Male Athlete Running on Tarmac Towards the Sun

Combining strength and cardio training is something that is often overlooked by a lot of people. Most have a singular focus, that being either strength, muscle mass or endurance.

This of course, is excellent! But do you have an idea how to accomplish this? If not, then this article is for you. Today I will be discussing how you can combine strength and cardio training.

 

First, a Bit of Background Information

Muscle growth, the development of strength and an increase in endurance are rather complex, as these goals are influenced by multiple factors.

The most important factors are your workout plan, nutrition, recovery and mindset. This article will mostly be discussing the training part. If you would like to learn more about nutrition, click here.

Working out obviously has an effect on your body, both external and internal. Strength workouts and cardio workouts both have different effects.

Before I’m going to discuss both types of training, I’d like to go over the basics of muscle tissues for a bit. See, people have two types of skeletal muscle fibers: type I and type II.

  • Type I include slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are used to enable long-endurance actions.
  • Type II are fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers fatigue faster, but offer more explosiveness.

Now that you’re caught up with the differences in skeletal muscle tissues, it’s time to explore the differences of strength and cardio workouts.

The Effects of Strength Training

Most people are well aware of the primary effects of strength training, that being the development of strength and muscle mass. Endurance is not being influenced that much. Of course, it won’t stay untouched, but it’s not as if your endurance will increase at the same rate that your strength does.

We’ve just learned that type II excels in explosiveness and therefore raw strength. Strength training therefore stimulates type II muscle fiber growth.

The Effects of Cardio Training

It is common knowledge that cardio increases one’s endurance, rather than strength. Muscle mass often remains relatively stable. It could increase or decrease slightly, depending on the exercises.

Type I muscle fiber growth is often minimal, while type II fibers stay at the same level or decrease slightly. Remember: cardio works your endurance, rather than muscle mass.

Do Strength and Cardio Influence Each Other?

Both strength and cardio ask a lot from your body. There are no separate energy reserves for both forms of exercise. Both forms of exercise utilize the same fuel, muscle fibers and nervous system. At least, partially.

Research has shown that there is no singular body process that is causing an overlay in the effects of strength and cardio workouts.

As of right now, scientists are debating whether long endurance workouts on a regular basis have a negative influence on the recovery of type II muscle tissues.

This has to do with the inhibition of mTOR-pathways, because of monophosphate activated protein kinase (AMPK). To keep things short and sweet, this in turn influences muscle recovery and protein synthesis. Something you wouldn’t want if you want to build muscle mass and strength.

However, there are several things that factor in muscle recovery. For this reason, it cannot be stated with 100% certainty that cardio negatively influences strength and muscle gains when it comes to recovery.

 

Does Cardio Negatively Influence Strength Performance?

Studies have shown that a combination of strength and cardio exercises result in the same amount of muscle growth, strength development and increase of endurance, when compared to only strength exercises.

The only thing that does indeed decrease slightly, is the maximum strength (1RM). If your main goal is to become as strong as possible, cardio can therefore decrease your performance.

When it comes to maintaining muscle mass and increasing endurance at the same time, it is recommended to do strength workouts 2 to 3 times as much as cardio.

If endurance is your goal, it is okay to train for strength as much as doing cardio. Doing twice the amount of cardio would also suffice, although this might affect your strength and muscle mass, especially if your cardio sessions take a long time.

This is probably the case when cardio takes place more than three times a week for about 30 minutes or more.

All in all: cardio can definitely influence strength and muscle gains.

Upper- and Lower Body

A funny thing is that the combination of strength and cardio exercises probably only decreases performance for the lower body, rather than the upper body. For example, squatting and running for miles on end is not a fantastic combination in regard to muscular development, whereas performing pullups and doing rowing exercises makes not as much difference.

High Intensity

Recent studies have shown that high intensity cardio exercises do not cause a decrease in muscle mass. Also, it has near to no effect on the upper body muscles. Running proves to be less detrimental to muscle strength than cycling, as long as the resting periods during interval sets are long enough.

And What About Body Fat?

A combination of strength and cardio workouts proves to be good for your body fat percentage. This is because of the simple fact that you’re burning a lot of calories, as long as you don’t eat an enormous amount of food.

Combining high intensity cardio and strength exercises proves to me the most effective for burning fat.

 

Don’t Forget About Nutrition

Yes, this article is supposed to be about training. However, I feel the need to mention this nonetheless. Nutrition is extremely important. Since you’re combining strength and cardio, a lot of muscle tissue gets used.

You obviously want to recover. Therefore, consuming a lot of protein rich foods is recommended.

Click here to read more about protein.

