Weightlifting & Cardio

How To Combine Weight Training And Cardio

I have done a great number of things throughout my fitness ambitions career and during one of my “let’s see how much I can do” peaks, I was running, hard, for 3-4 days, and lifting weights 5 days a week. This obviously took some dedication and careful planning to ensure I did not lose muscle mass nor did I gain any muscle during this time either. I did however continue this over a several-year period, successfully.
You see, I am a bodybuilder at heart but I had goals to run a marathon, compete in sprint triathlons, and set some PR’s in a large local race, in my hometown, The Boilermaker. I am proud to say I can speak to this weight training and “strenuous” cardio experience personally. I am not just relying on reading material and research studies, although this is still very important, to share my knowledge on this often asked topic and how I did it.

What Is The Combination Like?

Combining both of these genres was actually quite fun and I will note, that I really enjoyed doing this for about 7-10 years. I was continually pushing myself with fartlek, timed distances, and using what I learned from deloads in strength training with my running schedule. I also learned that trying to increase muscle during this time was an unlikely feat, especially since I had been lifting for over 20 years at this point. Yes, this was something I had to be mentally comfortable with.
Because of my hard work building muscle over many years, my goal, when it came to muscle, was to not lose any. I can report this was done successfully. Of course, it was not simple and I had to not only be on-point with my resistance training effort and intensity, but also on my recovery and proper nutrition. Today, I wanted to share with you what I learned and provide strategies so you can incorporate both activities if you enjoy participating in them.
Just so you can have something to relate to, I was at the time, a 300lb bencher, 450lb squatter, a 510lb dead-lifter and was running a just over 60 minute 15k. This is under a 6 min 45-sec average mile over 9.3 miles. None of these is elite level but to be doing all of these at the same time is no small feat either. so if you wonder if it can be done, it can be and I am just one example of thousands.

What About Recovery

If you are going to go down this path, you need to pay very close attention to recovery. You will need time to heal, likely spread your lower body sessions out an extra day or two, and pull back when you feel something nagging. If you are not careful, it could lead to overtraining or worse, put you out of your normal workout routine for an extended period of time. One critical piece of advice I would also like to point out is to lean on being cautious as you are putting significant stress on your body. These two types of exercise can be at odds with each other so plan your volume accordingly and remember, you know your body best so listen to it!

The Benefits Of Aerobic Exercise And Resistance Exercise

The benefits can be great with increased endurance, feeling full of energy (sounds odd, I know), and feeling more athletic. I also find it even more critical to ensure you are feeding your body sound nutrition and not putting garbage into your system as you will be taxing energy stores. You get out what you put in and this goes for your nutrition as well.
The human body is an amazing and adaptable machine. You can put it through a number of stimuli and it can respond appropriately, as long as you don’t overdo it. Our bodies are designed to react and adapt to what we put them through and while strength training and cardio cause different responses and changes in our body, it would be crazy to think your body can’t handle this, within reason.

What If You Want To Do Cardio And Lift Weights?

You have probably heard the comments or read other articles on either; never mix cardio exercise with strength training or there is nothing to fear, you can do all the HIIT cardio and weight lifting you want with no issues. So what’s true? The fact is it’s a little more nuanced and complicated than either of those recommendations, in my opinion.

Can You Do Both Aerobic Exercise And Resistance Training?

As you may have seen from my personal example, yes you can but your fitness goals are key in determining what you should do. But “can” you do cardio training and a strength workout? Of course! It is entirely up to your fitness desires, weight loss goals, and physique expectations. If you decide to focus on one over the other for a while, that’s ok too. You can always go back if you choose.
There are certain things you should know and understand before trying to implement both in your regular programming. If you are looking to optimize muscle gain versus strictly weight loss, your actions will differ. If you want to get rid of as much body fat as possible, while minimizing muscle loss, then you will need another approach. Knowing what your ultimate goal is is therefore critical in determining the appropriate workout routine to follow.

What Are The Effects Of Cardio Training?

Performing cardiovascular exercise can certainly make it more difficult to improve strength and muscle mass, especially for more experienced lifters. If retaining the muscle you have worked hard to obtain is your primary goal, there are ways for you to accomplish this and enjoy both. However, this requires a strategic approach to your strength workout and cardiovascular training.
First, it may be best to complete infrequent, short duration, HIIT workout bouts of cardio. A better description would be 2 – 3 sessions per week of 30 minutes in duration max. This is because long-duration, steady-state cardio, and a strength training session can be antagonistic for optimal body composition results. That means they can interfere with each other as far as what we are asking our bodies to do. This is referred to as concurrent training. Where weightlifting is an all-out go and a cardio workout requires a little bit for a longer time.
Take a look at this meta-analysis showing how these are inversely related. By performing shorter, more intense bouts of physical activity such as running or cycling sprints, you will get the cardio benefits without as much interference with your weightlifting and lean muscle growth goals. If running or improving your muscular endurance over longer periods is your goal, then the opposite would apply. 
Focusing on low rep ranges and 1RM training, for muscle strength, while also trying to maximize muscular endurance or endurance training efforts is also not ideal. As I noted above, it all depends on your goals. You should be allowed to choose your goals and design a program to fit this.

One More Thing To Consider – Caloric Intake

When you are in a caloric deficit, being mindful of the additional time it takes to recover is also important. It can be difficult to combine both in a surplus much less a deficit. Your body has less to work with to for building muscle or recover from bouts of aerobic activity. Don’t overdo it! If you are looking to maximize muscle retention, a caloric deficit may be enough on its own to get you lean. You may not even need a cardio period to reach your fat loss goals. Want to calculate your caloric needs, check this out.

Recovery With Cardio And Strength Training

No matter what type of aerobic or strength training exercise you perform, there is a recovery cost associated with it. Minimizing this recovery cost is essential to retaining muscle and strength. Think about it this way, if you go run a hard 10 miles and then go do some squats, immediately after or the day after, how well do you think you’ll perform? That weight you normally do will feel too heavy and if you try to use too much, you might not move it at all or even get hurt.
Consider These Tips.
  • Try to do cardio on separate days from your strength workout.
  • If you only have time on the same days you lift weights, do it after your weight training.
  • Be sure to allow for sufficient recovery time.
  • Listen to your body and if it is telling you you need a break, listen.
  • Get professional help on designing a combo program from a personal trainer, especially if you want to optimize building muscle.
If you desire to combine cardio and weightlifting, you can do so but you will need to be mindful of your intensity, duration, and recovery time. Lifting weights before cardio will avoid at least acute fatigue and can mitigate the concerns over performance in future sessions. If you are looking for an alternative solution, that may surprise you with its benefits and impact, check out my article on walking and its benefits here.
Finally, if you work out at home, this can be one of the most fun gyms to create as your options are practically endless. Call this the “I want lean muscle and overall fitness group” or the “I like muscles and cardio so much, I can’t decide.” This combo is a tough one to prescribe, not because there is a lack of equipment but, more because there are so many possible combinations and choices. If you want specific details on how to build a home gym, you can get a consultation here.

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