How Weight Training Can Complement Your Cardio Routine

weights, strength training band, workout mat
Weight training can help you become a stronger, faster athlete.

by Mary Lambkin

New to the gym? If so, you might walk in and head straight for the elliptical, stationary bike or treadmill to start chipping away at calories. It's common among first-time gym-goers to focus on cardio exercises — and that's totally OK — but there are ways to make your sweat sessions even more effective.

While you'll see results from cardio workouts, it's good to understand why weight training is beneficial to incorporate into your routine. Using weights can be a great way to complement your cardio work, as it helps strengthen the muscles you're using to run farther or pedal harder.

Why Weight Training?

Not only will weight training give you a nice mental break from the treadmill, it will also give your body a necessary change of pace. Completing the same cardio exercise day after day can tire you out. In addition, your results (in terms of caloric burn and performance) may plateau as your body adapts to the same workout day after day. 

By incorporating weight training sessions into your weekly workout routine, you can help reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries by almost 50 percent, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine. You'll likely become stronger, faster and more agile — all of which will benefit you when you step back onto the treadmill or elliptical. Basically, combining cardio and weight training together will transform you from a "cardio addict" to a well-rounded exerciser.

3 Easy Weight Training Exercises

Weight training doesn't have to be complicated — just like running or biking, it can be easy once you get in the groove. Machines are a great place to start. On top of using machines to supplement your routine, you can also hit up the free weights rack, where you can quickly adjust the intensity of your workout and get a sense for what weight ranges work for you. Grab a few dumbbells (heavy, medium and light) and test them out with the following exercises:

1. Weighted Squats

Squats are one of the most basic strength training movements. They're perfect for runners and other endurance athletes who rely on their legs for strength and speed. Make sure to keep your knees above your feet (not bowing out or in), hinge at the hips and keep your chest up and back straight. Your arms should be hanging at your side with a firm grip on your free weights as you lower your bottom toward the ground. Try completing three rounds of 15 repetitions with a 30-second break in between.

2. Seated Russian Twist

Core strength is crucial for runners and cyclists because it reduces reliance on your hips and glutes, making you less prone to injury and more likely to increase your sprinting power. Start in a seated position on a chair or bench with your legs slightly bent and feet on the floor. Holding a single dumbbell with both hands near your hips, twist from side to side until the dumbbell almost touches the floor on either side of your body. Try completing three rounds of 10 repetitions with breaks as needed. If the movement is too challenging, reduce the weight or just tap the floor with your hands (using no weight).

3. Glute Bridge

Runners are notorious for having weak glutes because frequent running (and frequent sitting, which any office worker falls victim to) disproportionately strengthens other muscles in our legs. Without strong glutes, your body can become misaligned and unsteady as you transfer weight away from the center of your body. Give your glutes the attention they deserve with simple, weighted glute bridges. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet on the floor. Slowly lift your pelvis upward, forming a straight-backed "bridge" from your shoulders to your knees. Hold a dumbbell just above your pelvis for an added challenge. Try completing three sets of eight bridges, with a break between sets.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.