 

My Advice

So right now I’ll give some advice to those that are interested in developing muscle strength, mass and endurance. This advice focuses primarily on strength, supplemented by cardio.

First of all, make sure you’re well rested. The break between strength and cardio workouts should be somewhere between 6 and 24 hours. If you’re combining strength and cardio, I’d recommend doing cardio no more than 2 to 3 times a week.

If you’re unable to plan strength and cardio workouts on separate days, you should pay close attention to your volume. This means you should not perform cardio for hours on end if you’re planning to do a strength workout the very next day.

I’d recommend going for high intensity cardio workouts with a duration of about 30 minutes, as long endurance workouts may decrease muscle strength.

Last but not least, choose a goal. If you want more strength and muscle mass, make that your primary focus and vice versa. Try to play with combining strength and cardio as you like.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your thoughts or questions in the comment section below, and I’ll make sure to get back to you!

22 thoughts on “Combining Cardio and Strength Training

  1. The article about the “Combining Cardio and Strength – Yay or Nay?” is nice.You give a several information about the b Muscle growth, the development of strength. Even my sister has belly fat.This information gives my sister to get loss her weight and increase stamina .it , make me the confidence to get loss her weight and thanks for giving the recommended advice.

  2. I had always wondered about the differences between the cardio workouts and the strength workouts, and whether or not combining the two was worthwhile. Your article provided a concise and clear explanation of each and also how to work the two in tandem to get the best outcomes.

    My experience started in high school as a cross-country runner, and later while in the US Army for 25 years we did a mix of both on a 4 day a week schedule, mostly done in the early morning hours of the day wherever I happened to be stationed or deployed at. 

    In most cases, we did cardio on one day and then strength the next day. On the weekends I would add in a “fun run” of anywhere between 5 miles to 15 miles (it depended on how much “fun” I had time for!). Over the years, since retiring, I have maintained this schedule and it really seems to work.

    Do you recommend easing off the cardio and strength workouts with age? I ask this as these days I am 20 years older from the time I retired (after 25 years), and the workouts tend to be harder on me than the days long ago. I still like them though, that is the thing. Good points on the nutrition angle too, by the way. I enjoyed your post a lot, I will be back to read more of your articles, thanks!  

    1. Hi Dave, 

      Combining both forms of workout can definitely be worth it, as long as you don’t overdo it and keep your nutrition optimized. 

      I’d recommend to just do what makes you feel good. If you’re used to a certain level of physical activity, it’s not necessary to drop down in weight. You might find that indeed the exercises you used to do, are becoming increasingly more difficult. If you notice that one or more exercises are becoming too hard to perform in good form, you can drop down in weight a bit. If you’d like, you can then increase the amount of repetitions. 

      Cheers! 

  3. Thank you for all the information and insights you shared on this great post.

    We have always been a believer in a holistic approach and the need to combine strength training, cardio training and proper nutrition to achieve overall effectiveness.

    We thought that choosing and setting your goal would be first in the priority list (rather than the last).  That would enable us to make the necessary focus and design our training and nutrition program accordingly.  Would you agree?

    Regarding strength and cardio training, we agree that there should be breaks in between. What works best for you:  Doing strength and cardio training alternately or combining them in each session but interspersing with break days?

    Grateful for your further advice on the above.

    1. Hi there, 

      Thanks for dropping by! I agree, having a goal basically makes up the foundation of your workouts. When you have a certain goal, you can fully focus on achieving it. Nutrition, working out, consistency and rest are then necessary to effectively work towards it. 

      Right now I work out about 4-5 times a week. Every 6 weeks I tend to switch my workouts up a bit. Volume, Intensity, and so on. I then have 1 day per week that’s dedicated to cardio. The day after is my resting day. 

      However, I have combined both strength and cardio in the past. I’d do high Intensity compound exercises for about 45-60 minutes, and then I’d do some rowing/running for about 15 minutes. 

      It’s not at all that much, but it worked/works for me! 

      Have a great day! 

  4. Combining cardio and strength is something I do most of the time but I have been a kind of ignorant towards it, it’s very lovely to finally get to read about what it takes, I mean the odds and good. I’m more into strength building, so i think your advice fits into more of what I need and I’ll follow it accordingly, I’ll get back to you about how it goes.

    1. Hi there,

      I’m glad you liked my article. Go ahead and see what fits your needs and let me know how it goes!

      Cheers

  5. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the brief insight into a combination of work-outs. This has always been a challenge and we do have divergent views on the workout strategy and patterns. I also appreciate you taking the effort to explain the Type I and II muscle fibers, something I learnt only after reading this article….nobody at the gym ever mentioned this. 

