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Ranking the Best Cardio for Strongevity
Do the right cardio to avoid hurting strength gains
The Highlander helps strength athletes and enthusiasts live stronger for longer. Join fellow Highlanders on our journey:
Not All Cardio is Created Equally
Especially for strongevity.
I’ve been experimenting with various forms of cardio in my programming and believe there’s a clear hierarchy.
Before the rankings, our goals should be clear. The addition of longevity-focused cardio to a strength program should focus on two goals:
Avoid excessive additional fatigue from the cardio that negatively impacts strength and hypertrophy efforts. We want to avoid both specific and systemic fatigue. For specific fatigue, many forms of cardio use the lower body as their primary mover. We should be conscious of how much we ask of our legs alongside the demands of recovery from our strength work. Systemic fatigue must be managed via a general awareness of recovery.
Provide sufficient stimulation to strengthen the heart and metabolic function for longevity. This means achieving and holding a zone 2 heart rate for zone 2 sessions and occasionally pushing toward a max heart rate for zone 5.
Ranking Cardio for Strongevity
Given our goals, the hierarchy of cardio for strongevity is as follows:
Great: Elliptical, air bike, incline walking
Good: Stationary bike
Bad: Stairstepper, running, swimming, rowing
The great forms of cardio have three things in common:
They avoid excessive loading of the lower body either via incorporating the upper body or avoiding excessive knee bending
They involve no eccentric loading so they are friendly to the joints.
Most importantly for zone 2, they are all easy to get into a consistent rhythm where you can maintain a zone 2 heart rate. The air bike is my favorite for zone 5.
The stationary bike is good for rhythm, but it acutely relies on the legs for motion. If you do a lot of stationary biking, it may hamper recovery from lower body strength and hypertrophy work.
The “bad” cardio I assume will frustrate some.
Cardio that’s bad for strongevity are only bad in the context of our stated goals. Swimming and rowing are difficult to hold in a rhythmic pattern for staying in zone 2 even for people very proficient with the moves. Stair stepping is stressful to the quads and likely suboptimal for quad strength or growth. And running is stressful to the knees as it incorporates an eccentric loading component as you balance with forward motion.
If you have specific goals that involve running or swimming or stair stepping (?), then by all means run or swim. But if you think you have to run to achieve your strongevity cardio goals, you don’t. You’re better off avoiding the bad forms of cardio since they’re more likely to hamper our primary strength goals.
My Cardio Setup
I use a combination of incline walking and the air bike. Incline walking I use on days that are close to leg training as I find it taxes the quads and hamstrings less. The air bike I use when I have more distance away from lower body sessions. Every once in awhile I might use the rower for a short zone 5 workout, also away from lower body sessions.
Now you know how to prioritize your cardio tools.
Be smart about your recovery. Do cardio you enjoy. Stay stronger for longer.
The Highlander helps strength athletes and enthusiasts live stronger for longer by combining strength + longevity.