HIIT, circuit training, plyometrics, and even resistance band workouts can be combined with compound moves, kettlebells, dumbbells, or your body weight to challenge your heart and increase your strength and lean mass—all in one workout.
In this article, we'll bust common cardio myths, outline the best cardio workouts that use weights, and teach you how to safely add weights to your workouts.
There are a lot of myths about cardio.
- Cardio steals your muscle gains!
- Cardio before weights is better!
- Fasted cardio is the best for fat loss!
And on and on. The question of which to do first—cardio or weights—is a debate that has been waged for years because the evidence is largely equivocal.
When it comes to fat loss, saving cardio until after your weight session makes the most sense, physiologically speaking.
In this article, I will dispel these myths and tell you everything you need to know about combining weight training with cardio.
Myth #1: Cardio Steals Your Gains
For as long as I can remember, gym goers from coast to coast have clung to this one as their excuse for why they don't do cardio.
But as the evidence for the benefits of regular cardio exercise for our health and longevity continues to mount–this one doesn't hold up.
We all need regular aerobic exercise to keep our hearts healthy and fight disease.
Though this myth did sprout from a grain of truth: too much cardio, mainly extra long-distance endurance cardio, can limit your ability to get as muscular as possible.
Simply put: if you train like an endurance athlete, you'll have an endurance athlete's body.
And as we all know, most marathon runners, for example, are quite lean and thin, with minimal muscle and fat.
For bodybuilders and powerlifters, in particular, this is the opposite of their goal. So that fear has led to many weightlifters avoiding cardio altogether.
However, there's a mountain of evidence that cardio workouts such as HIIT and plyometrics can actually help you gain and maintain muscle.
So the type and duration of the cardio you do is crucial if you're looking to build and maintain muscle.
Myth #2: Cardio First
If you don't want to combine your cardio and strength workout into one session, which do you do first?
The correct order of operations has been hotly debated within the fitness industry.
And while the evidence has largely been mixed, there is an argument to be made for lifting weights first if fat loss and muscle retention are your goals.
Strength training, particularly heavy, compound movements, requires all our coordination and concentration.
If you run for an hour and then start your weights, you will be fatigued and may lack focus, making your strength session less effective and increasing your chance of injury.
Myth #3: Fasted Cardio is Best
While a deep dive into fasting is beyond the scope of this article, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention this extremely popular myth.
Does fasted cardio really lead to more fat loss?
The evidence says: meh, not really.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)—a diet protocol where you go long hours without eating, then consuming all your daily calories in a specific window—has become all the rage.
And while there is ample evidence that it can be helpful for some, it's definitely not for everyone.
Specifically, fasting before pushing yourself through a tough workout is likely ill-advised. Instead, most people feel much better and are more likely to keep working out if they have a small meal before exercising or do a much less taxing workout while fasted.
Get our fitness newsletter
Stay on track with your fitness goals and get inspired! Sign up for the GymBird newsletter for twice-monthly expert fitness and nutrition tips.
Introduction to Cardio & Weight Workouts
Traditional cardio, also known as aerobic exercise, increases your heart rate and requires oxygen to fuel slow, steady movement for longer periods.
Strength training is a form of anaerobic exercise that helps build muscular strength, size, and endurance.
Traditionally, cardio and strength have been considered separate pursuits, so they've been pursued as different workouts. Still, the rise of circuit training and HIIT workouts has proven you can do both together effectively.
Benefits of Cardio Workouts with Weights
The biggest benefit of combining cardio and weights into one session is efficiency. Traditional low-intensity, steady-state cardio can drag on for hours. Similarly, conventional strength sessions can easily last 1-2 hours.
Workouts that combine the two are much faster, which is a big plus for most of us who don't have endless hours to dedicate to our fitness routines each week.
Compound Exercises: Combining Cardio and Weight Training
Compound exercises require multiple muscle groups to complete. More muscle recruitment means more calories burned and a more efficient workout vs. working on each muscle separately.
Examples of Compound Exercises
There are hundreds of movements that qualify as compound, but these are my favorites as a personal trainer because they use so many different muscles and are great for strength and size development.
- Romanian Deadlift
- Cossack Squat
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Bent Over Row
- Single Arm Row
- Renegade Row
- Back Raise
- Reverse Lunge
- Curtsy Lunge
- Cable Pull-through
- Kettlebell Swing
- Cable Row
- Lat Pull Down
- Face Pull
- Seal Row
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Farmer Carry
- Leg Raise
- Weighted Sit Up
Benefits of Compound Exercises
Compound exercises allow you to get a total body workout much faster than isolation exercises. They also enable you to use much heavier weights, accelerating your strength and muscle gains.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with Weights
Definition of HIIT
High-intensity interval training is a cardio training method that started in endurance sports where you alternate between near-maximum effort and a short rest period (typically between 15 seconds and 2 minutes) for the training session.
HIIT is often used in sports like running, cycling, and rowing.
