There seems to be an almost infinite number of questions that arise when talking about exercise and training. Some questions are more common than others while certain inquiries are unique to the training level or experience of the coach or athlete/exerciser. This article will briefly discuss one of the more common questions that relate to beginners as well as seasoned veterans: can cardiovascular exercise be performed on the same day as resistance training?
The answer is yes, you absolutely can do aerobic and resistance training in the same day. Some people like to alternate aerobic training and resistance training from one day to the next and there is nothing wrong with this. More times than not, the reason for this stems from the individual deciding that he or she is going to do two or three days of cardiovascular exercise per week and two or three days of resistance training per week. The alternating format allows for more days of activity per week with a shorter duration per session. However, there are many people who, for a multitude of reasons, choose to do both aerobic and resistance training on the same day. The question then becomes: which one to do first?
This issue is more important as the intensity of the exercise and/or training level of the exerciser increases. At very low intensity levels, it probably makes little practical difference which type of exercise is performed first. As the intensity of exercise increases, however, there are some things to consider if optimal training is the goal. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that, in the context of a relatively short period of time between performing the two exercise types, the second exercise type will very likely be compromised due to the prior exercise. For example, it would be very difficult for a weight training session performed after a hard 30-minute run to have the same quality as that same session being performed without a prior intense aerobic workout. Decreased overall energy and prefatiguing of various muscle groups are just a couple of the culprits in the previous example. Similar deleterious effects on performance would likely be found in the opposite example of doing heavy resistance exercise immediately prior to aerobic training.
The answer as to which type of exercise to perform first probably should depend most heavily on the individual's overall goal. This goal could relate to an athlete and what their immediate training is geared towards or a recreational exerciser who wants increased levels of strength and conditioning, but is more concerned with enhancing one over the other.
There are very few sports that are entirely aerobic in nature or one-hundred percent based on maximal strength/explosive power, which means some combination of aerobic and strength training must be implemented in the training program. The quandary of how to put together the most effective training program for athletes usually falls on the strength coach and is by no means a simple task. Many factors like the specific sport, time constraints, and the training level of the athlete, among many others, enter into the program design equation and are beyond the scope of this discussion.
If it is necessary to perform aerobic and resistance training in the same day, one way to minimize the effects of the prior exercise type is to lengthen the time period between the two. For example, performing the aerobic component in the morning and doing the resistance training in the evening (or vice versa) is one possible remedy. There still may be residual effects from earlier in the day, but they will most likely be significantly less than if the two types were performed within one to two hours or less of each other. Again, if the exercise intensity is very high, and if the two types must be performed in the same day, it will be impossible to totally eliminate the lingering effects of the previous exercise, no matter how long the period between the two sessions is.
There is a large amount of research out there that has been performed to answer just these types of questions related to the order of exercise types. Much of this research was designed to look at the effects of the ordering, spacing, and intensity levels of exercises types on hormonal levels (testosterone, growth hormone, etc.) and substrate utilization (i.e. fat vs. carbohydrate usage). The effects of manipulating one's hormonal and other chemical levels through exercise cannot be underestimated as it relates to performance enhancements but these are complicated ideas based on complex physiology and biochemistry and are certainly beyond the scope of this article. However, for those interested in these types of articles/studies, the reader is directed to a publication like the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which frequently published articles on the aforementioned topics.
Very simply put, if time constraint is a factor and it is necessary to do aerobic exercise and resistance training back-to-back (i.e. short period of time in-between), figure out which is your number one priority in terms of training goals: aerobic performance/conditioning or strength/power development. Once you have determined which is more important, perform that type of training first when you are fresh and least fatigued. Then you will not have to worry about the prior exercise type affecting the quality of your training in this area. Deciding on whether to do aerobic or resistance training first in an exercise session can be tricky for some. Ultimately, all of the advice in the world from the experts may be of some value but, as with most aspects related to the human mind and body, time and experimentation often yield the best individual results.
About the Author: Joe Warpeha is an exercise physiologist and strength coach and is currently working on his PhD in exercise physiology at the University of Minnesota – Minneapolis. His current research focuses on bone adaptations to training and the effects of skeletal loading on physiological and mechanical properties. Joe teaches several courses at UM including "Advanced Weight Training and Conditioning," "Measurement, Evaluation, and Research in Kinesiology", and "Strength Training Program Design".
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