If You’ve Hit a Plateau in Your Cardio Workouts, Here’s What To Do

Photo: Getty/Patrik Giardino

If you’ve hit a plateau in your exercise routine—and you’ve been sticking to a steady rotation of cardio workouts—trainer and Barry's X founding instructor Lindsey Clayton says it’s probably because you’re missing a “huge” piece of the puzzle: strength training.

What gives? A dancer and run coach herself, Clayton shares that “runners, cyclists, and dancers have the potential to build muscle during a cardio-based activity,”—but!—if that's all that you do, you'll likely hit a plateau.

“Over time you aren't really building muscle, you're just increasing your cardiovascular endurance,” she says. While cardio endurance is an excellent thing to build, Clayton shares that strength training  is the “magic component” that will help you “improve the quality of your life, lower your risk for injury, increase bone density, protect the longevity of your joints, and [achieve] overall increased performance in everything you do.”

How to determine how much strength vs. cardio you need

So the age-old question: How much cardio versus strength training should you be doing every week? There’s no one answer to this question, she says. Your physiology is highly personal, and it's up to your body and your existing workout plan to help you figure out where you should start.

“It all depends on your goals,” says Clayton. “If you're focusing on building strength and gaining muscle mass, weights should be a priority. If you're training for a marathon, you may be logging more miles and doing sport-specific exercises than PR-ing your deadlift during that particular block of training.”

If you’re reading this in the midst of your own cardio plateau, consider adding at least one strength-based workout each week. You can see how your body responds, and continue or scale up from there. 

How to create your workout plan

In general, “a well-rounded health routine consists of strength training, cardio, proper nutrition, and rest,” says Clayton. This is pretty universal wisdom but bears emphasizing—particularly if you’ve been exclusively on a bike for the past 20 months. 

“You can split up your strength and cardio workouts into two separate workouts, or combine them into the same session,” she says, nodding to the Barry’s format, which combines the two. This structure, Clayton says, can help anyone, “develop endurance and strength all in one session.” 

If you still love your cardio workouts and don’t want to change the format or structure, you can totally add in a strength-only workout (or several) into your routine to break through that wall your body’s been hitting. 

“Start by learning basic movement patterns and ways to modify them,” says Clayton. “Then, once you learn the basics, you'll be able to gradually increase the size of your weights, the frequency and number of reps in your routine. Progressively overloading your strength routine will challenge your body in a safe and effective way and the end result is a stronger, more powerful you.”

Try this bodyweight workout from a Barry's trainer:

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