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Should You Combine Cardio and Strength Training Exercises?

Should You Combine Cardio and Strength Training Exercises?

Exercise is divided into two broad categories: cardiovascular (cardio, also known as aerobic) and strength training. A lot of people prefer one and favor it or use it exclusively. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but they miss out on the benefits of the other type.

Some stick to one type because they believe doing both has negative effects that hinder their progress. But this isn’t the case, and they too unnecessarily forfeit some great fitness benefits.

The best exercise regimens incorporate both cardio and strength training exercises.

What Are Cardio and Strength Training?

Cardio is about elevating your heart rate to strengthen it, burn calories, and build endurance. Brisk walking, jogging, running, bicycling, swimming, jumping rope, step aerobics, and other exercises involving prolonged, highly active movements are cardiovascular workouts.

The main objective of strength training—like weight lifting and resistance training—is to build muscle mass. They break down your muscles, which then rebuild (provided you supply plenty of protein) just a little larger and stronger in an effort to prevent future damage.

Misunderstandings About Combining Both Types of Exercise

Because it’s better at burning calories, cardio is generally the go-to exercise for weight loss. People trying to lose weight may be afraid to do strength training because they think they’ll get bulkier.

But building muscle also helps you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. The more muscular you are, the more efficiently you burn fat. And, while building muscle can slow weight loss or even increase your weight because it’s heftier than fat, you’re still developing a leaner, healthier body composition. Also, it takes most people a long time of serious strength training for their muscles to become so large and prominent that it creates a bulky appearance.

On the other side of the aisle, people trying to bulk up with strength training may believe that aerobic exercise burns muscle and holds back their gains.

While this is a possibility, it’s easily avoided if you know what you’re doing. Your body only starts to burn muscle for fuel as a last resort. It goes first to the calories recently consumed, so if you don’t strength train on an empty stomach, you won’t burn muscle during the workout. Furthermore, your body dips into fat stores before muscle.

There’s also a misconception that doing one type of exercise reduces the effectiveness of the other, especially if you do them the same day. Most modern studies have found no evidence to support this idea. Studies have examined doing cardio then strength training, and the other way around.

Benefits of Doing Both Types of Exercise

Aerobics and strength training each offer their own benefits. To name just some benefits of cardio, it helps you reach and maintain a healthy body weight; boost energy levels; strengthen the heart and lungs; lower blood pressure, bad (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides; build stamina and flexibility; increase circulation; reduce stress and anxiety; sleep better; and cut your risk of developing many diseases, including heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, dementia, and more.

Strength training offers many of the same benefits. While cardio is great for losing weight, strength training may do more for keeping it off in the long run since it boosts metabolism. Its also increases your strength, bone density, and energy. This type of exercise works wonders for improving your general body mechanics as well.

Combining both types in your routine maximizes the benefits and provides a more well-rounded workout. It creates a synergy, pushing you to new heights of fitness, health, and energetic living.

How to Include Cardio and Strength Training in a Regimen

You can find all sorts of theories and advice about how to safely and effectively incorporate both types of exercise in your routine. There’s no single right answer, though. A lot depends on individual factors.

What are your goals? If you’re mostly looking to lose weight, emphasize cardio; if you want a more muscular build, emphasize weight lifting and resistance training. Again, this doesn’t mean exclude the other. But it might, for example, make the difference between three days of cardio and two days of strength training per week, or vice versa.

Also, your body type plays a role in creating an individualized exercise plan. Different people need to focus on different areas more or less than others. Different people have different metabolisms, some build muscle mass faster than others, and even the exercises you enjoy most and least should factor in to help keep you motivated.

Some people are able to do cardio and strength training in the same day. Typically, if you’re doing that, do the cardio first. For most people, it’s harder to keep up the pace and duration of cardio after you’ve hit your muscles hard with strength training.

But don’t do too much in one day. That puts you at risk for overuse injuries. It’s probably best to alternate between cardio and strength training by day. It’s important to give your body time to rest between workouts. Muscles need time to rebuild after strength training. Muscles, joints, and ligaments all need downtime between aerobic workouts.

Getting Started with Cardio and Strength Training

It’s crucial to exercise safely and with proper warm-ups, stretching, and techniques. Also, you have to build up gradually; starting too aggressively risks serious injuries and can even jeopardize your heart.

Talk to your doctor about a safe, progressive regimen. A professional trainer is a great investment in your fitness and health. They help you learn the right ways to do everything so that your workouts safely move you steadily toward your goals. A skilled trainer keeps you goal-oriented and motivated, while providing support when things aren’t going quite like you want them to (which happens to everyone occasionally—it’s just part of the process).

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Jason Littleton, MD, also known as America's Energy Doctor, is a board-certified family physician offering concierge healthcare and the author of WellSpring: The Energy Secrets to Do the Good Life. The book's practical, insightful content and his resonant messages about nutrition, fitness, and balance have made Dr. Littleton a highly sought after, high-profile keynote speaker and national media commentator on TV and in print.