Can You Skip Cardio with Weight Training?

It’s very rare that you’ll find someone that enjoys both cardio and weight training. When I first started training I enjoyed both, however as my training experience grew I soon began to prefer weight training and kept cardio to a minimum. 

When building a physique a combination of cardio and weight training will often yield the best results (it’s why competitive bodybuilders increase their cardio regime in the weeks and months leading up to a show) but that’s not to say you can’t get equally impressive results with weight training alone. 

Can you skip cardio with weight training? If your primary goal is maximum muscle growth then yes, you can skip cardio with weight training. Cardio has minimal carryover for muscle development and can actually have a negative effect on your weight training session depending on the type and timing of your cardio.  

Cardio performs two major functions when it comes to training and in this article, I’ll cover both quickly whilst also explaining how you can just lift weights and still get great results. 

Can You Skip Cardio with Weight Training

Firstly, cardio is not a requirement when working out. 

Cardio is used as a workout method to increase cardiovascular health and overall fitness levels or in order to increase energy expenditure, burn more calories, and ultimately lose weight l, or more specifically body fat. 

Cardio is therefore a very useful tool that you can utilize to improve your overall fitness and body composition and it would therefore be favorable to include some form of cardio into your weekly workout routine. 

With that being said, not everyone enjoys cardio and some people actually hate it! You might therefore want to know whether you can skip cardio entirely and just lift weights and the answer is that you can. 

The effects of skipping cardio will depend entirely upon the results that you want and what your initial goals are. If you want to build muscle or burn body fat then cardio is not a necessity and there are strategies that you can employ to improve your physique without ever needing to step foot on a treadmill. 

I’ve recently covered how you can cut without doing cardio and also how to bulk without doing cardio and both factors heavily rely on calorie control/manipulation and a dedicated weight lifting routine.

Body Composition and Calorie Control

If you want to skip cardio and just lift weights then you first need to consider the effect that this will have on your body composition.

Cardio increases your energy expenditure, burns calories, and helps your body to better metabolize and partition food and nutrients (though this is to a much lesser degree). 

What this means is that cardio is a great tool for improving and maintaining a good body composition by keeping body fat low. Unless you are training for a strongman competition, you’ll typically be lifting weights to look better which is a combination of more muscle mass and less body fat. 

While cardio helps, it’s not essential to improving or maintaining body composition and the same results can be achieved with a greater focus on calorie control and an optimized weight lifting routine. 

When omitting cardio from your workout regime it becomes even more important that you control your calorie intake. If you are on a bulk then a lean bulk should be you absolute priority 

Weight training and Calories burned 

When it comes to weight training, a high-intensity session can be just as effective as a form of cardio as running on a treadmill. I don’t mean that you need to be doing 20+ reps per set with really lightweight but rather that you need to train with an intensity that challenges both your muscular and cardiovascular systems.

Studies show that weightlifting can actually burn more calories than cardio and in general, a person weighing 155lbs can burn 233 calories during 30 minutes of vigorous weight training.

While cardio might be viewed as the ultimate (or only) form of burning calories, weight training can be just as effective as a method and it can be argued that weight training is a more efficient method, especially if your primary goal is for improved body composition and musculature. 

The key with weight training is therefore to maintain a high intensity in order to train both the muscular and cardiovascular systems and this is where people will tend to make mistakes when trying to lift weights without including cardio. 

It’s common for people to try and replicate cardio in their weight training regime by decreasing the total weight lifted while increasing the number of sets and reps for a particular exercise. While this does target the slow twitch muscle fibres, it offers no way near the same level of intensity that lifting with submaximal weights does. 

Lifting with 70% – 80% of your 1RM (maximum amount of weight you can lift on an exercise for one single rep with good form) for 8-12 reps is considered to be a moderate to high level of intensity with weight training. 

This is more commonly referred to as the hypertrophy training range and is considered the ideal training range for muscle growth. The key to using these percentages when training however is that they will also tax your cardiovascular system. High reps will of course have a similar result using a light weight of around 50% or less of your 1RM will not give the same hypertrophic benefits. 

Therefore if you want to skip cardio and just lift weights you need to ensure that you are training with a high enough intensity so that you can work the musculature and cardiovascular system.

Rest Periods

The final thing to consider if you want to skip cardio with weight training is your rest periods and overall workout duration. Shorter rest periods are not only great for increasing time under tension and muscle hypertrophy but also for taxing the cardiovascular system as well. 

When looking to reduce your rest periods in order to increase workout intensity, it’s important to find the right balance as taking too short of a rest period will negatively impact the number of reps you can do with a given weight whilst taking longer rest periods will mean that you rarely engage your cardiovascular system or burn a sufficient amount of calories. 

A recommended rest period to aim for should be around 30-60 seconds with 45 seconds being a sweet spot for a lot of people. The exception to this should be your heavy compound movements where maximum weight lifted is the focus and not necessarily conditioning. 

Deadlifts, barbell rows, squats, overhead presses, and the barbell bench press are all prime examples where more rest is needed in between sets to allow your central nervous system (CNS) to recover. Not allowing yourself ample time to recover in between these heavy compound movements can lead to a greater risk of injury, lower intensity sets with decreased muscle activation, and a lower overall capacity for weight lifted. 

The workout duration is also important and high intensity cannot be maintained for a mammoth two hour training session. Cortisol levels will increase, the intensity will decrease and the effectiveness of your workout will suffer as a result. While session duration can vary depending on the body part being training (legs have a higher work capacity and threshold than arms as an example), a good guide will be 30-60 minutes per session. 

While there is no one size fits all recommendations, workouts lasting up to one hour in length will allow you to sustain a high intensity whilst working both the muscle and cardiovascular systems.

Summary

Cardio isn’t everyone’s favorite form of exercise and for most people, you can certainly skip it completely and place more focus on your diet and weightlifting routine whilst still achieving similar goals in terms of your physique. 

What I will say however is that cardio is an excellent tool to help with fat loss (or to prevent excess fat gains) and it’s also crucial for maintaining cardiovascular health which is something that everyone should be concerned with, not just those going to the gym. 

If you hate cardio that much then I’d recommend looking into hitting a daily step target instead. I’ve mentioned before how this is a strategy that you can utilize to cut without doing cardio and it will still allow you to reap some of the benefits.