Lift Weights Faster

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In a “Faces of MN” video interview I did last July, the interviewer, Joel Carlson, asked what I did for exercise. I explained I lifted weights, and how often the follow-up question is, “Yeah, but what do you do for cardio?”

My answer is always, always, always, I lift weights faster.”

Anyone who’s ever completed a 5-minute snatch test, a metabolic finisher after a strength workout or almost any CrossFit workout knows what I’m talking about — you can get completely winded without running, swimming, biking or…what do you call what you do on the elliptical?

No knock on those who prefer traditional cardio activities, but not all of us do.

Since that interview, my answer to that question has become a viral internet meme and even a greeting card, so I decided to, well, “run” with it (cardio joke!). Because I knew I wasn’t the only one who completes her cardio through the iron, I made shirts with this motto.

From there, I built an entire conditioning library around this idea. You can learn more about that over at www.liftweightsfaster.com.

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Let’s dig a little deeper.

Q: But what do you do for cardio?
A: I lift weights faster.

Of course, there was your standard token internet naysayer: “You can’t get a cardio effect with weights,” he brayed. “All you’ll manage to do is thicken the walls of your heart!”

Historically, research has been tough to come by on this front, as oftentimes the lifting that occurs during research studies is that with more traditional set and rep schemes — not exactly your hard-n-fast kettlebell workout.

Luckily, there have been a few recent studies on the topic of lifting and aerobic capacity. A recent study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found that a group of young, relatively fit individuals who trained with kettlebells for 8 weeks experienced a 13.8 percent increase in aerobic capacity, along with the strength and balance benefits you might expect.

To get a more definitive answer, I asked a couple of well-known exercise scientists to weigh in on whether or not you can lift weights for cardio.

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“It depends what you mean by ‘lifting weight,’” says Alex Koch, PhD, associate professor of exercise science at Lenoir Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. Most older studies on lifting looked at training on a machine circuit or doing traditional barbell exercises alone. In those, he continued, there was evidence of significant, though small, increases in VO2max in previously untrained subjects who lifted weights.

“Popular routines to boost cardio with weights these days tend to consist of higher reps of ballistic exercises that engage more muscle mass — think snatch and swing versus bench and curl,” he says. “There is less published data about these routines. Two studies I coauthored looked at the kettlebell swing, and both found that performing high rep swings increased VO2 to a level sufficient to improve VO2 max. Neither looked at long-term adaptation to kettlebell training, though.”

What about the accusation that those who lift weights faster have thick hearts? “Your ‘naysayer ‘ is talking about the issue of restricted venous return during weight-training exercises, limiting the ability to rely on oxygen delivery. That is a valid point,” he says, but goes on to clarify: “That’s really most pertinent to powerlifting exercises, like heavy squats and deadlifts, where a very high intra-abdominal pressure is maintained for a fairly long time. Weights can be lifted in such a way where venous return is not restricted for an extended period, and Olympic-type lifts, such as the power snatch and power clean, or other ballistic exercises, such as swings, where the lifter get to enjoy a period of unloading after a brief, high effort, should not restrict venous return nearly so much.” In other words, you may not be able to squat big weight faster for cardio, but the idea certainly applies to dynamic lifts without a long “grind” period.

Koch is not alone in his assessment. “With a low resistance and high repetitions, you do not create the same tension in the vessels [as you do with high resistance] and you get adequate venous return to the heart,” says Gary Miller, PhD, associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Using low resistance with lots of repetitions and short rest intervals seems to stimulate cardiovascular changes to a greater extent.”

So did I make an accurate claim? “I believe it is possible to improve your VO2 max with high-rep, dynamic, weighted exercises like the snatch, clean, or swing,” says Koch. “To get the most improvement with these movements, the workouts should consist of a high level of effort and a duration of effort that is constant, or intermittent with short rest breaks. But that is not nearly as pithy as ‘lift weights faster.’”

There you have it: You can get a cardio effect by lifting weights, as long as your movements are light and ballistic. (In case the huffing and puffing after you finish a set of kettlebell swings and snatches hadn’t convinced you of this already.)

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For the Lift Weights Faster apparel line, head to my Shop page.

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For my complete Lift Weights Faster conditioning program, including 130 different circuit workouts, head over to www.liftweightsfaster.com.

If you love to lift weights faster, too, use the hashtag #liftweightsfaster on social media so we can keep in touch.

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Author:Jen Sinkler

Fitness writer and editor, workout connoisseur, meditator, proponent of spandex, former rugby player; never, ever without lip gloss.

7 Responses to “Lift Weights Faster”

  1. Jane
    April 15, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Let’s say you’re not up to doing snatches/working with big weights (like, say, you work out at your office gym and don’t know how to do those yet.) what would this look like for someone who was a relative beginner?

