Best Bets for Combining Cardio & Strength Training

woman rowingIf your workout routine isn’t focused on one type of activity over another—like resistance training or aerobic exercise—you might have some competing goals.

All of your training causes physical adaptations (to muscles and your cardiovascular system). How can you get the most from working on both cardio and strength?

Enhancing vs. Interfering

When you work out, you are challenging your body to dig deeper, move faster, reach farther, go longer, or lift more. After that, it must recover. After repeated episodes of working out and recovery, your body will adapt to meet the stressors you place on it.

That is the short story of how you build muscle, endurance, speed or power. The factors that affect your training also affect your adaptation – also known as your results. These include workout intensity, frequency, and the load or volume involved.

So, how often you work out, at what intensity, matters to your results such as your rate of increase in muscle strength, size or power. Or, for endurance athletes, increases in maximum oxygen consumption.

Yet, the same training parameters that can enhance the effect of a strength or cardio program alone can possibly cause interference with results when performed at the same time, or concurrently.

Some studies have shown very little effect on strength or muscle development when cardio programs are added in. But power seems to be an area that is more hampered, causing some experts to recommend power athletes avoid training for cardio endurance.

There have also been disputes over the benefits of strength training for distance runners. It has been argued that resistance training may be counterproductive to the goals of endurance training. However, many support approaches for developing strength as a marathoner which can help improve the health and results of the runner as a whole.

For most of us, the key to enhancing our training, instead of interfering with it, seems to be in how the workout week is organized. Here are some good bets for ensuring your best results when combining strength and cardio in your regular routine:

  1. Know your goals: what are trying to achieve? If you are seeking optimal strength, you’ll need to beware of energy-sapping cardio routines before you hit the weight room. If you are adding miles, how far do you think your legs will carry you after lunges and squats with heavy weights? Put your primary goals first, and add in secondary workout goals afterward (see number 2).

    Anyone seeking serious progression in their strength training endeavor can make one simple change to make the most of their cardio: factor in the type of cardio you’re doing—a lower-level steady state or a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine, for example. Then combine with your workout days accordingly (see number 3).

  2. Alternate your emphasis: reserve your energy as required. When you need to perform, it’s best that you don’t show up drained. A training routine that varies emphasis of your efforts on different days is the answer.

    Your upper body resistance training may not take as much out of you on one day as you can give to your HIIT routine. On another day, your plyometrics routine and lower body strength might make a good combo with an easy jog. Incorporating multiple facets of training with varying emphasis can help you touch on all points and avoid overuse.

  3. Alternate your order/days: approach your week as a whole. Once you know your goals and ways to vary your workout emphasis, you can alternate what you’re working on each day, and the order you choose for your routines. This is especially helpful if you’re a well-rounded recreational athlete.

    Some days you can emphasize your cardio as mentioned above, and follow it by strength that is not as demanding. But the next day choose strength first—different muscle groups, though, and less emphasis on cardio afterward. Active recovery days can include very low-level aerobic work and stretching or massage. Circling back around again, and then including a complete day of rest, will help preserve gains and avoid training interference (see number 4).

  4. Include injury prevention & recovery: remember the activities of life. If you’re working out for general fitness and health, don’t forget about your ability to improve your wellness with functional aspects of your workout routine. If you have been injured or have a medical condition, physical therapy can progress to become part of your workout. “Pre-hab” is fitness activity that will help prevent injury or re-injury as well.

    You can also address muscle soreness, fatigue, and overall stress by considering warm-up, cool down and recovery as part of your routine. This includes warming up and cooling down for each workout, as well as recovering between major workouts and at least one full day off per week—no cardio, no strength, nothing!

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