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Combining cardio and lifting is called concurrent training.
This is something that is usually frowned upon in the fitness community.
Many people think that if you do any amount of cardio, it will hamper your muscle and strength gains. But this either-or thought process is limited, and there is more to it than that.
However, expecting to be the strongest/most muscular person and be the best long distance runner isn’t realistic though.
But there is a way to build a muscular physique and still be able to do cardio training without sacrificing tons of muscle and strength.
This is an important blog to write for me because I’m sure a lot of people would consider me “anti-cardio” but that simply isn’t true.
I am anti doing cardio for fat loss only.
Now lets go over how to combine cardio and running so you can still have a muscular physique.
There was a study by Hickson that showed that cardio did negatively effect strength, however the goal of this study was to elicit the interference effect between cardio and weight training.
The good news about this study is that it can help us decide what NOT to do when it comes to combining cardio and weight lifting.
On the contrary there are studies that show that combining both can have a positive effect on strength/muscle hypertrophy (Murach, K. A., & Bagley, J. R. 2016).
The type of cardio you do is important as well, in this study by Mikkola and collegues (2012) they found that including cycling actually helped increase quad thickness when combined with weight training.
There is conflicting information on concurrent training because HOW you do it plays a big role.
Something like running is going to be way more fatiguing on the body than something like cycling. So what cardio modalites you choose are important.
Also, what muscle groups you use for your cardio is going to play a big role in how much it effects your weight training. For example, running before your upper body day will have less of an effect on your upper body than it would your lower body.
Another factor is the intensity of the cardio. Even if you do split up what muscles get worked when doing your cardio and weight training, if your training is long and intense then you can expect that fatigue generated to effect your weight training.
How much cardio you do throughout the week plays a big role as well. 1-2 days isn’t going to be a big deal, but if you do cardio 6-7 days per week then its going to start to really interfere with recovery and your weight training.
Another BIG factor is that cardio burns a lot of calories and this can put you into a calorie deficit, which is not ideal for gaining strength/muscle. Most people wont increase their calories when they start to incorporate more cardio so they end up hampering their results by being in a calorie deficit for too long.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into this. It seems the reasons people don’t see great results combining cardio and weight training is because they simply have a poor concurrent training program that will hamper both your cardio gains and weight training gains.
Lets now dive into how to best combine weight training and cardio.
How to Program Both
Choose lower impact cardio
Running generates the most overall fatigue. Aim to focus on lower impact cardio modalities like cycling, rowing, elliptical, walking etc.
This will help you lower your overall fatigue. Being in a high fatigue/high stress state where your body is just focused on recovery is going to hamper your strength/muscle gains.
Separate cardio from weight training as far possible
If you can, try to spread your cardio and weight training as far as part as possible. So separate days would be the most ideal, however if that isn’t possible then try to spread it out by 6 hours or so.
If you still cant do that, then do which ever one is most important to you first.
If I had to pick, do your weight training first.
Lastly, if you are doing and upper body day and you have to do cardio on the same day, you should do a cardio modality that doestn stress your upper body, like the rower. The same applies for your lower body as well.
Essentially, you want whatever muscle groups you are training for your weight training sessions to NOT be sore.
Pay attention to your volume, intensity, frequency, and duration of cardio.
The more volume do (just think of HOW MUCH you do per session), the more intense it is (how tough does it feel?), the more frequent it is, and the longer the duration the more it will negatively impact your strength training.
Therefore, start with lower volumes, less intense, less frequency and shorter duration cardio sessions. See how your recovery is, and then go from there.
A good starting point would be 1-2 low intensity, for about 20-30 minutes each.
Then slowly over time increase these variables as needed.
Read this blog here on how we progress online clients with their training.
Nutrition is ging to play huge role in this as well.
The most important thing is that you are eating enough protein to make up for the extra cardio.
Since you will be doing more, your body will have increased protein needs for recovery from training and since you will be expending more energy, your body will be at a greater risk of using protein for energy if you do not eat enough calories.
Aim for about .8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
For calories, you should monitor your bodyweight. If you see your weight trending down, then its a sign you should increase your caloric intake.
If weight loss is your goal (which we have gone over that you dont ALWAYS want to be in a calorie deficit) then just ensure you are losing at the appropriate rate per week and you are keeping your protein intake at the levels mentioned earlier to reduce the risk of losing muscle.
Read this blog here to learn more about the diet principles for your physique.
IF you are not trying to lose weight and you see your weight trending down, then you can expect muscle growth to not be happening and you should increase your calories.
Increasing your calories will help with recovery from both as well.
Prioritize one or the other
One should get put on maintenance (which means reducing one or a combination of your volume, intensity, frequency, or duration) and the other should be prioritized. Trying to maximize both is a sure way to ensure you wont maximize either.
Fatigue management strategies
Just like we preach to deload every 3-6 weeks from weight training, you should deload with your cardio as well.
This would mean you could do one of or a combination of less frequency, intensity, duration, volume.
Read this blog here to find out more about the principles of building muscle and fatigue management.
If you can implement these principles into your training you will be able to combine cardio and weigh training together and still maintain a relatively muscular physique and it shouldn’t negatively effect your endurance either.
If you need more guidance on setting up a proper weight training or just need more accountability with your nutrition/training then fill out the coaching app here and lets get out work.
Hickson R. C. (1980). Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 45(2-3), 255–263. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00421333
Murach, K. A., & Bagley, J. R. (2016). Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy with Concurrent Exercise Training: Contrary Evidence for an Interference Effect. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(8), 1029–1039. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0496-y
Mikkola, J., Rusko, H., Izquierdo, M., Gorostiaga, E. M., & Häkkinen, K. (2012). Neuromuscular and cardiovascular adaptations during concurrent strength and endurance training in untrained men. International journal of sports medicine, 33(9), 702–710. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0031-1295475