We all have an “ideal” fitness routine in our minds. But the reality is that few of us have the time to actually make it happen; it can be logistically challenging to fit in enough separate cardio and resistance training workouts in a given week. However, one time-saving workout hack is to do both cardio and strength training on the same day—or even at the same time.
Can you do a cardio and strength training workout in one?
While advanced athletes might perform a cardio workout followed by a strength-training workout (or vice versa) within the same training session, beginners—or those with limited workout time—may not have the luxury or fitness to do so. Fortunately, if you structure your workouts with enough intensity, and the right kind of exercises, you can combine cardio and resistance training into one combo workout.
“If you’re really interested in building strength, it’s best to split up your strength and cardiovascular exercises on different days, since you want your body to focus on building muscle after each workout,” Matthew Scarfo, CPT, resident training expert at Lift Vault previously told Well+Good about how to decide whether to split up or combine cardio and strength workouts. “Splitting up strength and cardio will help your body use all of its available resources, such as rest and fuel.” On the other hand, he adds, “If you only have three days to work out…it’s totally fine to combine your workouts so you get the best impact for your time.”
Generally, the best way to do this is to use circuit training, which is a style of workout in which you move from one exercise to the next with little to no rest in between each exercise. By using a circuit training format paired with full-body strength exercises and high-intensity cardio blasts, you can keep your heart rate up throughout the duration of the workout. This will give you the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or longer steady-state moderate-intensity cardio along with the muscle-building benefits of resistance training in one fell swoop.
The key to success when doing a cardio/strength hybrid workout is to make sure that you are pushing your body to the max during the cardio blast and transitioning quickly between the strength exercises so that your heart rate stays elevated. That said, using proper form and moving through your full range of motion with all of the movements is paramount to ensure safety and maximize the benefits of each exercise.
Try this 15-minute cardio and strength workout
In the latest episode of Well+Good's Trainer of the Month Club, Lululemon Studio trainer Lonnie Poupard takes us through a 15-minute routine focused on combining cardio and strength in one workout to capitalize on the benefits of both in an efficient, full-body workout. You will perform a variety of high-intensity bodyweight cardio exercises (with low-impact variations if needed) along with a strength-training circuit using a pair of dumbbells.
This is a great workout to perform on days when your schedule is packed, but you want to push your body and make the most of your workout time.
Format: Three bodyweight warmup moves, followed by two cardio exercises performed back-to-back twice, then two sets of three strength exercises, followed by a high-intensity blast of cardio for two minutes, rounded out with a little bit of core work and a quick cooldown.
Equipment needed: One set of dumbbells and an exercise mat.
Who is this for?: Anyone who wants a heart-pumping, efficient, fairly high-intensity workout that combines cardio and strength. There are beginner-friendly, low-impact variations offered throughout.
- Stand upright with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Swing your arms across the body to open up the front of the body and the chest, and back out.
Alternating knees to chest dynamic stretch
- Bring one knee up to your chest, hugging it in. Work on your balance as you stretch the glutes and hips.
- Lower the leg and repeat with the other leg.
- Keep alternating legs.
- Get down on your mat in a high plank position with your hands stacked under your shoulders, squeezing your glutes, inner thighs, and feet together. Spread your fingers wide and think about drawing your belly button in towards your spine, keeping your body in a straight line from your head to your heels.
First cardio circuit
Stand back up to begin the first cardio circuit, which will be two exercises performed back-to-back twice.
20 seconds of drop squats (low-impact option is regular bodyweight squats)
- Jump your feet out as you bend your knees and sit your hips back to drop down into a squat. Reach one hand down to touch the mat.
- Jump back up to standing.
- Alternate hands with each squat. Keep your chest up, back straight, and shoulders down.
20 seconds of jumping jacks. Use the full range of motion with arms and feet.
20 seconds of drop squats again, trying to go faster with more intensity.
20 seconds of jumping jacks. Be deliberate in how you are moving. Bring your arms up consciously, and really jump your feet out wide. Move as fast as possible.
Grab your weights. The strength circuit consists of two rounds of three strength training exercises, each performed for 45 seconds, moving right from one to the next.
- Stand upright holding a weight in each hand.
- Take a big step back with one leg, focusing on bending the back knee to a 90-degree angle. Lean your torso slightly forward toward the front knee, but make sure to hinge from the hips and do not round your back.
- Bring your feet back together.
- Alternate legs, stepping the other leg back into a reverse lunge. Your heart rate should be climbing, but don’t rush: Make sure you are using your muscles and really working through a deep range of motion.
High plank with shoulder taps and a push-up
- Let go of the weights and move into a high plank position with your feet slightly wider than hips-width. Engage your core and glutes.
- Lift your right hand and tap your left shoulder and then tap the right shoulder with the left hand (two shoulder taps—one with each hand to the opposite shoulder). Keep your hips and shoulders square to the floor.
- Then, do a full push-up by bending your elbows and lowering your chest to just above the floor. Press through your palms to straighten your arms again.
- Then, do another two shoulder taps and then a push-up.
- Keep going for 45 seconds.
Squats and single-arm overhead press (or weighted squats)
- Stand back up with the weights at your shoulder height, palms facing in.
- Either do a plain squat, keeping the weights racked here, or squat down and then perform a single-arm dumbbell overhead press, pushing the weight straight up into the air as you stand up, one arm per rep and switching arms with the next rep.
- Lower the weight back down as you seamlessly transition into the next squat.
30-second break (this is not a full recovery; your heart rate should still be up)
Repeat this strength circuit one more time.
2-minute cardio push
Two rounds of three cardio blasts performed 20 seconds each with no breaks
Switch kicks: Jump your legs back and forth in a shallow lunge pose. Use strong arms, pumping back and forth each time you switch legs.
Jumping jacks (or tap outs to remove impact)
High knees: Alternate bringing each knee up to hip height on a jump, landing lightly on your feet. Engage your core and move fast and strong. For a low-impact modification, you can do a high knee march.
Repeat that cardio circuit once more in an all-out effort.
Core and cool down
Bicycle crunches: Press your low back into your mat, and bring your right elbow to your opposite knee, then switch. Beginners can keep the legs up higher off the mat to reduce some of the intensity.
Hug the knees to chest and rock side to side for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat the bicycle crunches and knee hug once more.
Figure 4 piriformis and glute stretch: Lie on your back with your right leg crossed over the left thigh like a figure 4, pulling the left leg towards your chest by reaching behind your thigh and pulling the leg in. Switch legs.
Cat-cow stretches on your hands and knees.
Downward dog, pedaling through the feet with a few alternating little steps.
Arm swings: Stand all the way up, and swing your arms across your chest a few times to loosen up.
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