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Have you ever been so short on time for a workout, that you’ve wondered: “How do I combine my cardio and strength training routines into one short workout?”

As a certified personal trainer who works with people short on time, I have a few solutions for you to explore, but not every idea will work for every person. I’m going to cover a few methods you can try to get weights on the treadmill and ways to to use a treadmill in combination with weights for interval-style training. 

Check out my treadmill weights workouts below as well as other ways to incorporate building strength alongside your cardio routine.

Benefits of Using Both Treadmills and Weights

There are a variety of methods to incorporate two home gym favorites in your routine: the treadmill and free weights. Before I get into how you can approach a blend of treadmill use and weights, let me first address the benefits of both strength training and cardiovascular training. 

A combination of both strength and conditioning can lead to body composition changes, weight loss, and improvement of overall wellness. 

Strength Training

One of the greatest benefits from partaking in a workout routine with weights is the fact that your muscle tissues get stronger and grow bigger (but we’re kind of suckers for muscles around here). Strength training also helps strengthen tendons and ligaments1, which can help you continue to grow your muscles and support heavier loads over time. 

Coop doing dumbbell curls in a home gym

Weight training—over time, with appropriate progression—can also help you achieve your weight loss and performance goals. Although strength training doesn’t directly lead to fat-burning, strength training can increase your resting metabolic rate and total daily energy expenditure. For this reason, strength training can help change your body composition and increase fat-free mass and decrease your overall body fat percentage1.

Cardiovascular Training 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2 recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week. The reason being that the more you train your heart, the more efficient it gets at pumping blood to the entire body. 

The heart after all is made up of muscle tissues3 just like the rest of the muscles in your body. And just like strength training to grow bigger and stronger leg muscles, your heart needs to undergo strain to get stronger. 

Caroline walking on NordicTrack EXP 7i Treadmill

According to the American Heart Association, aerobic activity4 can also help lower blood pressure, increase good cholesterol, and improve circulation.

Methods of Using A Treadmill With Weights

As a personal trainer, my top priority is to keep safety in mind while walking on a treadmill with weights. That said, you’ll have to choose a light enough load so that you can hold onto your dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag for longer durations. 

For example, if you were to perform a farmers carry for anywhere between 100 to 200 feet, you would be able to pick up a pair of dumbbells that challenge your grip, core, and back, perhaps even to the point where your grip slips as you near the end.

However, if you were to get on a treadmill and perform a farmers carry, you would need to choose a weight that you can withstand for longer than a few hundred feet so you don’t have to hassle with getting on and off the treadmill, especially with heavy weights in your hands. Plus, with each hand occupied with a heavy dumbbell, stopping the treadmill could be a safety concern. 

For that reason, I will not suggest the farmers carry in this workout plan. Instead, I’ll guide you through a few options for unilateral weighted carries that can be done at moderate weights for longer durations. However, for some people, unilateral carries should add too much strain to the low back5, so keep that in mind if you experience any pain. 

Additionally, you can incorporate isolation exercises for the upper body while walking on a treadmill, like bicep curls or overhead pressing. You’ll have to keep in mind the same idea that the weight has to be light enough to hold on to for extended periods of time and a weight you can still safely raise your arm and stop the treadmill when you’re done. 

Holding Weights While Walking On The Treadmill

Adding a carry to your treadmill walking routine will not only fire up your cardiovascular system, it will also stimulate isometric muscle contractions to keep your upper body and core stable while you walk. Here are a few ways you can incorporate a weighted carry into your treadmill cardio workout:

  • Suitcase carry: With just one dumbbell or kettlebell, you’ll carry the weight on one side with your arm fully extended and the weight by your hip. Maintain good form with your shoulders down away from your ears and your chest, rib cage, and hip stacked on top of each other to keep your spine neutral and aligned. With your one free hand, it might be tempting to lift the arm away from your body for a more balanced feel, but keep that arm down and to your side to fully engage your core. 
  • Front rack kettlebell carry: Kettlebells are the most popular option for this carry position. You’ll hold one kettlebell racked on your chest with your fist at the midline of your chest, palm facing inward. This carry position will fatigue the shoulder and challenge your core. 
  • Waiter’s carry: This carry position will leave your shoulders feeling toasted. You’ll use a light dumbbell or kettlebell and raise your arm to a 90 degree position with your elbow directly in front of your shoulder. Be sure to keep your spine neutral—a common fault is the back arching. 
  • Overhead carry: Similar to the waiter’s carry, but instead of a 90-degree position of the elbow, you’ll fully extend the arm overhead. This position will require special attention to keep the shoulder joint plugged into the shoulder girdle—shrugging the shoulders toward the ears is a common fault. 
  • Sandbag Zercher carry: With a light to moderately weighted sandbag, pick up the weight so that your arms are positioned in front of your chest and the sandbag is resting on both biceps. Maintain a neutral spine and elbows at 90 degrees. 

