Is it OK to do cardio?
How much should I do?
What types are best?
Do I do it before or after I strength train?
We receive these questions on a daily basis from many of you in the Girls Gone Strong community, and we want to help you find the right balance of strength training and cardio that’s best for you.
Finding your personal balance of strength training workouts and cardio workouts depends largely on four things:
For most women, it’s to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong. That type of programming is going to look different than someone who wants to run a marathon or compete in CrossFit. This article is going to focus on women who want to look and feel amazing, healthy and strong (otherwise known as, balance!)
Are you new to strength training, or have you been training for a while? If so, have you been training intelligently? Personally, I strength trained for six years before I learned how to train safely and intelligently, so don’t be too concerned about your ego here.
As a very general rule, these classifications are pretty solid. Choose the ability level that sounds most like you.
If you feel like this classification is incorrect for you, that’s fine. Choose the classification you think most closely describes your ability level, and if you're wavering between two, choose the lower one just to be safe.
It could be as few as 1-2 hours or as many as 5-6 hours. Be realistic so you can set yourself up for success.
If you don’t love lifting, but the chart says you’re supposed to do it four days a week, you might be better off just doing it twice. Otherwise you may find yourself skipping sessions, feeling like a failure, and avoiding lifting altogether.
Today we’re going to outline how much of the following types of exercise you should do to reach your goals:
First, let’s all get on the same page about what each category entails.
As a general guideline, for women who want to get stronger, gain a bit of muscle, and possibly lose a bit of fat, I recommend push/pull/lower body, upper/lower, or full-body splits as opposed to body-part splits.
I usually pair 2-3 exercises together to save time, although occasionally I’ll choose one or two movements to do first by themselves so I can focus on going heavy and devote more time to recovery between sets instead of doing another exercise during that rest period.
I like to see women lifting moderate to heavy weights in the 5-12 rep range, although occasionally lifting in the 1-4 or 12-20 rep range can be very beneficial depending on your goals.
Here’s a sample full-body strength training workout for an intermediate lifter:
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is broadly defined as periods of very intense (a 9.5-10 out of 10 on the perceived effort scale) work, followed by periods of rest, repeated for time or for a number of sets.
HIIT can be performed a number of ways using a number of work : rest ratios. You can have set work : rest ratios, variable work : rest ratios, positive rest, negative rest, or any combination.
In general, the longer you have been training, and the more fit you are, the more work you can do with less rest. But keep in mind if you are no longer able to work at a 9.5 -10 out on the perceived effort scale during your work periods, and you're not feeling partially recovered during your recovery period, you probably need to decrease the work and increase the rest.
Try a few combinations and see what works for you:
Set Work:Rest Ratios
15 seconds : 45 seconds (positive rest, as you rest more than you work)
20 seconds : 40 seconds (positive rest, as you rest more than you work)
30 seconds : 30 seconds (equal rest)
40 seconds : 20 seconds (negative rest, you rest less than you work)
45 seconds : 15 seconds (negative rest, you rest less than you work)
Variable Work:Rest Ratios
Work as long as it takes you complete an exercise or set of exercises: rest twice as long (positive rest)
Work as long as it takes you complete an exercise or set of exercises: rest exactly as long (equal rest)
Work as long as it takes you complete an exercise or set of exercises: rest half as long (negative rest)
Work as long as it takes you complete an exercise or set of exercises: rest until your heart rate drops to 120 bpm
This workout has variable work periods (as the amount of time that it takes to perform the slams will change as you get tired) with set rest periods (this never changes).
Equipment needed: Battling Ropes and a Medicine Ball
When people think of moderate intensity cardio (MIC), they always think of running or plodding away on the elliptical, but there are tons of options for this type of workout. As long as your heart rate stays in the 120-140 bpm range, you’re good to go. This can be hiking, biking, swimming, fast-paced yoga, or circuit training.
Here is one of my favorite workouts (if you’re not wearing a heart rate monitor, simply stop and take your heart rate every few minutes during a rest period – it should be 20-25 beats in a 10 second period).
Equipment needed: Weight Plate and Dumbbells
If you have access to a sled or prowler you can push that instead of a weight plate.
This can be any kind of leisure movement you enjoy—from walking to hiking to biking to yoga—and should be restorative, not strenuous. Your heart rate should remain below 120 bpm, and this activity should be relaxing, and not stressful to your body.
Here is a good template for women to follow in order to look and feel her best. Keep in mind that I recommend as much LISS cardio (i.e. movement) as someone has the time and desire to do each week, so I'm not including it in this chart, because the recommendations is always the same: move as often as you can.
TOTAL TRAINING TIME: 1 hour and 50 minutes
TOTAL TRAINING TIME: 3 hours and 20 minutes
TOTAL TRAINING TIME: 5 hours and 10 minutes
We hope you find this information useful for helping you figure out how to achieve balance with your training, without ending up doing too much!
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