete a 5K.
    PlumPetals recently posted…When I CanMy Profile

  2. KnittyWittyShelle says:

    I love it when you discuss these issues! I feel like lifting is easier and more natural for me, but HIIT has gotten me the best results for trimming down. I am terrible at cardio, crappy lungs, but I try to do it to improve my lungs so that I can hike uphill more easily!

  3. Since I got my Fitbit a year ago, I’ve been walking a lot more. Like you, it made me realize how often I was getting very little movement throughout the day. I also do HIIT once or twice a week.
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…Oatmeal Banana BarsMy Profile

  4. “Cheap therapy” Love it! I have written many times that my stair stepper has saved more lives than the US Coast Guard and the Red Cross combined, for its ability to keep me from killing someone.

    As experienced trainer educated in exercise science, I know that cardio is not a requirement for fat loss. However, as a tool for mood stabilization, I will argue that it’s better than most medications.

  5. I most definitely love strength training!! (hit a PR for leg press on Tuesday– 348lb for reps!) I do 20 minutes of HIIT 3-4 days a week. And now that I need to train for a 10 mile run in April, I’ll do long runs on a Sunday.
    Jenny recently posted…Seared Salmon with AsparagusMy Profile

  6. cardio is my mental break for sure. therapy!
    Lindsay @ Lindsay’s List recently posted…discussion post – “why do we cook on snow days??”My Profile

  7. I have always loved weights way more than cardio, even when I was lifting heavy to build for competitions. One thing I can say – and I love the discussion above as always – we are all different. Even when I ate well, lifted heavy, I still needed more cardio than most to not gain fat vs. muscle so I have always done cardio whether I lifted heavy, medium or light. 🙂 With age, it is even more important along with all your reasons above for weight maintenance. 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…The Makings of the Best Diet Ever!My Profile

  8. Oh ok…… Guess I will hiit it then!

  9. I couldn’t agree more, especially with the benefits of low-to-moderate intensity cardio. It’s so maligned these days as a complete waste of time. However, there ARE compelling benefits!
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…Ultimate Booty Workouts and the RCK 360My Profile

  10. I detest cardio.and love strength training. So I do a whole part of my workout in a metabolic style.

    Additionally, I walk my dogs.

    But my doctor wants me to up the cardio, so there will be additional HIIT sessions in the future: KB swings, wall balls, etc. still not stepping on a cardio machine.
    Deb Roby recently posted…Looking at DroughtMy Profile

  11. Tamara,
    Building strength is important but being a runner I really do enjoy the time when I’m out there running. It’s like my quiet time. But building up yourself to be a successful runner does require time in the gym as well as time on the street so-to-speak, they work together.
    Thanks for the very informative post.
    Irving recently posted…RUSHFIT Work Out!My Profile

  12. we love doing workouts that mix both cardio and strength!

  13. Strength! But I do my cardio too. I know I need it so I make it happen. And I usually feel better for it.


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