As a personal trainer in Chicago I often hear people say, “I need to do more cardio.”
This generally means one of two things: either they want to lose body fat (for which traditional cardio is one of the least efficient ways to do so), or they are sick of being winded while running for the bus or hauling groceries to their 3rd story walk-up. If you belong to the ‘cardio-burns-fat-better-than-strength-training’ camp, well, maybe this blog isn’t for you. But if you are looking for the latter - more energy, feeling less tired throughout the day, and overall better quality of life - then I’ve got good news for you!
Here are my top FIVE strength training workout routines to help you get in better condition so you can crush your day like a boss without getting tired and out of breath! BONUS: these also work to burn fat efficiently and tone up 😉 The best part of these 5 workouts? You don’t have to do any boring cardio! These will save you time - no more spending endless hours on ellipticals, bikes, or that dreaded treadmill. You also don’t have to worry about feeling like a hamster running on a wheel watching ‘Friends’ reruns or like a cog in ‘The Matrix’ pedaling away to provide electricity to the machine imprisoning and harvesting our humanity for its own personal gain. Did I mention how boring cardio can be?
So without further adieu here are my top FIVE ways to get cardio while strength training. Don’t forget, they’re also great ways to burn fat and maintain muscle tone.
-Unilateral Descending Ladders:
Unilateral is just a fancy term for one arm or leg. Simply put you would do an exercise (ex. shoulder press) with your favorite arm and then complete the set with the other. While you are pressing with one arm (which coincidentally builds shoulder stability compared to bilateral exercises and therefore reduces risk of injury) the other arm is resting, enabling you to simultaneously keep your heart rate up for longer while minimizing rest time. Seem easy so far? Well, the descending ladder adds another level of cardio. Start with 8 reps on one side then 8 on the other then immediately switch back to the original arm by performing 7 reps before another 7 on the other. Then 6/6, 5/5, ect. until finishing with one apiece. I guarantee that you will work up a sweat and be breathing heavily by the point you arrive at 5 reps! If this feels like a lot of volume you can try only doing the even or odd numbers.
-Peripheral Heart Rate Density Training (PHA):
PHA (action) is essentially circuit training. It can be two or more exercises done one after the other in a ‘circuit’. The key difference being you go from a lower body exercise (ex, squat) to an upper body exercise (ex, TRX row). Much like the descending ladders that alternate between right and left, here you are giving your upper body a rest while training your lower and vice versa. The result is less wasted time and more work done in less time! While a circuit simply allows you to perform a series of exercises, here we like to utilize the density of this workout structure so you can maximize your effort and sets within a time frame. For example, a common alternating density set here at Hustle could consist of 10 goblet squats followed by 10 TRX rows alternating for 5 min. You can also gamify* this by recording how many sets you finish in the timeframe or the amount of weight you use and then trying to beat those numbers next time!
Simply put, Contrast Training is performing a strength-based exercise (generally near maximal load or as heavy as possibly) followed by an explosive movement that mimics the same movement. An example of this is three heavy squats followed by three squat jumps. The theory behind this is that the heavy lift causes something called Post Activation Potential (PAP) which enables you to recruit more muscle fibers during the explosive movement. This in turn can make you faster or generate force more quickly, which means you increase calorie burning as well as your ability to catch that bus! We typically like to pair these in circuits or with additional exercises to provide you with recovery time after the explosive movements before returning to the heavy lifts, similar to PHA. A simple circuit which we utilize here could be 30 seconds of pushups (adding band resistance if needed) followed by 15 seconds of wall balls and finishing with 30 seconds of good mornings to allow the upper body and chest to rest before the next set.
-Full body Complexes:
Complexes are similar to circuits in the sense that you are performing two or more exercises in succession. Complexes can incorporate PHA as well but the biggest difference is that you perform the complex with a single piece of equipment and you do not drop (or you at least hold it) that piece of equipment until you are done with the set. An example would be if I am using a steel mace I could start with 5 squats, then 5 lunges each side, 5 rows, and finally 5 360s each side. I am continuously moving from exercise to exercise after completing the desired reps. One thing to keep in mind with this form of training is that your grip may become challenged depending on the load or how you are holding the piece of equipment. At Hustle we like to alternate grips and load positions to minimize grip burnout before the larger muscles become fatigued. If your grip burns out before your lat you will never fully work your lat. One example would be holding a dumbbell in the rack position (near the chest) then lowering the weight by your side for a bent over row. This challenges the grip in different ways and allows some rest in different positions.
-HIIT and LIIT:
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has become the buzzword to describe pretty much any type of strength training associated with fat loss. Generally, HIIT is done in 15-30 minute sessions with a 2-1 or 1-2 work to rest ratio. An example: rope slams for 15 seconds and rest for 30 would be a 1-2 work to rest interval. HIIT works well but it can be very taxing on the body because: 1) as the name suggests it is highly intense; 2) some trainers overutilize high impact techniques such as sprints and jumps; and 3) there are tendencies to do HIIT too often and for too long. We don’t suggest doing HIIT more than two to three times a week for thirty minutes maximum for conditioned individuals or athletes. LIIT (Low Intensity Interval Training) generally has a longer duration and can be done more frequently, but usually contains more recovery activity. What we can take from this is that a combination of these types is important! If your workouts only consisted of LIIT you might never reach your goals and if you only did HIIT you might injure yourself! We like to vary our workouts and incorporate both of the types, enabling our members to have the autonomy to choose for themselves what type they would like to focus on each day. Depending on your previous workouts and how your body is feeling you can choose a HIIT or a LIIT experience. You can also mix the two! An example of a mixed circuit like this would be Squats (high or low), Planks (moderate to low) Jump Squats (high). Of course deciding what type of training you want/need depends on past experience, current level of fitness, and goals, but that’s why we are here to get to know you and help!
If you have any health concerns consult your doctor before starting any new physical fitness program. Start slow and give yourself some grace. Progress doesn’t happen overnight and requires attention to detail and consistency to really reap the benefits. If you have been out of the game or out of shape for some time consult with a personal training or fitness coach about how to get started again. We offer free consultations with personal trainers with no obligation to sign up. We are here to help so if you have questions please fire away.
* Gamify (Verb) - apply typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to (an activity), typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.