Question: I would prefer to avoid all conventional cardio training if possible. What lifting exercises can I do that more or less mimic cardio?
As long as you're not training for an endurance sport, it's more than feasible to replace traditional cardio with lifting. However, the exercises you choose, while important, are not the main factor in determining the cardiovascular training effect; the key is how you perform them. Follow these guidelines to turn your lifting program into a fat-burning frenzy.
Use Basic, Multijoint Exercises
Use squats, deadlifts, bench presses and bent-over rows to involve as much muscle mass as possible. Some non-traditional exercises used by strongman competitors, like the tire flip and farmers walk, are other great options.
Train Circuit Style
Alternate upper and lower body exercises to spread the fatigue to your entire body. Minimize rest between sets to keep your heart rate up and to force your body to switch from using the anaerobic energy system, which normally supplies energy for lifting, to the aerobic system.
Circuits Need to Last 2-5 Minutes
It takes two minutes for the aerobic system to kick in, so sets need to last at least that long. Use 6-8 exercises for 10 reps each with a controlled, even tempo. Each set should last about 45 seconds. At the end of the circuit, take a 2-3 minute rest; this will make the workout similar to interval training on the treadmill or bike. You will need 20-30 minutes of work time to see cardiovascular benefits, which translates into 6-10 circuits, three times per week.