Fitness: Exercise Program – Cardio & Weights | Great Health Guide
Fitness: Exercise Program – Cardio & Weights

Fitness: Exercise Program – Cardio & Weights

‘Cardio & Weights: Structuring Your Exercise Program (Part 2)’ written by Tanya Doherty published in Great Health Guide (August 2015). Receive answers to 1. Which exercise should you do first – cardio or weights? 2. Should weights be used to build muscle mass whilst cardio for improving heart and lungs? Read other fitness articles on Great Health Guide, a hub of expert-inspired resources empowering busy women to embody health beyond image … purpose beyond measure.

Fitness: How To Structure Your Exercise Program (Part 2) – Cardio & Weights written by Tanya Doherty

Weights or cardio – what part should be done first?  Should it be the weights for strength and muscle mass or the cardio for improving heart and lungs? It really comes down to individual choice, but it depends on the result that you are after.

Last month in Part One, I discussed the importance of the warm up prior to beginning your main workout. Now we progress to look at cardio and weights which will become the main part of your workout. Next month’s issue I will discuss cooling down and flexing.

If you focus on cardio first, then the weights that you lift will be lighter compared to doing the weight workout first. That is because the core muscles are already partially fatigued due to lowered muscle glycogen.  Try both ways i.e. cardio then weights or weights then cardio and find out what feels best for you. Alternatively, you can always do weights and cardio on separate days or do a spilt session during the day. It really depends on your goals, time and inclination. Again, I emphasise the need to check with your General Medical Practitioner, to determine your suitability before performing these exercises.

Structuring Cardio and Weights 

I would like to emphasize the importance of keeping a record of your workouts. Too many people don’t keep track of times, weights, repetitions and sets which will delay achievements.  Following a plan and structured program will ensure you continue on track moving to new levels of strength and fitness.

For the main part of your exercise program, there is a wide range of activities that you can do. Whether cardio or weights, have a set routine for how often you do the activity per week and this will make all the difference to how successful your exercise routine will be.

The Cardio Workout: 

This can be either a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or a Steady State Workout.

1. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):  

This may sound hard, but it’s likely that you have already been doing this type of training without knowing it. HIIT means that your heart rate will be going up and down for the duration of your cardio set, as opposed to staying at one level. HIIT is a great way to burn fat and efficiently use your time. It also increases your fitness levels quickly.

There are several ways to perform HIIT, while working at about 80% of your full capacity. Here are some ideas to get you started:

i. Sprints 

Pick a distance – or even better, a hill if you’re so inclined – and run in one direction as fast as you can. Jog or walk back to the start line to recover. Repeat this as many times as you can. A fun thing to do is to time yourself and try and beat your time.

ii. Going for a run 

Instead of staying at one speed, pick lamp posts, cars, trees – any landmarks at all – and sprint to them. Then jog and keep repeating for the duration of your run. This is also known as fartlek training. Fartlek is a Swedish term that means ‘speed play’.   

iii. Swimming

Swimming is often an underestimated form of exercise. It is a great alternative to running or other exercises that impact your joints since the water supports your body. Swim 25-50 meters as fast as you can. If you’re a regular swimmer, pick a longer length, 100m for example. Take 30 seconds rest in between laps.  

iv. Mix up your weights and cardio 

Instead of doing weights and cardio separately, make up a circuit of weights with some cardio exercises in between. These can be bodyweight exercises to ensure a smooth transition and keep your heart rate up. Some ideas are jump squats, bunny hops or burpees. (for a burpee: from a standing position, bend down and kick out your legs to adopt a push up position, complete one push up, then jump up to standing position and repeat the exercise.  There are good examples of the burpees on YouTube). 

Please remember if you do a HIIT workout, you can’t do it for as long as a Steady State Workout and that’s completely fine. Aim for a 15–20 minute session, two or three times per week.

2. Steady State Workout is a great way to train for endurance

During Steady State training, your heart rate will stay around the same level. When doing Steady State cardio, the goal is to be able to maintain a conversation and feel comfortable while maintaining your efforts. Running, swimming and bike riding can all be used as a Steady State workout as long as you maintain the same pace and intensity over your selected distance.


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The goal is to maintain your intensity and heart rate at a steady level. Steady State training is excellent preparation for a long distance event. It’s great to mix it up with HIIT training sessions so you don’t overstress your body.

The Weights Workout

Weight lifting is a complex matter, one that’s outside the realm of this article, so I’ll cover just the basics. Ideally, weight lifting should be done three to five times per week. 

There are two types of weight exercises: compound and isolated and both have benefits. 

1. Compound exercise means that the exercise works more than one muscle and includes exercises such as squats, lunges, pull-ups and push-ups. These exercises are classified as functional which means they are movements that appear in your daily life.  Therefore these movements should become easier (i.e. pushing and pulling furniture or carrying shopping bags). A great bonus is they also burn more calories.

2. Isolation exercises are those where only one muscle group is worked at a time and include bicep curl, triceps dip, leg extension and leg curl.  Isolation exercises are great for people who want to target certain muscles. You may want to focus on your arms and this is where isolation exercises come into play.

With The Weights Workout, there are several components to the structure of your routine: 

1. Repetitions (‘reps’) depend on the weight you use and your goal. 

2. Rest is the amount of time between each group of reps. 

3. Sets depend on your available time. 

4. Tempo is the speed used, according to your goal.

1. Repetitions

• 1 – 6 reps for gaining power. You should be using a weight that feels very heavy for your current level.  

• 6 – 10 reps for building strength. You should try to pick a weight that seems comfortable however you’re fatiguing at the end of the set.

• 10 – 15 reps for endurance. Choose light weights which will assist in building muscular endurance.

2. Rest

Generally, the lower your weight repetition, the smaller your rest time should be. Here is the recommended amount of time for the number of reps you do:

• 1–6 Reps – 3 minutes rest

• 6–10 Reps – 2 minutes rest

• 10–15 Reps – 1 minute rest

If your time is limited, you can always work another body part instead of resting, which is called ‘super setting’. eg. you could complete a leg exercise after an upper body exercise to keep your heart rate up instead of resting completely.

3. Sets

The number of sets that you use depends on the time you have available, with the best results from two or three sets.

4. Tempo

This is the speed at which you complete the exercise. Many people lift weights too quickly and would benefit from using a lighter weight at a slower speed. 

A Few Extra Tips:

Many gyms offer a free health assessment and program design and may also offer free reviews every six to eight weeks. I would recommend having a program designed for you. It’s always beneficial to work with a personal trainer, even if only once, to help you design a program and correctly demonstrate the exercises. 

Keep a record of your progress and review your weights and exercises every four to six weeks. Keep trying to improve on your exercises and weight selection. Most importantly, enjoy the journey!

The third and last part of this series of articles on ‘Structuring Your Exercise Program’ will be about cooling down and flexing. So don’t stop here at the heavy work of cardio and weights. Make sure to check out part three for a complete workout program!

Author of this article:
Tanya Doherty is the founder of ‘Beachfit and Wellbeing’ and a Personal Trainer with MMA (Mixed martial arts) Level 1 Fitness. She is also a Charles Poliquin Biosignature practitioner.  Based in Sydney, Tanya works in assisting women and men to live in optimum health. Tanya can be found at her website or her Facebook page.

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