What type of cardio to do after strength training

Hey hey hey! How’s the day going?? Thank you so much for all of your fun comments on our Vegas trip recap.

You guys. Maybe it was the full moon, or maybe it was just the fact that we were in Vegas and came back to reality, but Monday was rough. 7am came so quickly, and the girls and I ended up spending most of the day in our jammies before finally venturing to the trampoline park.

P ended up with a bloody lip – it was horrible – and it all kind of went downhill from there. I was so thankful when the Pilot got home from work and I could get in a workout. 

I caught an evening Spin class at (r)evolve, and then came home for dinner and the girls’ bedtime, The Bachelor, and to get cracking on the mountain of work I let build up over the past 5 days.  

checking my TomTom at Revolve

For today’s post, I wanted to talk about cardio dilemmas, and what type of cardio to do after strength training. I feel like there’s a lot of confusion about this, and one of the things that hinders people from doing solo cardio is the fact that they don’t know what to do. It’s SO MUCH EASIER to get it done if you have a plan in place.

Are you unsure of what type of cardio to do after strength training? How much cardio do you need? What types should you do? Fitnessista breaks it all down

So here’s some info about how to decide your cardio plan of attack:

Why do we need cardio? How much cardio should we get in each week??

Cardio training is not only an effective method to burn fat, build endurance, and increase speed, but it’s also obviously important for heart health. Cardio consists of anything that keeps our heart rate elevated for a sustained amount of time. From this website: “Building cardiorespiratory endurance through regular physical activity allows your heart and lungs to work more efficiently, thereby improving your physical capacity to deal with stress and lowering your risk factors for several chronic diseases. Regular physical activity helps control obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — with a net result of cutting your heart disease risk almost in half, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. By providing weight control, regular exercise also cuts your risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Additionally, building cardiorespiratory endurance benefits mental health by providing a buffer against anxiety and depression.”

There are so many cardio methods in the fitness ocean, but I like to break them down into 5 main categories:

-Steady state

-Tempo work

-Hill/resistance work

-HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

-Active recovery or NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or what I refer to as “unintentional exercise,” like gardening, vacuuming, walking the dogs, cleaning, etc.)

According to NASM, we need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise per week. The weekly recommendation for resistance training is 2 or more days per week with exercises for all the major muscle groups (minimum of 1 set of 8-12 repetitions for each muscle group). Flexibility and neuromotor exercises (balance, agility, coordination) are also recommended at least twice per week.

Why we should alternate cardio intensities:

It is SO important to not only vary the mode of exercise you do, but the intensity of the workload.

The body is a smart machine, and gets used to the same demands over time. For example, if you hike a strenuous trail for the first time, chances are that your heart rate will be elevated, your legs will be sore, and you’ll burn a ton of calories. If you begin to hike that same trail, every day, for weeks on end, you may find that it starts to feel easy. Your heart rate isn’t as elevated, it doesn’t feel challenging to you, and you burn less calories. Also, maybe you begin to feel a nagging pain in outer part of your knees from the slight tilt of the trail to one side. 

When we alternate cardio intensities and modes, it does a few awesome things:

-It gives the heart a chance to recover and rest. If you’re doing the same crazy HIIT drills every day, it doesn’t give the heart (which is a muscle! An important one…) a chance to rest. This is so important for preventing adrenal fatigue, overtraining symptoms, and burnout. High intensity workouts are FUN and awesome here and there, but too much exercise at 60% (and up) of your max can cause turbulent blood flow, a precursor for arterial plaque accumulation. This is serious stuff friends. Too much time and intensity can cause more harm than good. (Friends who love Orangetheory as much as I do, this is why I don’t recommend going more than twice a week.)

-You aren’t consistently working the same muscle groups, which can help to prevent overuse injuries. I think if you like dance cardio, this can be a great cardio workout to challenge your brain, and also encourage lateral movement since we don’t usually move from side to side. 

-You are constantly changing demands, encouraging the body to work harder and avoid kicking it into cruise control. In other words, you’ll get more bang for your buck. 

How cardio works in regards to strength training.

I always like to say that cardio can shrink the body, but strength training will change the shape of the body. Doing BOTH of these things is a great way to get strength, performance, speed, endurance, and visible muscular gains. Both strength training and cardio burn calories, which can lead to fat loss, but how you combine them can dramatically impact your results.