Since the early 2000s, HIIT has become exceedingly popular through sports like Crossfit. It has since expanded to include plenty of strength training moves on top of its cardio components.
Benefits of HIIT
HIIT deserves its popularity because the results from this intense workout are astounding.
Research has shown that HIIT workouts are just as effective, if not more effective, for our heart health, fat loss, and fitness than a much longer traditional cardio session.
Examples of HIIT Workouts with Weights
While many HIIT workouts are purely cardio, the EMOM, AMRAP, and Tabata formats can easily incorporate strength training moves.
Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM) Barbell Workout
EMOM in 10 Minutes
12 Romanian Deadlifts
12 Bent Over Rows
As Many Reps as Possible (AMRAP) Dumbbell Workout
AMRAP in 26 Minutes
Renegade Row 10x arm
Walking Lunges 10 yd
High Knees 60 steps
V-ups 20 reps
Kettlebell Tabata Workout
KB Swings 20 seconds
KB Squat 20 seconds
Gorilla row 20 seconds
KB Floor Press 20 seconds
Repeat circuit 2x
Circuit Training: Alternating Cardio and Weights
Definition of Circuit Training
Circuit training is any workout that moves through a series of exercises with little to no rest in between.
With a definition that broad, you can easily create a circuit that perfectly suits your tastes and fitness goals.
Alternating between weighted exercises and cardio moves is a great way to combine cardio and weights into one quick workout.
Benefits of Circuit Training
If designed properly, circuit training can have muscular strength and endurance benefits in addition to the aerobic fitness benefits you expect with cardio in one efficient workout.
Example of Circuit Training Workout
Total Body KB Circuit
KB Suitcase Deadlift 15 reps each side
KB Single Arm Snatch 10 reps each side
Waiter Carry 20 yd each side
Single Arm Row 8 rep each side
2-3 minutes rest, repeat circuit 3-5x
Plyometric Exercises for Cardio and Strength
Definition of Plyometric Exercises
Plyometric exercises develop power—your ability to produce large amounts of force quickly—and are essential for athletics.
Just because you don't play competitive sports does not mean you can neglect developing power.
While developing power greatly benefits athletes, it's also essential for making you agile and reactive, especially during falls and traversing on uneven surfaces.
Because plyometrics are so challenging, most of us don't need to add weight to get their full benefits.
Benefits of Plyometric Exercises
- Increased power output
- Increased sports performance
- Reduced injury risk
- Increased joint stability
- Increased running speed
- Better body mechanics
Examples of Plyometric Exercises
It's imperative that you carefully and slowly progress your plyometric exercises. These moves are some of the most dangerous if done without a proper warm-up, and it's easy to overdo them.
Check this out for all the details on programming a plyometric exercise program.
- Plyo Push-up
- Jump Squat
- Jump Lunge
- Frog Squat Jump
- Alternating Lunge Jump
- Kneeling Squat Jump
- Prowler Sprint
- Broad Jump
- Vertical Jump
- Box Jumps
- Medicine Ball Throws
- Skater Jumps
Resistance Band Workouts for Cardiovascular Health
Definition of Resistance Band Workouts
Resistance bands can easily create a killer circuit that combines strength training while getting your heart racing.
Bands are among the cheapest and most portable forms of resistance available, so they're an excellent option for home gyms and travelers alike.
Because resistance bands are limited by the amount of resistance they offer, they are great for cardio-centered circuits.
Benefits of Resistance Band Workouts
Bands offer less resistance than traditional strength equipment like barbells, but they produce similar results to machines and dumbbell workouts.
- Increased strength
- Increased muscular endurance
- Increased muscle
- Decreased fat
Resistance Bands Total Body Workout
Total Body Band Workout
Banded Squat 20 reps
Single Arm Row 12 reps
Banded Floor Press 12 reps
Banded Push Ups 8 reps
Lateral raises 12 reps each side
Mountain Climbers 30 sec
Jumping Jacks 30 Sec
Rest for 60 sec, repeat 3-5 rounds
A Few Things to Consider
Now that you know the many cardio and weight options, where do you start?
It's important to note that workouts like HIIT and plyometrics are considered advanced. They’re not for everyone, and they can be hard on your body.
You need to master the form for each exercise and build a foundation of cardiovascular and muscular fitness before you progress to increasing the intensity and complexity of your workouts.
Things to Remember
Once you've mastered the basics of all your exercises and are ready to take your workouts to the next level, here are a few things to remember.
You May Be More Sore. Higher-intensity exercise has tremendous benefits, but it also sucks - both during the workout and afterward.
Know that soreness improves over time, but it's okay to admit that it's tough and may not be the workout for you. To avoid injury and excessive muscle soreness: start slow and progress slower.
Injury Rates are Higher. Wait a minute; you just said cardio with weights would decrease my likelihood of injury!
I did, and I meant it–in the long term. But in the short term, activities like HIIT and plyometrics have a higher injury rate than other forms of exercise.
