For a lot of people, both resistance training and cardio are important parts of their fitness regime. Functional fitness has become a buzzword, and the popularity of programs like Crossfit and High Intensity Interval Training which utilise elements of both types of training are a testament to the breakdown of this divide. Gone are the days of guys with jaw dropping physiques who can't jog round the block.
Cardio has always been the go-to for weight loss, and this is changing too. We know that muscle burns more energy than fat, so most weight conscious people are incorporating resistance training into their regimes to build up lean mass. Muscle sculpts the physique and helps keep the fat off in the long run.
Success in most sports requires cardiovascular fitness and strength, and athletes have been combining these two forms of training years before the fitness community caught on. The competitive nature of sport means that there has been a lot of thought and research put into maximising the effectiveness of this training.
One of these factors is workout timing. Recovery after exercise is crucial, and most people are aware of, or have experienced the effects of overtraining a particular muscle group. But what happens when cardio is thrown into the mix? A group of researchers from France recently answered this question by looking at the effect of recovery duration on strength and aerobic gains.
An experiment was performed on amateur rugby players, who were divided into five groups. The first group did two sessions of cardio only, per week. The second, third and fourth groups did two sessions of cardio and two sessions of strength training per week, at different intervals. Group two began cardio immediately after finishing strength training, group three after a six hour interval, and group four waited a full twenty four hours after resistance training to do their cardio. The final group did two strength sessions only. The participants kept this up for seven weeks, at which point the researchers looked for differences in strength and aerobic capacity between the groups.
These were not hard to find. Bench press and squat tests showed that the group with the twenty four hour rest interval made greater strength gains than the six hour group, and both of these groups outperformed the group that took no break. Interestingly, the control group that only did strength training made greater strength gains than the group that tackled strength and cardio back to back, but the groups that took six and twenty four hour breaks between strength and cardio made greater strength gains than the control. Additional strength measurements showed very similar patterns.
Aerobic performance was measured by measuring peak VO2. All groups performing both aerobic and strength exercise showed an increased peak VO2 at the end of the experiment, but once again, in terms of training-induced adaptation, the group that took the twenty four hour break outperformed the group that did cardio immediately after strength training.
This study emphasised the importance of recovery for maximising results. Allowing a full day between sessions, and to a lesser extent, doing a second session on the same day instead of bashing strength and cardio out in one sitting, is the key to maximising the efficiency of your training.
That said, the average person has a busy lifestyle, and training strength and cardio in the same session may be the most convenient way to go for some time pressed people. The advantage of consecutive day training was significant, but it was not huge. Additionally, some types of training, particularly functional forms of training, combine the two elements, and it would be unnatural to separate them.
Knowing how to balance your training is a great way to maximise your results, and this study has shown that a twenty four hour break between strength and cardio is the way to go. That said, your training schedule has to suit your lifestyle, and it's better to take on a schedule you know you can stick to, even if you are not optimising your results, because working out is better than not working out at all.
Robineau J, Babault N, Piscione J, Lacome M, Bigard A. The specific training effects of concurrent aerobic and strength exercises depends on recovery duration. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Dec 24.