As someone who has been practicing powerlifting for the better part of three years, I get teased often about how I need to do more cardio. This is mostly because of the prevailing belief that strength training does not provide adequate cardiovascular health benefits and needs to be supplemented by additional cardio-specific movements in order to achieve well rounded health.
But does research support this prevailing belief?
What movements are truly considered cardio?
First it is important to understand the technical differences between aerobic training (what most people consider “cardio”) and anaerobic training (mostly considered weight or resistance training).
This post is not meant to be a deep dive into the difference of anaerobic vs aerobic energy pathways so I will simplify it to say that aerobic training is any movement or movements that produce energy through the use of oxygen whereas anaerobic training is any movement or movements that produce energy without oxygen.
This is why movements that are considered “cardio” typically raise heart rate and are used primarily to increase endurance, improve heart and lung health.
Anaerobic exercise is typically used for higher intensity movements that require 80-90% of your maximum heart rate which are common for strength sports such as powerlifting and olympic lifting.
This brings us back to our questions from above: Can you receive cardio benefits from strength training?
The answer is unequivically, “yes!” As strength training often involves max effort movements, it indeed raises your heart rate and can have many positive effects on cardiovascular and lung health.
That being said, if your goal is to specifically improve your cardiovascular and lung capacity or health then exclusively using power and strength training in your program is probably not going to get you the results you are looking for and additional, intentional aerobic movements will be more beneficial as the primary focus of your program.
Examples of aerobic movements include:
-Fast paced walking
You will need to consider your ultimate goals when deciding the balance between aerobic and anaerobic movements in your training program. The bottom line is that you can receive cardio benefits from your strength training without additional cardio movements needed, but if you have specific cardio or respiratory improvement goals then incorporating specific aerobic training into your program will be critical to reaching your goals.