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Weight training & cardio-together or separate?
This blog has been inspired by a recent question. A time poor business exec/family man I work with who takes his fitness very seriously (as you should) wanted to know the best use of his limited time to maximise strength, muscle and cardiovascular fitness goals. I felt this would make a good topic as all of us want to get ‘maximum bang for our buck’ from our training without becoming a slave to the gym. After all life is for living.
So, is cardio & weights together harmful to the progression of each other?
There are a number of different ways we can approach this subject and the starting point depends on your level of fitness and ambition. Serious strength trainees (think competitive powerlifting) or endurance athletes (for males, sub-3hr a rough guide) would be well advised to keep the two separate. Ideally speaking on different days but worst case a minimum of 8 hrs apart (Sporer & Wenger 2003). This study showed this as the shortest time frame in order to minimise disruption to the beneficial signalling brought about by weight training. Cardio has been shown to blunt the mTOR response which follows weight training and plays a big role in the complex role of muscle protein synthesis (in laymans terms production of new muscle).
So, how we would put this together assuming you wanted to do both on the same day? (Assumptions here are you are either a professional athlete, or have a very understanding boss…)
Cardio should be performed first thing in the morning. Signalling pathways for cardio pathways start to drop towards baseline after about 3 hours (Fyfe et al 2014). Immediately following endurance work eat and rest. Later, weight training done in the afternoon as late as practically possible (circa 8hrs after) will minimise disruption as best as possible. Anabolic signalling responses from strength training last a lot longer, (18hrs +) (Baar 2014). Therefore, it is worth remembering to factor this in to give reasonable rest before the following day’s cardio (if applicable). As you may realise the differing stimulation rates for each type of training is why it make sense to perform cardio first (if as a separate workout).
Advice for 99% of us: Those who want fitness, health and a ‘nice-looking’ physique
The good news is for the vast majority of us we CAN perform both cardio and weight training in the same session. If you are limited to 3x 1 hour gym sessions a week you will get a far greater overall health benefit by performing both cardio/weights together than by dropping one out for fear of losing out on the other. Yes, by combining them, you’ll unlikely ever be a powerlifting or marathon world champion (however if you were going to be you’d already know by now). BUT, you can still be extremely fit, strong and in shape. Think elite rugby player or cross fit athlete, not exactly shabby hey?
The practical suggestion here is to plan your workout intelligently. Cardio performed after weight training has shown less impact on performance than the other way round (Ratamess et al 2016). If you perform a split programme you will also see benefit from doing a form of cardio which doesn’t directly stress the muscles just worked (i.e you’ve trained legs so you use ski-erg for cardio, or you’ve trained upper body so cycle or run.)
In the ideal world where time is unlimited, training cardio and weights separately by a minimum of 8 hours would be preferable. This is clearly unrealistic for most people and cardio/weights should still be performed together for the overwhelming health benefits both will provide. Ideally train cardio after the weights and use a cardio training method that minimises stress in the just-trained muscle groups.
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Baar, K. 2014. Using molecular biology to maximize concurrent training. Sports medicine 44 (2), 117-125.
Fyfe, J. J., Bishop, D. J. & Stepto, N. K. 2014. Interference between concurrent resistance and endurance exercise: molecular bases and the role of individual training variables. Sports medicine 44 (6), 743-762.
Ratamess, N. A., Kang, J., Porfido, T. M., Ismaili, C. P., Selamie, S. N., Williams, B. D., Kuper, J. D., Bush, J. A., Faigenbaum, A. D., 2016. Acute resistance exercise performace is negatively impacted by prior aerobic endurance exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research 30 (10), 2667-2681.
Sporer, B. C. & Wenger, H. A. 2003. Effects of aerobic exercise on strength performance following various periods of recovery. Journal of strength and conditioning research 17 (4), 638-644.
Wilson, J. B., Marin, P. J., Rhea, M. R., Wilson, S. M. C, Loenneke, J. P. & Anderson, J. C. 2012. Concurrent training: A meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. Journal of strength and conditioning research 26 (8), 2293-2307.