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.
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.
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!