I haven’t trained clients in about a year, but I’ve always been pretty strategic about how I designed individual fitness plans. While I tweak it depending on unique needs, there’s a general mental formula that I like to follow. I’m about to spill all of the beans with you so you can use it in your own routine. 

What type of cardio to do after each type of workout: 

*Please remember that while I’m a certified Weight Loss Specialist and Personal Trainer, I’m not your personal trainer – even though let’s be real, it would be so fun. Please take this for informational purposes and consult with a doctor before making any fitness changes. These are some ways to do it, but not the ONLY ways to do it. You do what’s best for you, mmm k?

For cardio, base it off what you did yesterday and what you plan to do tomorrow. Had an easy day yesterday? Push it up today! Did you do HIIT yesterday? Take an easier hill climb or steady state. Are you planning on an intense cardio class tomorrow? Maybe skip cardio entirely and do active recovery or NEAT instead.

Cardio only:

-Steady state

-Tempo work 

-HIIT and steady

-Hill training followed by HIIT or easy steady state

Are you unsure of what type of cardio to do after strength workouts? How much cardio do you need? What types should you do? Fitnessista breaks it all down

Strength workout: Upper Body

Cardio options:

-Easy steady state

-Tempo work

-Rowing or battle rope intervals with your strength workout (to fully fatigue the upper body and get in bonus core work)

-HIIT intervals after strength

-Stairclimbing or Spin bike after strength

Are you unsure of what type of cardio to do after strength workouts? How much cardio do you need? What types should you do? Fitnessista breaks it all down

Strength workout: Lower Body

Cardio options:

-Lower body HIIT drills (to fully fatigue the lower body)

-Easy hill climb (to work the legs muscles differently)

-Spin bike or Stairclimb

Strength workout: Total Body Circuit

Cardio options:

-Easy steady state <— this would be my number one choice if you already did HIIT intervals in your strength workout. Steady state after HIIT can burn more fat, and it feels like a nice break after the intervals

-Tempo work

-Total body HIIT drills

-Spin bike or Stairclimb

-Alternate upper body and lower body HIIT drills

Are you unsure of what type of cardio to do after strength workouts? How much cardio do you need? What types should you do? Fitnessista breaks it all down

Strength workout: Core

-Anything goes.

If you do cardio after strength training will it destroy your gains?

Not if you fuel properly. In a nutshell, your body will usually burn carbs first, then fat, and finally protein (from your muscles: catabolic state). Have some protein before your workout + some quick-burning carbs if you need the energy, and carbs and protein afterwards. (<— I also like to mix some fat into my post-workout for nutrient absorption.) Here is a great post on pre- and post-workout snacks.

Whew. That was a lot!! 

So, tell me, friends: how much cardio do you do each week? Do you stick to the same thing or do you constantly change it up?



Photos: James Patrick

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  1. Jamie @ madrediem on March 14, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    I used to be the cardio QUEEN (6 days/week) until I started getting older and flabby. Then I started learning more about strength training and fell in love and haven’t looked back. That being said, I still do 3-4 cardio workouts a week – usually a run or two, some kickboxing, some HIIT, or whatever else I’m feeling that week. I try to listen to my body and mix it up based on what I’m feeling, especially since I do my workouts starting at 5am before I head to work.

  2. Meghan Zook on March 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    I love this! Thanks for the official update on cardiovascular and strength recommendations!

  3. Amy on March 14, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Great article, thanks! I always have to walk my dogs so do a lot of hilly walks and maybe run once/week. Just joined a new gym, though so adding in classes like Zumba and spin.

  4. Nathaly @Nathycure on March 14, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Well..I’m a runner so cardio is my main thing every week. I do change it up a little bit by running in different places. I’ve been also lifting weights on the days I got to the gym to run on the treadmill.

  5. Danielle on March 14, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I am currently obsessed with Orangetheory! I have been doing that twice a week and mixing in the Hammer and Chisel Beachbody program. I have always been more of a cardio person but I am currently loving lifting weights.

  6. Christina @ montessoriishmom.com on March 15, 2017 at 4:07 am

    This is so interesting! I’ve honestly been working out so randomly lately and putting very little thought into it. I’ve just been doing what I feel like, which does lead to some variety, but is not at all strategic. I want to start planning it out a bit at the beginning of the week again.

  7. Sam @ Hygge Wellness on March 15, 2017 at 5:33 am

    Definitely bookmarking this– so, so helpful! And btw – what did you think of the Bachelor? They didn’t look too happy afterwards…. lol

  8. Alana on March 15, 2017 at 5:34 am

    I like to switch things up but my favorite way to get cardio is HIIT focused bodyweight workouts. I also spin at least once a week!

  9. Carrie this fit chick on March 15, 2017 at 6:40 am

    Oh no!! Sorry to hear about the bad lip :/

    I do cardio 3x a week and I only do HIIT – usually in the form of sprints on the treadmill (9x 20 second sprints at 11.7-12mph) fast and QUICK!

  10. Amy Ramos on March 15, 2017 at 11:49 am

    I do Orangetheory 3-4x a week and I try to change up my intensity levels. Monday I went heavy on the strength training and light on treadmill. Tomorrow, I will do the opposite or focus more on my rowing.
    It does help there are theme days (like ESP or just endurance day) so I don’t have to think about it too much. I just do not want to get bored or burn out easily from doing OTF workouts.

    • Fitnessista on March 15, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      that’s a super smart way to do it

  11. Julia @ Drops of Jules on March 15, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    I have the opposite problem. I always always always say I want to add more strength into my life and then never do so. I’m stuck in the cardio mindset because I equate sweat = sufficient workout. I need to break out of this mindset! I’d love to read your thoughts on strength training. Actually, I’m sure you’ve already written on the subject. Sounds like I need to head back into your archives.

    I hope P and her lip recover quickly!

  12. melodie on March 15, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    I love posts like these, so thank you. Full of good info! But i have a question about fueling… you mentioned having protein before a workout. I am part of a boot camp style workout where we include weights twice a week. (Camp Gladiator….check it out. Its fabulous!) Every workout is 1 hour. But I’m up at 4:30am to make it to my 5am workout. I have a hard time eating much at that hour, particularly protein. But am i doing myself a diservice by only having a banana or an orange before working out?

    • Fitnessista on March 16, 2017 at 10:36 am

      that sounds amazing!!
      how heavy are the weights? are they lighter circuits or are you lifting heavy, to your max?
      if it were me, i’d have some protein before bed (a small shake, scrambled eggs, or greek yogurt) and wait to eat until after the workout because it’s so early. if you find that you’re hungry, a banana or orange sounds like a great choice

      • melodie on March 16, 2017 at 10:52 am

        I bring 15# dumbbells. Each week has a theme. Like week 1 is endurance and week 4 is HIIT week. I forget what week 2 and 3 are called. I just know that each time i leave i feel like I’ve gotten a great, sweaty workout. So a little protein before bed and im ok to workout before eating anything in the morning, unless I’m feeling hungry. I’ll try that. Ive been doing these amazing workouts for over 2 years (minus a month break after a major injury) but in just not seeing the physical changes like one would expect. I know that probably has mostly to do with my diet. I just havent figured it all out. Its never been this hard in the past. Wah wah wah. My sob story. 😉

        • melodie on March 16, 2017 at 10:53 am

          Correction: i had to take a 6 month break….not a 1 month break.

        • Fitnessista on March 17, 2017 at 9:17 am

          i hope it works for you! <3 i'd just eat if you're hungry and wait if you're not

  13. Leah on March 15, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Is it better to do cardio after lifting weights? I tend to do cardio first as it’s my least favorite. Unless it’s a fun hiit body weight type session. Great post, thanks!

    • Fitnessista on March 16, 2017 at 10:34 am

      it depends on your goals and how you feel. if you’re going for fat loss, i’d do cardio first, and for strength and building lean muscle, i’d do strength first

  14. Jayne C. on March 16, 2017 at 11:27 am

    I love this post Gina! I’ve often wondered the best way to go about putting cardio with my strength training workouts. Thank you so much for sharing! <3

  15. Laura @FitMamaLove on March 16, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    What a great post! I’d heard conflicting info about what type of cardio to do with strength training, so this was really informative!

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