Is cardio a thorn in your side at the gym? Trust me, I understand. You spend time lifting weights (30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour, whatever), and by the time you’re finished, you’re so spent that all you want to do is hit the exit and get on with your day. Yet, cardiovascular training is an important part of any training program – it helps maximize fat loss, enhances athletic performance, and improves overall health.
So what do you do? Skip cardio and lift only, or suck it up and hop on the treadmill for 20 minutes after your last set of weights?
I say do both at the same time using one of my favorite forms of cardio: cardioacceleration. With cardioacceleration, you can squeeze your cardio into your lifting routine while spending virtually no extra time in the gym. Best of all, you’ll see great results in fat-burning and endurance without taking away any strength or size gains from your weight-training.
Cardioacceleration: The Best of Both Worlds
The premise behind cardioaccerlation is simple: During a standard lifting workout, instead of standing around between sets to rest, you do a cardio activity for anywhere from 30-60 seconds before moving on to your next set.
That cardio activity can be any number of things. Whereas standard cardio is often done on a machine (treadmill, bike, Elliptical, etc.), cardioacceleration is best performed with a calisthenic exercise like jumping jacks, bench step-ups, jumping rope, or even running in place. Reason being, you want the cardio exercise to be in close proximity to the lifting exercise you’re doing to keep training intensity high and your workout moving along; having to walk across the gym floor to the cardio machines is probably not the best use of your time.
For example, let’s say you’re doing four sets of bench press, where you’d normally rest 60 seconds between sets. When you’re employing cardioacceleration, those rest periods would be replaced with a cardio activity like one I just mentioned (step-ups would be a good choice, as you can do it right there on the bench you’re already occupying).
By the time your workout is over, if you’ve done cardioacceleration between most or all of your sets, you’ll have seamlessly incorporated a complete cardio workout, 30-60 seconds at a time, into your lifting routine. It’s just that simple, and just as effective from a cardiovascular standpoint as doing all of your cardio intervals together.
The Science Behind Cardioacceleration
Cardioacceleration is just another form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which I covered on GIJobs.com in my The Right Kind of Cardio for Burning Fat article. The technique is based off a ground-breaking study performed at the University of California-Santa Cruz, and published in 2014, that showed that subjects who did cardio for 30-60 seconds between weight-lifting sets over a two-month period actually showed better recovery than those who took full rest between sets.
Yes, you read that correctly: Doing extra work in the form of cardiovascular training actually improved recovery versus just standing or sitting around between sets. For more on the research supporting cardioacceleration, check out this article on JimStoppani.com.
How to Implement Cardioacceleration in Your Workouts
As I mentioned above, cardioacceleration entails simply replacing standard rest periods with shorts of bouts of cardio, anywhere from 30-60 seconds at a time and preferably utilizing a cardio activity that’s conveniently located by your training station.
That said, cardioacceleration isn’t a one-size-fits-all technique. Here are some guidelines to follow for getting the most out of cardioacceleration training and making it work for your current level of fitness and gym setup:
Split Your Rest Periods Between Cardio and Full Rest if Needed – The bout of cardio doesn’t have to be for the full 60 seconds (or however long your rest period was going to be). Those just starting out with cardioacceleration will need to ease into it; in this case, I recommend doing the cardio activity for half of your rest period, then taking full rest the other half. For instance, if your break between sets is 60 seconds, you would do cardio for 30 seconds and take complete rest the other 30 seconds. From there, work up to 45 seconds of cardio and 15 seconds of rest, then up to a full 60 seconds of cardio.
Start Out with Low-Volume Cardioacceleration – Eventually, you’ll want to work up to doing cardioacceleration between all sets in your workout. But again, feel free to ease into it. Start out by doing cardioacceleration between only half of your sets, or even fewer than that. How much cardioacceleration you start out with should depend on your current level of conditioning.
Mind Your Intensity – You want your cardioacceleration exercise to be as intense as possible, but be reasonable. If you’re already doing a demanding exercise like squats or deadlifts, keep your cardio activity between those sets something of lower impact and even low intensity, like bench step-ups or jogging in place. More taxing exercises like burpees, dumbbell cleans, and kettlebell swings are fair game for cardioacceleration, but save those for less taxing exercises for smaller muscle groups (arms, abs, etc.).
Variety is Key – Over the course of a 20-30-set (or more) lifting workout, you may be doing that same number of 30-60-second cardio bouts. If you prefer to do the same cardio activity between all those sets, that’s fine. But from workout to workout, and even exercise to exercise and set to set, I highly recommend switching up your cardio moves to keep your routine from getting stale and to make your body work in a variety of different ways. If you’re drawing a blank on what cardio activities to work in, here’s a list of ideas, many of them bodyweight calisthenics that can be done at most any gym or training station:
- Running in place
- Jumping rope
- Jumping jacks
- Bench or plyo box step-ups
- Jump squat (body weight)
- Power push-up or regular push-ups
- Dumbbell power clean or hang clean
- Kettlebell swing
- One-arm kettlebell or dumbbell snatch
- Heavy bag work (punches, kicks, elbows, knees, etc.)
- Medicine ball overhead throw
- Medicine ball slam