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There is cardio.
And then there’s High-Intensity Continuous Training (HICT)—aerobic workouts sent from lifters’ heaven.
HICT is essentially a slow aerobic session, so your heart rate will never go above 150 beats per minute. You’ll do one explosive rep of a loaded exercise—like a stepup while wearing a weight vest—every few seconds. And you’ll continue to do that over and over again for 5 to 7 minutes straight.
Here’s why this formula is pure gold for lifters: HICT not only improves your aerobic conditioning, but also the stamina of your fast-twitch fibres, says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., owner of Robertson Training Systems and co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. Those are the muscle fibres with the greatest potential for size and strength.
By targeting these fibres with a single powerful repetition each time, you’re working them without ever exhausting them. This boosts the fibres’ endurance so that you can handle heavier loads for longer durations the next time you lift, says Robertson.
And even though each rep is fast and explosive, the overall pace is slow and steady, he explains.
A slower aerobic session like this—as opposed to all-out intervals or sprints—can help your body recover between weightlifting sessions by increasing blood flow and resetting your nervous system. That means you can go harder when you hit the iron.
Now that’s a cardio workout all lifters can praise.
How to do it: Pick an exercise from the list below. Perform one rep as powerfully as you can every 3 to 5 seconds for up to 7 minutes straight. That’s one round. Do 2 more, resting 5 minutes between each round.
Monitor your heart rate to make sure it stays between 140 and 150 beats per minute the entire time. If it drops below, increase the resistance or load. If it goes above, decrease it.
No heart rate monitor? Then breathe exclusively through your nose during the workout. If you can’t maintain this breathing pattern, then you’re going too hard or you need to lower the resistance.
Airdyne or stationary bike: Set the bike at a high resistance. Pedal the bike until both feet make a complete rotation. That’s one rep.
Weighted stepup on a high box: Wear a weight vest. Stand facing a bench, box, or step that’s about knee height. Place your left foot on the bench, and then press down through your heel as to push your body up until your left leg is straight. (Don’t rest your right leg on the bench at the top; instead hold it in the air.) Lower your right foot back to the floor, followed by your left. Now repeat, this time stepping onto the bench with your right foot. Once you’ve pushed up with both legs, that’s one rep.
StairMaster: Set the machine at a high resistance. Take one step with each foot. That’s one rep.
Prowler or sled: Attach a rope to an exercise sled that’s loaded with weight. Lay the rope on the floor so that it’s straight, and walk to its end. Facing the sled, grab the rope with both hands using an overhand grip. Your hands should be spaced about a foot apart, with your right in front of your left. Assume an athletic position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent.
(There should be some slack in the rope at all times. If there’s not, take a step or two toward the sled.)
Now, explosively pull the rope toward your abs so that the sled moves forward. Release your left hand, and then grab the rope about a foot in front of your right hand. Pull again. That’s one rep.
Reset every 2 to 3 reps so that there is always slack in the rope.