Exerciseleon coupe running
Before going into the best way to combine weight lifting and cardio, let me go over some of the main benefits of incorporating cardio into your routine. And by cardio, I’m talking about any kind of exercise that involves maintaining an elevated heart rate for more than a few minutes at a time. A more accurate term would be endurance training or aerobic exercise, but I’ll refer to it as cardio for this post to keep things simple.⁣
Some of you may not want to hear this, but if you want to optimise both health and performance, including performance in your strength training, then you should be doing both.⁣⁣
Let’s face it, most weight lifters don’t like doing cardio, either because they find it uncomfortable, or they fear it may interfere with their ability to gain muscle and strength. Others may just simply find it boring and pointless.⁣⁣
I mean, if you’re already resistance training several times per week, what benefit can you get from adding in a bit of cardio? Especially seeing as you can get the main benefits of cardio such as lower blood pressure, improved blood flow, and arterial health from just lifting weights.⁣⁣
⁣⁣It’s true, weight lifting does offer many of the same benefits as cardio, including improved heart health, insulin sensitivity, and more. But cardio also offers some health benefits you can’t get from weight lifting, such as:⁣⁣

WEIGHT LOSS

Cardio is not going to benefit your body composition in the same way as strength training, but it will, as you can guess, improve your cardiovascular health and longevity. Cardio also burns many calories, and a lot more calories per minute, or hour, than weight lifting. This is of course why many people incorporate cardio into their routines to lose weight. It can help increase your calorie deficit, driving more weight loss. Of course, your diet comes first, but cardio can assist, particularly if you hit a plateau.⁣⁣

BLOOD PRESSURE

A combination of both cardio and weight lifting has been shown in research to be better for lowering blood pressure than just cardio or weight lifting alone. This is important as high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) significantly increases the risk of a whole host of diseases. ⁣⁣
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CHOLESTEROL

Doing both cardio and weight lifting together is also better for improving cholesterol levels, it helps to lower LDL (bad cholesterol), and raise HDL (good cholesterol), while also increasing capillary density, arterial health, and blood flow more than weight lifting alone.⁣⁣

THE RIGHT WAY TO COMBINE CARDIO AND STRENGTH TRAINING

I have definitely had to learn this one the hard way. Trying to combine playing football several times a week to get bigger and stronger simply wasn’t the way to go. This caused me to believe that doing cardio was not beneficial to those seeking muscle and strength gains, at least to some degree.⁣⁣
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The truth is if you want to get bigger, stronger, leaner, and fitter, you can combine cardio and strength training productively, and it is actually better than just lifting weights alone. You’ll simply be in better shape if you do both, but you have to do it correctly because doing it wrong will hinder your ability to gain strength and build muscle.⁣⁣
The secret comes down to how you combine the two. How cardio interferes or does not interfere with your strength training are the type of cardio that you do, when you do your cardio and your strength training workouts, how much cardio you do, the intensity, and how much you eat.⁣⁣

THE INTERFERENCE EFFECT

Let me go into more detail on a few of these things, starting with one popular type of cardio: running. Running causes a lot more fatigue and muscle damage when compared to other lower impact forms of cardio like cycling, rowing, elliptical, swimming, etc. So, it’s not surprising that studies show running, in particular, produces a much greater interference effect than other types of cardio. So, the most practical takeaway here is that if you’re going to train concurrently, don’t run.⁣⁣
Now looking at timing. My main rule of thumb here is to try and put cardio on a separate day to your lower body training, backed by research showing that this can greatly reduce the interference effect. If you simply have to do both on the same day, the best thing you can do to mitigate the interference effect is take in plenty of carbs and separate each workout by at least 6 hours. And in this situation, you should always do your strength training first.⁣⁣
Another aspect to consider, especially if you’re making and/or maintaining ‘gains’, is the total amount of cardio you’re doing per week. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how much cardio is too much because it depends on too many factors, like what type of cardio you’re doing, when you do it, and other individual genetic factors. However, studies show that most people can do 3-6 hours of cardio per week before it starts to detract from their strength training. This number does assume you’re doing low to moderate intensity cardio though because if it’s more intense, for example, high-intensity intervals, you’ll need to do far less (somewhere around 45-60 minutes per week).⁣⁣
There is another major factor that impacts how well your body responds to concurrent training, which is your is your diet, specifically, your energy balance. This is because a calorie deficit hampers your ability to recover and build and maintain muscle. It will also magnify the interference effect. This is because a lot of people, myself included, don’t tend to feel an increase in appetite from cardiovascular training. What tends to happen in this situation is you stick to your normal diet, start implementing tons of cardio without really accounting for the energy burnt, and after a few weeks begin to notice a drop in intensity during your resistance training sessions, with the weights feeling heavier and your overall performance decreasing. This leads people to think that cardio is the issue directly, not realising it’s actually because of the extra energy they’re burning during their cardio workouts which they are not accounting for.⁣⁣

KEY TAKEAWAYS

TYPE

Choose low-impact forms of cardio (something other than running, and certainly other than sprinting).⁣⁣

DURATION

Keep most of your cardio workouts fairly short, with no more than 30 minutes being the general rule of thumb (20 minutes for high intensity).⁣⁣

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TIMING

Split your cardio and strength workouts by at least 6 hours, and try to avoid combing your lower body workouts and cardio on the same day.⁣⁣

EXTRA TIPS

FOCUS ON YOUR MAIN GOAL

If you’re going to train concurrently you should pick either endurance or strength training as your primary goal, rather than trying to do it all at the same time. You are not going to be able to maximise your progress in both of those directions simultaneously.⁣⁣
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PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD

Gradually increase the volume of your cardio workouts. This is one thing that cardio and weight lifting have in common, you should be aiming to make your workouts slightly harder over time, and one of the most effective ways to achieve this in both resistance training and cardio is to increase volume.

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