These injuries are primarily caused by inadequate warm-ups, bad form, and poor programming, so most could have been avoided.
You Will Increase Discomfort Tolerance. One aspect of health and fitness that needs to be discussed more is our physical and mental resilience.
When we push through a challenging workout and keep the promises we make to ourselves by showing up to our workouts week after week, we build our mental toughness as much as our muscles.
Intense exercise builds our resilience even more as the discomfort is significant. The rewards are immense if you can push through.
Proper Form and Technique
Spoiler Alert: Form & Technique Are Super Important
You must commit to learning the proper technique for all exercises, especially your weight-training movements.
No matter what type of lift you're going for, there are a few foundational form cues you'll need to master to lift weights safely and effectively.
- Abdominal Bracing
- Maintaining a Neutral Spine
In essence: you must learn how to breathe and stand properly.
Now, you may think this is easy, intuitive even! But most folks do not know how to maximally engage all of their core muscles to protect the spine and allow them to move heavy weights safely.
Tips for Maintaining Proper Form and Technique
- Start laying on the floor on your back, with your knees bent.
- Place one hand on the top of your stomach and the other on your side.
- Breathe into your belly and feel it expand in every direction.
- When you exhale, flex all the muscles in your stomach and glutes. You will feel them tighten. This is bracing your core.
- When lifting weights, you will brace your core but continue to breathe normally.
- Stand tall either up against a wall or using a lifting dowel or broom handle placed against your back, as pictured in this video.
- The back of your head, mid back, and tailbone should all touch the bar/wall.
- Bend forward at the waist keeping your shoulders pinned back, hinging at the knee. This is bending with a neutral spine.
If you're lifting weights and you're struggling to maintain a neutral spine, try these cues:
- Squeeze your glutes. This will correct any pelvic tilting.
- Tuck your chin back. This will bring your cervical spine back in line.
- Brace your abs. By flexing your abs, you are now in a neutral spine position and ready to move weights safely.
Safety Tips for Cardio Workouts with Weights
Precautions for Cardio Workouts with Weights
While exercise is essential for our health, intense exercises like the workouts described here are challenging in many ways and are not for everyone.
If you're thinking of adding weights to your cardio routine, talk to your doctor and make sure you're cleared for intense exercise.
Safety Tips for Cardio Workouts with Weights
The single most important safety tip you should heed before trying any of these workouts is to carve out time for a proper warm-up.
Taking 5-10 minutes for some easy cardio to get the blood flowing, followed by 5-10 minutes of focused activation work, will make all the difference in your performance and help prevent injury.
If this is your first time doing barbell, kettlebell, or heavy dumbbell work, I also strongly recommend working with a coach first.
These movements are complex and take time and repetition to learn properly.
While exercise videos on the internet are handy, they're not a substitute for an experienced movement coach who can address your specific needs in real-time.
Common Injuries to Avoid
Overuse injuries are the most common in workouts like HIIT and strength training that utilize compound movements and resistance bands. Thankfully, there’s an easy remedy: warm up appropriately, prioritize rest-both during the workout and between workouts—and listen to your body.
If you experience pain, stop whatever you're doing early. Don't wait until the pain is severe.
Joint injuries like Jumper's Knee are common with Plyometrics in particular. Explosive movements such as sprinting, cutting, and jumping place stress on our joints–particularly our knees- which can lead to pain and injury if your form is off.
Experts caution those new to plyometrics and those carrying excess weight to build a strong foundation of strength and tendon and ligament health through traditional strength training before progressing to plyometrics, particularly with jumping moves.
Helpful Videos on Form & Technique
Here are a few videos to help you develop your technique and body mechanics to master your workouts.
Best Apps & Gyms for Combining Cardio & Weights
- Keelo | Free app available on iTunes offering HIIT workouts under 20 minutes
- Nike Training Club | HIIT workouts led my celebrity trainers available for iOS & Android
- HIIT Workouts | Free app available for iOS & Android
- SugarWOD | Get Crossfit workouts like the EMOM and AMRAPs available for iOS & Android
- Stark Resistance Band | An app dedicated to resistance band workouts, great for beginners, available for iOS & Android
- Fitivity | Plyometric workouts for athletes available for iOS & Android
Interested in learning compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and clean? Want varied HIIT strength workouts? Find a CrossFit affiliate gym near you.
While there are many myths about cardio, adding weights to your workouts will help you meet all your exercise needs in half the time of traditional workouts.
HIIT, circuit training, plyometrics, and resistance bands can be combined with cardio moves to create the perfect, all-in-one workout that helps you et stronger, burn calories, and improve your heart health.
More Cardio Advice from GymBird Experts
- What is Cardio?
- Cardio for Beginners
- Best Cardio Workouts
- 5 Cardio Workouts at Home
- Cardio Workouts for Runners
- Cardio vs HIIT
- Cardio vs. Walking
- How to Avoid Cardio Injuries
- Is Cardio Aerobic or Anaerobic?
- Top Cardio Benefits