Strong-lifts is one of the most popular strength training programmes available. This is likely due to its simplicity and its correct use of repetition selection for strength improvements. However, like any strength training programme, there is no cardiovascular development. For those who are looking to be as healthy as possible, cardiovascular training needs to be a core part of your training routine. Thats why we are providing recommendations for anyone who is currently looking for guidance in terms of mixing strength (5x5 stronglifts specifically) with cardiovascular training.
I have previously given an extensive review , that you should read if interested, of the strong-lifts programme in my previous article about using 5x5 for hypertrophy (which I did not recommend). Strong-lifts consists of moving through multiple compound movements during 5 sets of 5 repetitions, a very typical strength training set and repetition range. It consists of three strength sessions per week.
Alongside the three strength training sessions, I would ideally aim to perform 2-3 cardiovascular blocks within the week. This will allow you to see consistent progress with your cardiovascular health and performance.
The intensity of these cardiovascular sessions will change drastically between each session. Within a week the aim should be to target three different intensities, low intensity steady state, high intensity interval training and medium intensity steady state. These are also referred to as LISS, HIIT and MISS. Through targeting these different intensities you will be exposing your body to multiple different yet similar types of physiological adaptations. If you only have enough time for two sessions in the week the prioritise LISS and HIIT.
Low intensity steady state is cardiovascular training where the heart rate ranges from 60-70% of its max. It is not difficult, it shouldn’t feel challenging, the respiration rate should not increase drastically and you should be able to maintain a conversational pace. The conversational pace means that you should be able to hold a conversation with someone whilst performing the exercises. This is the most important point to remember, as heart rate will vary with other types of fatigue, so you should always focus on holding a conversational pace. I highly recommend performing one session of this style per week.
Sample LISS session
45 minutes Bike Erg @conversational pace
I have written a great deal about HIIT and its benefits in other articles. High intensity interval training is where bouts of very intense intervals are performed, where the heart rate usually sits between 80-95% of its maximum beats per minute. This has excellent effects on VO2 max but also a vast array of other adaptations that I discuss in the Effects of HIIT Training if you would like to read in more detail. I suggest doing high intensity interval training once per week also.
Sample HIIT Session
4 x 3 minutes output @90% w/ 3 minutes rest between intervals.
Medium intensity steady state is somewhere in between HIIT and LISS. For me this is one of the most enjoyable forms of cardiovascular training and an excellent addition to your week. It allows us to find a flow with cardiovascular output, we are not pushing on the accelerator like in HIIT, nor are we slowly taking our time like in LISS. This would be my third addition to your week if you have enough time for 3 cardiovascular sessions, as well as three strength training sessions. If you manage to put this amount of work in you will be certain to be in great cardiovascular health.
Sample MISS Session
18’ Movement for Quality
1500m Bike @70-80% (RPE 7-8)
20m Farmers Carry
45 second plank
One way to help you get in some extra cardiovascular training into your week is to add the cardiovascular work to the end of your strength training session. This may not be possible with the MISS or LISS, but for the HIIT it should be doable. This means that with 4 one hour training sessions in your week you will have both strength and cardiovascular training covered.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.