The Best Cardio You’re Not Doing

02.7.2018 | Forge Performance

The Best Cardio You’re Not Doing

“I didn’t realize how out of breath I could be while doing this type of exercise.” We’ve heard it time and time again. Often, it’s something you have to experience yourself to believe. Typically, we’re accustomed to hopping on a piece of stationary cardio equipment and going for 20-60 minutes. But what if we told you there was a way to perform 45 minutes of that same cardiovascular effort?

If you come to our facility, you’ll notice that about 95% of our equipment is strength equipment. We have 0 treadmills, 1 rowing machine, and 1 airdyne assault bike. It’s not unusual for people to come into our facility and ask, “where are all the treadmills?” It may be hard for people to wrap their head around, but there’s actually a much better way to get a cardiovascular workout than treadmills, ellipticals, and the like. How? Strength training.

In this article, we’ll dive into the different types of exercise (Anaerobic and Aerobic), and tell you exactly how to get a cardiovascular workout during your Strength Training for the ultimate benefit.

Strength Vs. Cardio

It may not seem like it from first glance, but strength training is actually one of the most effective forms of cardio. We don’t typically think of it this way, because it is often performed in an inefficient manner. The best way to perform strength training is to make it both an anaerobic (air not needed) and aerobic (air needed) exercise.

Anaerobic Vs. Aerobic

You can think of an An-aerobic exercise being exercises such as squats, push-ups, lunges, etc, for low repetitions (i.e. Strength Training). Although it is advised to breathe during the exercise, it is not vital in order to perform the task. Air is only needed after the exercise has commenced in order to help the body recover.

Aerobic exercise is usually performed on a treadmill, bike, rower, or any piece of cardio equipment where the exercise is sustained for an extended period of time. We need air to perform this exercise, otherwise our bodies will cease to function.

This is why you’ll breathe rather heavily during cardiovascular exercise, but not during resistance training. Again, if this is the case, there’s a far more effective way to perform your strength training so that you receive a higher reward for your efforts.

Strength is (Should Be) Cardio

Now, because Strength Exercises only use air in order to recover, the only way to obtain a cardiovascular benefit is to exert a moderate to high effort for the duration of the set, and to perform as much work as possible within a specific time frame. For a host of reasons, we generally recommend this time frame be from 30 to 45 minutes.

The key is to push to a near maximal effort on all of your exercises with sound technique, rest only as much as you need in order to exert the same effort, and then repeat the exercise. Performing your strength training in this way will have your body in a constant state of recovery. As soon as your body has finally recovered from your sets performed anaerobically, your heart rate will increase, forcing you to breathe heavily.

Fitness Level

Depending on your level of fitness, how you perform this style of strength training will vary. Because we love you so much, we’ve included a couple of basic examples of how to perform strength training to receive a cardiovascular benefit. We’ve also highlighted the recommendations depending on your level of cardiovascular fitness, as well as included some notes to guide you.


Complete each list of exercise in conjunction with the other. Perform the reps of Exercise A, then move on to perform the reps of Exercise B, and repeat for the prescribed number of sets.

1A. Dumbbell Squat = 2 sets of 8-10 reps

1B. Cable Row = 2 sets of 8-10 reps

– Brief Rest –

2A. Dumbbell Press = 2 sets of 8-10 reps

2B. Step-Up = 2 sets of 5-6 reps per leg

If you’re a fit individual, increasing the sets from 2, to between 3 and 5 is allowed. Keep in mind the soreness that may set in the following day.


Complete each list of exercise in conjunction with the other. Perform the reps of Exercise A, then move on to perform the reps of Exercise B, and repeat for the prescribed number of sets.

1A. Dumbbell Squat = 3 sets of 12-15 reps

1B. Cable Row = 3 sets of 12-15 reps

– Brief Rest –

2A. Dumbbell Press = 3 sets of 12-15 reps

2B. Step-Up = 3 sets of 6-8 reps per leg

If you’re a fit individual, increasing the sets from 3 to 4 is allowed. Keep in mind the soreness that may set in the following day.


For this individual, it is unadvised to perform compound movements such as squats, presses, rows, and lunges in a superset format. This is due to the fact that this individual will have the ability to exert a high amount of effort, and supersetting exercises together is ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst.

  1. Barbell Squats = 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Bent Over Row = 4 sets of 8 reps per arm
  3. Lunges = 3 sets of 12 reps per leg
  4. Back Extension = 3 sets of 15 reps

Although these outlines are very vague, they help illustrate how performing Strength Training can serve two purposes. Building up our bodies strength, while giving us the cardiovascular benefit we desire from aerobic style training.

Why Not JUST Do Cardio, Then?

So, even though strength training does both, one may wonder; “why not just do cardiovascular training?” If both can elevate our heart rate, and one requires far less effort and equipment, why should we bother with Strength Training?

We’re glad you asked! For starters, the stronger you are, the more you’re able to get out of high intensity cardiovascular work. This means more calories burned in less time. We cover this topic pretty extensively in our article Strength Helps Cardio. You’ll also be more resilient to injury and muscle fatigue when your body is stronger, giving you the ability to perform cardiovascular bouts more often and at higher intensities.

Aside from that, strength training gives you additional benefits that simple cardiovascular work cannot. strength training allows you to burn more calories immediately following the exercise session, and up to 48 hours afterwards. With steady state cardiovascular exercise, this simply does not happen.

Is it any wonder why we are such big advocates of strength training? We’re not saying you shouldn’t do cardiovascular exercise, or that you should only do strength training. We are saying that you don’t have to look at strength training as a waste of time, or a lack of a workout. If performed the right way, it’s actually the best way to burn calories, build lean muscle, and get into fantastic shape.

Don’t Believe Us? See the Results for Yourself


All of these measures were taken with individuals who varied on three fundamental levels:

  1. Age
  2. Weight
  3. Experience

The larger numbers were achieved by more experienced individuals with the greatest levels of Strength, because they can push to the highest intensity. For more on this topic, read our article on how strength helps cardio burn calories.


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