Do hard workouts count as cardio? People ask this all the time! They say that they sweat profusely, their heart gets pumping, so it MUST count as cardio. Well, maybe.
There is a very specific regimen called complexes that can make a weightlifting workout a cardio workout but other than that, the experiment I performed today indicates that most hard workouts do not qualify as cardio.
First, in my book, interval training is something that gets the heartrate up near the max, then lets it drop down to 60 or 70% of max before starting the next interval. Typically that requires short rests. A typical routine with running would be sprint 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds.
I did a 60 minute workout to see if that qualified as cardio by my definition. I pushed hard, grunted loud, and sweated profusely. Lets look at my heartrate profile:
Fail! You will note that even though I was doing compound exercises (weighted pullups and barbell rows) that in the first 45 minutes, my heartrate barely made it above the 60% line which is the minimum heartrate for fat loss. Maximum for my age group is 170. Only in the last 15 minutes did the workout look anything like a cardio workout for fat loss.
One very interesting thing. I had done my warmups before starting this workout so my weight and reps started out from the very beginning with my max weight and max number of reps. The first 30 minutes I did exactly the same superset repeatedly but you will notice that each time, my peak heartrate went up slightly and my resting heartrate also increased. In short, my body was getting continuously more fatigued.
So, is your normal weight workout count as cardio? Probably not unless your #1 workout goal is achieving and maintaining heartrate rather than strength or mass.
Additional note. In the last 30 minutes, instead of just resting 2 minutes, I did one foot balancing on a bosu ball. Surprisingly, just this little bit of activity kept my heartrate above the 60% level. Or was it just cumulative fatigue? I shouldn’t have combined two experiments in one.