I just started Stronglifts 5x5 recently and had a question regarding extra exercise. The program states to no do anything on off-days, but I did not know if this pertained to only lifting or if I should stop EVERYTHING on off days.
I have fairly strong lower body strength and I feel like the squats are mostly benefiting my back/abs/shoulder areas through balance (legs aren't struggling AT ALL), so would it be okay to add cardio into the routine? (Assuming that my legs do not need the appropriate rest that the rest of my muscles need due to underworking)
Adding extra exercise will affect your ability to recovery and slow your results. If you're ok with that then knock yourself out.
Is this your first 'Real' lifting experience?
If by 'Real' you mean free weights, then yes. I have used machines in the past, mostly.
I am not trying to add extra lifting to the program, but was unclear about the addition of cardio as the manual doesn't really touch on it.
Cardio on off days should be okay. It depends on the intensity/duration.
Reason I asked is because if I were in your shoes I would try maximize my 'newbie gains' that you will see for both strength and muscle gain by eating at a surplus for the first 2-4 months. You only really get this opportunity once so take advantage of it!
In terms cardio, I would say it's fine provided it doesn't put you in a caloric deficit. If you do cardio, eat more.
Then to give you a full answer...I have been doing Isolated muscle lifting for quite some time. I have used free weights, but only for very specific exercises where a machine was either non-existent or extremely high traffic. Starting Stronglift 5x5's is my first venture into barbell lifting, as any free weights I have done in the past were dumbbells. I don't think I will benefit from any 'newbie' gains for main muscles that I know I took care of when I did isolation-machines, but there are probably some smaller muscles that haven't got much work due to the nature of not having to balance weights or form as the machines handled that for me.
Currently, I do my cardio on the reclined cycle machine, as I have bad knees due to past hockey and wrestling injuries. Also, due to mostly 23 years of hockey, I have very muscular legs so I doubt they will be getting tired for the first several weeks of 5x5 (I am going by the book on this one and starting from the bar to perfect form, 5 pounds extra per workout, not the 50% 1RM option and I can fairly effortlessly max out the leg press machines to give you an idea of my current leg strength).
So I guess that was my main reasoning behind my question. Are off-days meant to give my entire body recovery time, or the muscle areas that I have worn out on lift days? If the latter is the case then I am pretty confident that doing a reclined cycle at level 10 for 30 minutes wouldn't really affect me, but of course I want to do what is best for my body and the program so I will conform to any useful advice that you could give me.
I don't think reclined cycling will interfere with your lifting. Cycling is low impact and 30 minutes isn't too long. I would be more concerned with aggressive sprinting or running 10 miles interfering with your lifting.
Another thing to consider, since you used to play hockey, how are your hips? I would check out your hip mobility and make sure you can properly squat. A lot of hockey players have hip problems and are better off doing single leg work in lieu of full squatting.
The more intense and higher the impact, the greater effect it will have on your lifting. It comes down to how important it is for you to make strength gains. If you really want to get as strong as possible in the shortest amount of time, then choose low impact exercises and don't do too much.
Cardio on off days is certainly a good thing to do, since your heart health is pretty important. I have found that low impact exercises like incline walking have minimal interference. Since you are a novice, you will make good strength gains no matter what you do. So I wouldn't worry about it too much.