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Best of Both Worlds

Combining resistance training with endurance exercise: Does order matter?

Anyone who has lifted weights for any period of time has recognized the benefits of resistance training. Weightlifting increases strength and lean body mass (muscle), and also improves body composition and your overall health profile.

Endurance exercise in the form of either steady-state cardio or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) causes an increase in capillary and mitochondrial density as well as an improved lipid profile. It’s also part of an effective weight-management strategy.

Both types of exercise have great benefits, but should you do them during the same workout? Researchers wondered the same thing, and studied whether combining both modes of exercise in a single training session is the best use of one’s time, not to mention produce a positive outcome.

The Best Workout Sequence? It May Not Matter

One of the longest-running debates in combining the two styles of training is whether you should do cardio before weights or weights before cardio. Many believe that doing one before the other negatively impacts the second part of the sequence. Research presented in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research noted that, “It was suggested that performing R [resistance exercise] before E [endurance exercise] fatigues the muscles that are used during the aerobic bout.… Conversely, attenuations in chronic strength gains when performing E before R have been explained by a diminished ability of the neuromuscular pathway leading to a reduction in strength gains.”

But it also may very well be that the sequence in which both modes of exercise are performed would result in improved health benefits. To answer this question, researchers from the departments of nutritional sciences and exercise science and sports studies at Rutgers University selected 29 inactive and “low-active” college-aged female students to participate in an “eight-week combined exercise program using aerobic exercise (70–80% of heart rate reserve) and a comprehensive resistance-training protocol (90–100% of 10-rep maximum).”

The students were matched by body weight and randomly assigned to a group to perform either R before E or E before R. The training program consisted of four sessions per week broken into a three-way split routine (chest and back, shoulders and arms, and lower body). The volume of the resistance exercise consisted of 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions at specified loads. The aerobic component consisted of 30 minutes of moderate to moderately high-intensity endurance exercise at a specified intensity using the heart-rate-reserve method.

Before and after testing in the form of body-fat determination (using the BOD POD), endurance capacity (VO2 max testing) and a strength assessment (10-rep maximum) were conducted to assess the effect of the two experimental protocols on the students.

The results of the study yielded a practical application, which stated, “It can therefore be advised to recommend a concurrent and combined exercise program consisting of E and R, regardless of the sequential ordering toward the improvement of one’s health and fitness in an inactive female population.”

Also keep in mind, as pointed out by the researchers, that “the subjects being sedentary vs. active or even male vs. female will potentially play a large role in determining the somewhat short-term effects of both E and R.”

Different Sports Have Different Demands

From a sports standpoint, it is critical to consider not only the exercise modes and sequence, but also the technical and tactical training aspects. According to Catherine Sellers’ article in Track Coach, the official technical journal of USA Track & Field, understanding “the give and take of stress manipulation (the intensity and volume of the training sessions) and rest application becomes a dynamic balance between just enough and not too much.”

Tudor Bompa, PhD, a Canadian researcher, teacher and someone I had the pleasure to learn from in the mid-’80s, is considered by many in the field of sports performance to be the “father of periodization training,” the phased sequencing of all facets of exercise over a specified time period. I simply call it planned performance training.

As Sellers points out from Bompa’s research, “Fatigue affects the ability to learn skills. So in your sequencing [of exercises], it is important to place any new skills, or revisiting of previously learned skills, early in your workout, so the athlete is rested and not fatigued from the workout itself.”

However, there are times in your training where you must learn to handle the fatigued state, such as in sports like boxing and mixed martial arts. According to Bompa, “If the perfection of technique requires heavy and fatiguing work, then such exercises may be performed later in the lesson.”

As you can see, there’s no one single recommendation for which exercise sequence is best. It all depends on your current state of physical fitness, chosen athletic endeavor and mindset to determine the best use of all the great exercise tools at hand.

Choose wisely and establish your goals and objectives before you start. Then, be sure to monitor your progress to make sure you’re achieving your intended outcome. Remember, train smart, not just hard.

About Mackie Shilstone
One of the top trainers in the world, Mackie Shilstone has worked with such sports superstars as Roy Jones Jr., Serena Williams and Bernard Hopkins. You can learn more about Mackie by visiting his website at mackieshilstone.com.

Link: Muscle&Body Magazine