Is Lifting Weights Healthy For Your Heart Or Will It Kill You?

Michael wonders if doing StrongLifts 5×5 3x a week is enough for cardiovascular fitness, or if he should do additional cardio like his doctor told him. Quote…

Hello Mehdi,

I know you’re very busy and do not reply to emails. Nevertheless, I was hoping to see if you could clarify something that my doctor advised during my physical examination.

When the doctor asked if I did any exercise, I told her that I was doing StrongLifts 5×5 strength training 3 days a week. To my surprise, the doctor told me I should also be doing cardio exercises that require a steady high pulse rate (running). The doctor seemed to suggest that solely doing strength training does not exercise the heart to its fullest since pulse rate goes up and down during weightlifting sessions due to rest periods in between sets.

I’ve been solely doing strength training for my daily exercise and did not worry about cardio since strength training also improves cardiovascular fitness. However, because of what the doctor suggested, I’ve been debating on whether or not I should be supplementing my workout with cardio as well.

I would like to solely just focus on strength training and ignore cardio due to time restrictions and to conserve more energy for strength training. What are your thoughts on the doctor’s advice that ignoring cardio and solely doing strength training is not sufficient for a healthy heart?

– Michael Shin

My thoughts are that your doctor’s advice is unsurprisingly outdated. She really needs to get in touch with the American Heart Association (AHA) who has been dispelling the myth that strength training is bad for your heart for more than a decade. Here’s a quote from the website

Weight training lowers cholesterol levels, slightly decreases blood pressure (BP), reduces body weight and fat stores, and improves glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. And, in contrast to what many doctors tell their patients, regular weight training, over a period of months, improves cardiac function by reducing heart rate and BP responses during lifting of heavy loads.

“Weight training makes the heart more efficient. Because the muscles are stronger, any given load now represents a lower percentage of one’s maximum capacity. As a result, you have a lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure, and since those are the two primary factors that determine demands on the heart, you have lower cardiac demands. Stronger muscles translate into less effort to lift any given load,”

Empirical evidence proving that strength training improves cardiovascular fitness I have plenty. Example: StrongLifts Member Will had high blood pressure before joining us. His doctor also told him strength training wouldn’t help and that he should do cardio. Well after getting bored to death with cardio, he discovered StrongLifts 5×5, started Squatting and within 5 months his blood pressure plummeted from 138/75 to 118/65… while his Barbell Back Squat skyrocketed from 65lb to 335lb… and while he gained 21lb of weight.

Second example: StrongLifts Member Bob had 136/89 blood pressure after years of boring cardio. 2 years after starting StrongLifts 5×5, his blood pressure was 105/75. Important detail: Bob is 64y while Will is only 23y old.

Another example: StrongLifts Member Norman (44y, Texas) had 150/100 blood pressure when he had an heart attack June 3rd 2008. 3 years of SL5x5 later, his blood pressure was 125/70 at his last checkup. No more medication and his Squat has increased from 45lb to 661lb (!). Norman actually won the first place in the SHW class at his last Powerlifting meet May 14th (APF Master Nationals in Forth Worth, Texas) with an impressive 1630lb total.

These examples prove that strength training will lower your blood pressure and improve the health of your heart better than cardio and regardless of your age… even if you had a heart attack previously like SL Member Norman had.

Personally, I have a resting heart rate of 51bpm even though I never do cardio. I remember the mandatory annual physical examinations when I was IT support for Corporate Belgium. Doc asks what sport I do because my resting heart rate is so low. After I tell him I lift weights since 1999, this idiot starts his “weight training is unhealthy” rant RIGHT AFTER telling me I was in amazing shape.

Look – I hate to generalize, but almost all doctors I’ve met during the past 30 years were out-of-shape, fat and dumb (I’ve actually met one who smoked even though he got the memo). Just because these people have stupid initials behind their names doesn’t mean they know better than you or make them gods. Quite the opposite, be extra careful with everything coming out of their mouth.

StrongLifts 5×5 will keep your heart healthy, no need for cardio, you don’t have time for it anyway. Just keep doing what you’re doing, including asking for 2nd opinions everytime some know nothing doctor claims random BS.

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