7 Ways to Sneak Cardio Into Your Weight-Lifting Workouts

Unless you have no other priorities in life, hitting the gym is all about efficiency. You want to get in, power through a successful workout, and get out. If you’re focusing on building up muscle and spending more time with weight sets than with a treadmill, it probably feels like you don’t have the time to work in another 20 minutes of running. You’re already putting in an hour or so of reps to work your legs or arms, so why bother sticking around for cardio?

If you’re all about strength and don’t care if your muscles grow or become more defined, you don’t need much cardio at all. If you do need to lose weight or want to see that six-pack a little more clearly, there are some simple ways to incorporate short bursts of cardio in the time when you would typically be resting between sets anyway. Here are seven ways to do it.

1. Jumping rope

Person doing jump rope exercise

Double-unders are a seriously tough jump rope workout. | iStock.com

Jumping rope isn’t just a hopscotch alternative for little girls on the playground — remember it was a major part of Rocky’s training. If you’ve retained any bit of skill from your elementary school years, you’ll be able to pick this one up in no time. It’s a great way to get your heart pumping, and can normally be combined with weight training, no matter which muscle groups you’re focusing on that day.

The people at Roman Fitness System are huge fans of incorporating jump roping into any routine, because it burns calories fast, has little risk of injury, and is excellent for improving coordination that leads to athleticism. Plus, it’s low-impact, which means that you won’t drop any of the muscle that you’ve been working so hard to gain. The site will convince you why you need to add jumping rope to your routine, and even help with which rope will work best for you. An added bonus: Jumping rope is fantastic for calf development, sometimes a problem area for men.

2. Rowing machine

man on a rowing machine

Try taking the rowing machine for a spin. | iStock.com

If the Vikings did it, you can too — even if it means briefly switching areas in the gym before sets. Muscle & Fitness swears by rowing in any routine, because if performed properly, it will work every muscle area in your body. This is especially great for people who are looking to lose a few pounds, because it will help burn fat long after you’re off the machine.

To fit this in between sets, the publication recommends doing a 200-meter sprint, which should take you anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds. Stick to fewer than eight sprints over the course of your workout, though, or you risk tiring too much and not having the energy to put back into your weight routine.

3. High knees

Woman runner running on city road

High knees will get your blood pumping. | iStock.com/lzf

You won’t need any equipment for these, and you probably won’t have to move to a different part of the gym. High knees generally work your legs, thighs, glutes, and core, so these might be best for days when you’re not already doing tough leg routines.

There are several variations of high knees, and they can be done while standing in place or while moving across the floor. All you’ll need to get your heart rate up is 30 seconds, Greatist writes.

4. Kettlebell swings

kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings will help you keep your muscle. | iStock.com

The great thing about kettlebell swings is that they can coincide with pretty much any weight set, Muscle & Fitness writes. Kettlebells are great for conditioning and can also build some strength that helps with lower back and neck pain. The tools are also versatile, but even plain boring swings will achieve the cardio results you want.

Muscle & Fitness suggests doing 15 to 25 reps between each weight set. If you’re focusing only on the swings for your cardio that day, aim for 250 to 500 of them over the course of your workout.

5. Burpees

man in the bottom phase of a push-up in an empty room

Burpees are the perfect exercise. | iStock.com

They’re the bane of any circuit training, but burpees are pretty darn effective. There are tons of variations depending on your skill level (one-leg burpees, anyone?) and they can be done anywhere.

The extra silver lining with burpees is that you really don’t need to do that many at a time to be effective. Muscle & Fitness recommends doing 5 to 10 of them in between weight sets. Plus, they’re great for cardio but easy on the muscles, so you won’t destroy your weight-lifting progress.

6. Jumping jacks

people doing jumping jacks

You can do jumping jacks just about anywhere. | iStock.com/leaf

If burpees aren’t really your style, try old-fashioned jumping jacks instead. Because of their high intensity but low-muscle impact, they’re great for becoming more lean without losing muscle. Most men store fat in their stomachs, and jumping jacks are a great way to combat the extra beer or two you had over the weekend.

Men’s Health suggests a quick cardio workout of a jumping jack pyramid: Complete the jumping jacks for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, do jacks for 20 seconds, rest for 20, jacks for 30 seconds, rest for 30, and then work your way backward down the pyramid. Obviously that’s too long for a break between reps, but you could try portions of it to fit into whatever length of “rest” you’ve got. This one is also recommended by Muscle & Fitness, since it doesn’t require any extra equipment. They suggest doing as many jumping jacks as you can in a 30-second time period.

7. Mountain climbers

Woman Doing Mountain Climber Exercise

This full-body exercise will have you gasping for breath. | iStock.com/Aleksander Kaczmarek

Health magazine writes that mountain climbers boost your metabolism and strengthen your core, hips, and thighs. (These are pretty popular with women for those reasons, but if you’re going at a vigorous pace, it’ll be a great cardio workout.) The exercise move is also recommended by Greatist, and you can choose to do them for a certain time frame, or a certain number of reps. (Somewhere between 15 and 25 is probably good.)

The exercise is great for hip flexors and legs, plus it will be a mini ab workout while you’re at it. Just be mindful to keep good posture with these by keeping your back as straight as possible — as you get tired, it’s easy to open yourself up to injury, and they’re sometimes criticized for the stress they put on wrists and shoulders. If this is the case with you, maybe pick a few others to try first.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS