Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. Many only stick to one training method, believing that if they dabble in other methods this will hinder their results.
“If I do cardio, I will lose all my muscle that I’ve worked so hard for”
“If I lift weights I will build too muscle and put on weight”
“If I strength train, I will become too slow”
Many people engage in cardiovascular training methods because they believe it will help them to slim down. Along with the fear of weights contributing to weight gain, sticking to high intensity cardiovascular exercise is something that can be heavily marketed with impunity.
On the contrary, those who engage in lifting who are looking to build muscle tend to fear that cardio will “burn muscle” and this is where the “cardio is devil” crusade continues to grow.
This is a gross over-simplification that needs to have light shed upon it.
Your body will not go into a catabolic state (breaking down tissue) the moment you do a 30 minute cardio session.
It is true in cases of over-training your body will begin to use muscle as fuel if you are not properly fuelled for your sessions and your overall output is too high.
Cardio will only break down muscle in cases of a combination of excessive overall training, inadequate recovery and poor nutrition.
We can, in fact, use cardio in a balanced training program in order to enhance the efforts in our strength training.
Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise can help increase the strength of your lungs and heart. This can help build your endurance in your strength sessions. If you have high volume work to complete, having a strong heart and a healthy set of lungs will help you get through to the end!
By incorporating regular cardiovascular training into our training week we can also expect to gain benefits in our overall recovery. Including regular low impact cardio training can lead to an increase in blood flow which would help to strengthen skeletal muscles working positively towards our goals.
Let’s talk about muscle……
It is important to remember here that we have both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibres. Both are important whether you are chasing strength or not.
Our two main types of muscle fibres:
Slow twitch (Type 1): These are used for aerobic exercises such as long distance running or swimming. They are slow moving and resistant to fatigue.
Fast twitch (Type 2): These are used for short bursts like a really heavy deadlift or a fast 100m sprint. They fire and work quickly as well as fatigue quickly (the opposite to slow twitch).
Fast twitch muscle fibres can be further categorised into Type 2A and Type 2B. Type 2A are considered a hybrid of both Type 1 and Type 2 fibres. Type 2B fibres result in short fast bursts that create powerful and explosive movement.
It needs to be said in plain English: training slow twitch fibres will not lose you your gains!
Training in an aerobic state is important.
Muscles that play a significant role in your posture can be primarily comprised of slow twitch fibres.
Let’s take the muscles in your back.
Muscles in the lumbar region (lower back) are mostly comprised of slow twitch fibres and need to be trained to support over a long period of time.
We agree that it’s important to incorporate appropriate loading through our back (and everywhere for that matter). Using intelligent training methods we strengthen our back whilst doing so with safe loading through our spine.
We also take into account muscle fibre type for other skeletal muscles (not just the lower back) and appropriately program this into our training.
Many bash cardio simply because they don’t like it.
It is a smart combination of strength and cardio training that will allow your body to perform at its best, allowing the two systems to complement each other rather than work against each other.
It is to be noted that cardio and strength training do not perfectly balance each other out.
And be reminded that excessive intensive cardiovascular training can cause damage to muscle fibres which in turn can lead to muscle breakdown.
So how do we incorporate this all into our week?
We focus on strengthening muscle with strength training.
Keep your [relatively] heavier sessions separate.
Lift heavier weights (relative to you) over extended periods of time.
Focus on progressively loading your movements by incorporating tempo work, pause work, an increase on the bar and/or other technical progressions.
Combine strength training with continuous movement in a circuit style program or something similar to work in different areas of your aerobic & anaerobic zones at moderate intensity. It’s not an on/off switch, think of it as a point along a continuum.
Incorporate regular aerobic exercise that you enjoy. Whether this be a walk, a swim or a light jog with the dogs, look to incorporate this into your week to get the best of both worlds and help to positively impact your efforts under the barbell.