  2. Tiny
    April 15, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    Could you possibly give a list of some exercises that’d fall into this category? I have a family history of heart disease and do not want to even vaguely decrease the blood flow to/from my heart by making the mistake of assuming that excercise X falls into the category of dynamic high repetiton resistance excercise. I imagine most anything on my Insanity/P90X cardio discs fall into that category. A list would be very beneficial as I’m alot of things but a runner isnt one of them.

    thanks!

    Tiny

  3. April 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    To the reader Tiny,
    I saw your comment and had to respond.
    I’m a physician and an exercise enthusiast.
    Professionally, I’m a weight loss surgeon, and together with my partner have almost 2,000 weight loss patients that we have followed over the past 9 years.
    We have patients as young as 18 and as old as 80.
    For all of them, we recommend resistance training. In the age of the internet and Amazon.com, you can have weights ordered and delivered to your doorstep so everyone has access to weight training.
    I literally can’t think of a single patient that I have told “Do not lift weights, it isn’t healthy for you.”
    And remember, since I operate on people who are seriously overweight to begin with, I see a fair number of people with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other issues.
    Unless you have a serious cardiomyopathy and are on the cardiac transplant list because your heart is irreparably damaged, I believe your heart and the rest of your body would benefit from resistance training.
    I also agree with Jen, that weight training is the best cardio. A few years ago I was preparing for a rowing competition , and I did nothing but cardio work on a rowing machine for several months.
    More recently I do essentially zero cardio and lift weights and do body movement exercises such as dips, pullups for example.
    My bodyweight is lower than it was during my cardio phase and my body fat percentage is lower now that I am strength training instead of doing cardio.
    As an aside, I was in Universal Studios in L.A. a few weeks ago, and for fun I ran up a huge amount of stairs instead of taking the escalator. I got to the top without feeling short of breath at all, and I noticed people half my age who tried the stairs were huffing and puffing.
    For specific exercises, you could start by getting a kettlebell and doing swings as Jen shows on her site.
    I’m sure Jen can offer more exercises in addition to the kettlebell swing. It depends on your specific situation. Do you have access to a gym? Do you workout at home? Do you already have equipment.
    Work to your own limits, which is something Jen preaches all the time. Autoregulatory training or biofeedback training is what they call it.
    Bottom line, I can’t think of many people who would damage their heart with weight training and with lifting weights faster :)

    Sad but necessary legal disclaimer: Check with your physician before embarking on any strenuous exercise regimen, and my comments here are striclty personal comments and should not be contrued to be medical advice. :)

  4. April 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Tiny, I’m a physician also and have to add my $0.02 to what Dr. Hekier said above.
    There is a tiny subset of heart conditions for which exercise might be harmful, but if you mean heart disease in the more generally used sense of coronary artery disease caused by atherosclerosis, then exercise, particularly resistance training, is the best preventative/cure available.
    I’ll give you my own example. I come from a family with a profound history of early and bad coronary artery disease with high cholesterols & triglycerides even in the absence of being overweight. My own cholesterol was elevated as early as my college years (although the diet of cigarettes and Doritos probably contributed to that, too). So I did a lot of running for exercise. I even ran a half marathon 5 years ago. But my cholesterol panel barely budged an inch.
    I’ve been lifting heavy weights for about a year now (and eating lots of protein to help fuel muscle growth). At 44 years old, I’ve finally got a lipid profile to die for and a resting heart rate in the 60′s. My diet has something to do with it, but the overwhelming difference is largely due to my body’s response to the metabolic demands of resistance training.
    So my advice is to bypass P90X and its’ type (been there, done that, got minimal results from a lot of hard work) and maybe consult Jen as an online trainer to set up a program for you based on your goals and history. I can almost guarantee you’ll be happier with your body and in a much healthier place.
    Of course, I can’t recommend this as official medical advice since I can’t see and examine you over the internet. You should see a doctor and get a thorough examination before starting any rigorous exercise program.
    Best of luck!

  5. April 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    I think it’s called moonwalking on the elliptical… ;)

  6. January 15, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Hi Jen, Thanks for sharing your best workouts ( best cardio joke ;) ) , May be i am late to get a nice shirt :P

  7. Nancy
    March 29, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    The past 2 years I have had to get blood tests and answer a questionnaire for my health insurance. One of the questions in the questionnaire is about cardio and how long and how many times/wk do I do cardio. Now, as a background, I am a lifelong fitness freak, former gymnast, and a personal trainer. I lift weights, swing kettlebells, work with sandbags, etc., etc., etc. I do not run anymore (knee issue forced me to give it up) and I LOATHE cardio machines. For the past 10 years my cardio has comes from, as you say, “lifting weights faster”.

    I score low on the health questionnaire’s cardio section because I do not partake in “traditional” cardio and, thus, cannot answer “5x/wk for 30+ minutes”. I probably score higher than the “hamsters” on all blood tests, and definitely, if the company had such a category, on any strength test.

    The field of healthcare is definitely behind the 8 ball when it comes to true fitness.

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