Other Methods Of Weights On A Treadmill

A carried position is not the only way to get your weights on a treadmill. Consider these methods for getting in a full-body, heart-pumping workout:

  • Ankle weights: This is a perfect option for beginners or anyone wanting to experiment with a small amount of weight while walking. 
  • Weight vest: A viable option to add load when walking on the treadmill when ankle weights just don’t cut it for your fitness level. Make sure you maintain an upright posture so your lower back doesn’t get strained from leaning too far forward or backward. 
  • Isolation arm exercises: Instead of an isometric weighted carry, you can target the upper body with light bicep curls, triceps extensions, or overhead presses while you walk

Create A Circuit With A Treadmill And Weights

You don’t have to bring your weights on the treadmill. Even with limited time, you can design a circuit to incorporate your treadmill, dumbbells, and a variety of bodyweight exercises to create an interval training-style workout that is sure to get your heart rate up.

Amanda doing lunges with kettlebells in a gym

Try this HIIT full-body workout that incorporates bouts of treadmill running with dumbbell exercises to target the glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, lats, and core. 

Warm up: 5-10 minutes of treadmill walking, calf stretch, and figure four stretch. 

  • Dumbbell goblet squat: 10 reps
  • Bent over dumbbell row: 15 reps
  • Bodyweight alternating reverse lunge: 8 reps each side
  • Push up: 5-10 reps (you can use your treadmill for incline push ups)
  • Treadmill run (75% effort): 2 minutes 
  • Rest: 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat: 3-4 rounds

Or try this circuit, which incorporates both upper-body strength with lower-body exercises. This circuit is fairly low-impact and perfect for beginners:

Warm up: 5-10 minutes of treadmill walking, calf stretch, and finish with the cat and cow stretch. 

  • Toe taps (to your treadmill): 10 reps each side
  • Glute bridge: 15-20 reps
  • Superman with back stretch: 10 reps each side
  • Dumbbell curl and overhead press: 10 reps
  • Treadmill incline walk (75% effort): 4 minutes
  • Rest: 1-2 minutes
  • Repeat: 3-4 rounds

Final Thoughts on Treadmill Weights

Always use your best judgment when walking with weights during your treadmill workouts. You can use your treadmill and free weights to create HIIT workouts or literally hop in the treadmill with weights. 

At the end of the day, it’s important for your body to get a mix of cardiovascular and resistance training stimulus. There are important benefits to each—and sometimes it makes sense to combine them into one time saving weighted treadmill workout. 

Treadmill Weights: Q&A

Should I use weights on the treadmill?

You hold weights on your treadmill or perform upper body isolation exercises. Keep in mind you’ll want to choose lighter weights than if you were training stationary.

Is it safe to use ankle weights on a treadmill?

Walking with ankle weights on a treadmill can be a solid introduction to adding load to your treadmill workout because the weights are relatively light—ranging from one to five pounds each. However, if you notice your natural gait changes it’s best to take them off.

Is treadmill better than lifting weights?

Treadmill use and weight training each have its own benefits. With a combination of treadmill use and weight training, you will be able to increase your muscle size, stimulate bone density, and decrease  your risk of heart disease.

What burns fat faster cardio or weights?

Strength training typically leads to greater body composition changes and increases the amount of fat-free mass you have on your body. The more muscle mass you have (aka fat-free mass), it’s a major predictor of your resting metabolic rate6 and using energy even at rest—which leads to fat loss. 

What should you not do on a treadmill?

When you add any amount of weight to your treadmill training routine, be aware of how much load you’re adding to the treadmill and what the treadmill user weight capacity is. Keep in mind you’ll need to start and stop the treadmill safely. Keeping one hand free or having light loads will be necessary. 

References

  1. Haff GG, Triplett TN. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. Human Kinetics. 2016. American Heart Association. Why is physical activity so important for health and well-being? 2017, January 14. 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? 2023, June 2.
  3. Ripa R, George T, Sattar Y. Physiology, Cardiac Muscle. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. 
  4. American Heart Association. Why is physical activity so important for health and well-being? 2017, January 14.
  5. McGill SM, Marshall L, Andersen J. Low back loads while walking and carrying: comparing the load carried in one hand or in both hands. Ergonomics. 2013;56(2):293-302. doi:10.1080/00140139.2012.752528
  6. Aristizabal, J., Freidenreich, D., Volk, B. et al. Effect of resistance training on resting metabolic rate and its estimation by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry metabolic map. Eur J Clin Nutr 69, 831–836 (2015). 

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