How to Mix Hypertrophy Training & Cardio in a Time-Efficient Way?


If my primary goal is hypertrophy, does minimising rest time between sets to introduce a cardio element have a negative impact on achieving my primary goal?

I know that reducing rest between sets is one way of working muscles harder but how does this method compare with rest/pause and drop sets in terms of hypertrophy training? And does the fatigue you get from getting out of breath interfere with getting enough quality reps in to help achieve my primary goal?

The background to this is I need to get in and out of that gym asap. (Work…family… etc). I spend an absolute max of 40 mins in there. And the program I’m following is producing results (6 days a week alternating push/pull).

But there’s little time for cardio. So I was seeing if I could blend it into my weight training in a smart way without compromising the primary goal of my workout rather than tack it on at the end of the workout if I have time.

Grateful for comments

What’s your goal with the cardio?

@TrainForPain - good question. I had to think about that one.

I used to have a decent aerobic base built up through running. I gave up running due to too many injuries.

I guess that by changing my goal to lifting weights and focusing on building muscle, I’m not gonna have the same aerobic base as when I ran.

But I’d like to retain some “fitness” in that department. I don’t want to start getting out of breath the next time I run a few yards to catch a bus or die when I walk up 8 floors of staircase.

Supersetting big compound lifts with big-ish assistance stuff is a great way to keep aerobic capacity up. Something like supersetting leg raises with deads and squats, chins with presses and such. It’s the kind of stuff that keeps you “in shape”. It might beat you down a bit initially but once you get used to it the impact on performance becomes minimal unless you’re aiming to develop maximal strength/power (which isn’t your case).
To squeeze more work into less time, I suggest you look into Paul Carter’s stuff - things like giant sets, the 50% method and 350 method are a good place to start, I’m using them myself and I’m extremely happy.

You might probably end up not having the same aerobic base you had when you ran, but I think that for everyday tasks and general fitness moving weights is superior to running. I have a friend who ran for medium-long distances for years and when he began lifting couldn’t do a single deadlift from the floor without gassing, and he was equally weak in daily tasks such as moving stuff around, doing stairs and so on.
Those are just two different efforts and I’d say being generically stronger, fitter and with a bigger work capacity base has much better applications to everyday efforts than endurance training (especially if said endurance training revolves around a steady pace effort).

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Here’s an article citing a study about hypertrophy:

Now that you know that muscle fatigue is all that’s required for hypertrophy you can plan accordingly. You could add a finisher to your regular workouts such as this:

You could also change up your split. Three days a week of full body training with the most “bang for your buck” compound lifts coupled with three days a week of conditioning could work. You just have to be careful that conditioning doesn’t interfere with recovery.

It can sometimes be tricky finding a balance between fitness goals.

@atlashrugged - thank you. That’s really helpful.

Can I ask you to take a look at the program I’m following to see how I can adopt the principles you set out?

See the link at the end of this message.

This program is working for me. So I don’t want to deviate too much from it.

Is a way forward simply to arrange the exercises listed as supersets say three times a week and keep the rest as set out in the program?

The Best Damn Workout Plan For Natural Lifters

Not Optimal

Performing some Cardio between Hypertrophy Sets will work to some extent. However, doing so turn your training more into…

Circuit Training.

Circuit Training fall more into Endurance Training and "Metabolic Training rather than Hypertrophy Training.

It increase your endurance capacity and increases your Post Workout Metabolism; burning more calories long after your workout is over.

It will increase muscle mass but not to the same extent that the Traditional Bodybuilding Method does.

“Metabolic Stress”

This is the Hypertrophy Factor for increasing muscle mass. “The Burn” elicits “Metablic Stress” by increasing lactate. Lactate evokes a down stream anabolic muscle building effect.

The Burn/Metabolic Stress is magnified when short rest period of around 60 second are taken between sets.

Arterial Blood Flow from the heart to the working muscles occurs.

However, Venus Blood Flow from the muscle back to the heart is restricted by the muscle contraction.

Short Rest Periods between Hypertrophy minimizes Venus Blood Flow out of the muscle back to the heart. Thus, with each Hypertrophy Set more blood flow to the muscles. The blood is trapped in the muscle producing The Pump, greater Metabolic “Anabolic Growth” Stress.

Rest/Pause “Cluster Sets”

Research by Dr Jonathan Oliver found Cluster Sets (Rest Pause) can be employed for Hypertrophy, providing your Cluster Set Program is written correctly; another topic for another time.

“Hypertrophy Cluster Set Training” will increase muscle mass but not to the same extent as the Traditional Bodybuilding Protocol.

Drop Sets

When preformed correctly, this method can ensure a greater pump; increasing that anabolic training effect.

High Intensity Interval Training, HIIT

HIIT Training is a paradox.

Research has demonstrated that it increases anaerobic and aerobic capacity; increasing your VO2 Max and to some extent increasing your Lactate Threshold. Both are vital components for Endurance Athletes.

The Short HIIT Program

Dr Jaime Timmons’ research demonstrated the a Short HIIT Program (as short as 5 minutes) increased: Anaerobic and Aerobic Capacity along with increasing your Excess Post Oxygen Consumption (Increasing your Post Workout Metabolism).

The Protocol

My suggestion is to perform it after your Hypertrophy Training. You will already warm up and ready to go.

20 Seconds need to be preformed with all out effort.

Below Dr Jamie Timmons’ HIIT Method. Let use a Stationary Bike Sprint as an example.

  1. 20 Second Bike Sprint

  2. 2 Minute Easy Recovery Ride

  3. 20 Second Bike Sprint

  4. 2 Minute Easy Recovery Ride

  5. 20 Second Bike Sprint

The End!

HIIT Training Frequency

Due to the intensity, I recommend limiting your HIIT Training to 2 - 3 time a week.

Kenny Croxdale


@Frank_C thanks. And yes I’ve also got in the back of my mind balancing everything. At the moment I’m training 6 days a week, making progress and I feel no bad fatigue. It’s working well.

But adding conditioning could tip this over

@KennyCrox - so a quick dose of HIIT 3 times a week. At that short duration it should be no problem adding this to my workouts. Didn’t realise you can get that much bang for so little.

Thank you.

Check out CT’s forum. Search “Best Damn Cardio” and you’ll see that lots of people have asked the same question. Here’s one of the many threads created…

I think you’ve established a baseline with the program so you’ve satisfied his request to run the program as written first. You might find that your time restrictions and goals require a different training approach. It is what it is.

I’m currently running CT’s Guaranteed Simple Strength and Size program. I love it. But there isn’t a lot of room for conditioning. I like to run sprint intervals and do complexes for my conditioning but it would interfere with my lifting program. I’ve settled on finishing my program and then changing my focus for a bit to allow me to bring up my conditioning.


The Bang For So Little Time

My initial reaction was essentially the same as yours; it is not long enough to work.

What changed my mind was the research, which you can find online and performing Timmons’ HIIT Program.

Preforming three 20 Second (all out ) Sprints will toast you.

The good news is that this method is short. The back news, it is brutal. It is mentally hard to push yourself all out for 20 Seconds. It is feels like an eternity.

Give a try and come to your own conclusions.

Kenny Croxdale

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Tactical Barbell

Zulu or Operator block

Add more ‘general conditioning sessions’ for your ‘high intensity cardio’.

Throw in a endurance session once every 1 or 2 weeks.

I did this at the start of the year and made some ‘gainz’ while improving cardio fitness.

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@ChongLordUno - I do have a little more time on weekend mornings (sometimes). Maybe use Saturday/Sunday morning sessions for those. Thanks.

Careful here. You’re starting to slip into the trap.

“I could add…”
“I might have time for…”

You can’t keep adding without subtracting something else. Just a friendly reminder :slight_smile:

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@Frank_C good point.

Yes. I don’t think there’s much question on this one. Which is not to say that (as per @KennyCrox’s well-written first comment) brief, discrete bouts of lifting performed with short rest breaks cannot be productive with regard to hypertrophy–they can. But such work is performed anaerobically, not aerobically, so doesn’t qualify as ‘cardio’ in the non-HIIT sense of the word.

Then don’t change it.

OK, so now your stated goals have changed. Which is fine, of course. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Decreasing rest times to make lifting an aerobic activity will compromise hypertrophy. Again as per @KennyCrox, adding Tabata-protocol HIIT is probably the best compromise; ie, the most cardio benefit that can be gained for the least amount of hypertrophy lost. But make no mistake, it’s still a compromise.

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@EyeDentist thanks for that. I guess you can’t have it all. And it’ll probably start bringing fatigue that I’ve not had with my program to date. I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m working 6 days a week yet not feeling smashed.

You might have to settle for a “Seasons of Training” approach. That just means that you plan your year around different priorities. Perhaps you chase hypertrophy for a couple of months and then you focus on conditioning for a month while maintaining muscle mass. After that you can switch back or chase another goal for a bit while maintaining the other aspects.

You can build one aspect of training while maintaining others. It’s damn near impossible to build multiple aspects simultaneously.


Exactly. And consider: You’ve already ‘compromised’ hypertrophy gains to meet certain life-goals. I’m thinking of the fact that you’re a working/family man, and your goals in that regard (ie, to be a good partner/dad/provider) significantly limit your training (and thus your gainz brah). Obviously, most (sane) people consider such a ‘compromise’ laudable, not ignominious. I bring it up to drive home the point that there’s nothing wrong with compromising teh gainz in the name of other, high-priority goals.

So if you decide that maintaining a measure of aerobic fitness is important to you (and there are a great many reasons why it would be), don’t think of it as negatively impacting hypertrophy; rather, think of it as positively impacting progress toward your overall goals.


@Frank_C that’s a good idea. Summer will involve a lot of beach time. That’s gonna be aerobic capacity building for me. Daily swims.