    It would be of great help if you could also write about and recommend the right combination of exercises for different age groups. As you rightly conclude…need a goal and also need a lot of consistent effort.

    Rajesh

    1. Hi Rajesh, 

      I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I can indeed sum up several exercises with their respective frequencies, volume and Intensity, but that would not fit everyones needs. For example, person A notices great progression from doing a lot of bench presses, while person B doesn’t. Nonetheless, I’ll take your feedback into account, so thanks for that! 

      Have a great day! 

  6. Hey Kevin!

    An educative post about our types of muscle fibers and how to mix cardio exercises with strength-driven ones. These exercises are meant to increase our chances to have a healthy heart while also improving our strength!

    It looks like cardio exercises will slightly decelerate the increase of strength, when practiced at the same time with strength exercises – but sometimes strength may need to wait for a little, for the sake of endurance :). And if cardio exercises take place regularly, the long-term effect should be a good heart condition for more years, assuming they are done without excess!

    And of course cardio and strength need appropriate food. Eating large enough quantities of food and burning a satisfying amount of calories. I wonder how useful the so-called “junk food” is, when it comes to burning calories – that food provides lots of calories!

    Have good luck with combining exercises the best way!

    Peter

    1. Hi Peter,

      Indeed, cardio can negatively impact muscle recovery and strength, but it all depends on multple things. Frequency, intensity, nutrition, and so on. 

      Junk food is okay in the sense that it gives you calories to burn, but that doesn’t mean one should eat a bag of M&M’s right before an intense cardio workout! Eating a few though, won’t do that much harm. 😉 

      Cheers!

  7. Thanks for this article, I think it’s much needed as people often do only muscle mass training to have more muscles or only cardio to increase endurance or loose fat.
    I’ve got a question. I would like to keep gain a little bit more muscles on the upper part of the body and decrease body fat overall, so do you think it is best for me to spend let’s say 30 minutes with weights and then 30 minutes with cardio immediately after the power training? Or should I do power training and cardio on different days, i.e. separately?

    1. Hi Lenka, 

      If your workouts are relatively short, you can do them after each other. Weight training burns your glycogen stores to a certain extent, so if you’re doing a bit of cardio afterwards, chances are your body will need to burn some fat in order to give you the energy to perform. 

      However, I think that results will show faster when you do them on seperate days, as it allows you to take your time for both forms of exercise. Add to that the fact that your BMR will spike after some intense cardio for the next 24-48 hours. 

      I hope this answers your question! 

      1. Thanks for your answer, Kevin! I think I’ll try how it works with cardio after power training and see how it goes. If I’m not happy with the results, I’ll try the other option and might get back to you again.
        Thank you for your helpful advice!

  8. These two are of different effects as you’ve said, it is very good to incorporate cardio and strength training as the idea of building endurance helps you affect more of you strength training. Its good that you stated the effects of both and also for explaining how to be mix them. I believe training affects the mind as well as the body, so cardio training will be of immense help if mixed well.

    1. Hi there,

      Physical exercise definitely has an effect on the mind. You learn a great deal about yourself, patience, what it means to literally wear yourself out to get what you want, and so on. I’m glad you liked my article! 

      Cheers!

  9. For weightlifters like me who are looking for bulk tend to fear that cardio burns muscle. This one is more of an oversimplification than an outright myth. It is true that in extreme cases of over-training your body will begin to use muscle for fuel. However, your body will only go catabolic when you exercise at a high intensity for more than 45 minutes, exercise every day, or exercise on an empty stomach. Put simply, cardio will only burn muscle when you give it no other choice. Balance in your training and in your diet will prevent muscle loss.thanks alot for this article

    1. Hi David,

      Nutrition is indeed a big part of the everyday life of a lot of athletes. Without it, we’d burn our muscle mass. Combining cardio and strength training isn’t necessarily ‘bad’, as you won’t burn muscle mass per se as long as your nutrition is up to par, but a recent animal study has shown that an increase of AMPK blocks off certain mTOR pathways, which eventually influences ones ability to recover, as well as protein synthesis. Nonetheless, there could be other factors at play, so it’s not 100% proven that cardio equals bad muscle recovery.

      Cheers!

  10. Thanks alot for this awesome article I would really be of great help for the public as it has been of help to me my understanding Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. Many people train in strictly one or other, believing that the neglected training style will somehow hinder their progress. Gym myths and misunderstandings just add to the confusion, promoting ideas like “running burns muscle”. Should these two training styles be used together?

    1. Hi David, 

      You can combine cardio and strength training as you like, as long as you make sure that you don’t force your body to burn muscle tissue. This can be countered by not training too intense and by making sure your nutrition is up to par. 

      Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *