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Strength and Aerobic Training: Is There a Prescription for Success?

By : Lorne Goldenberg

Aerobic and strength training together? Most people think that the two go together like oil and water and that you should never mix them.

Those of us who lift generally want to lose body fat, and put on some kind of muscle mass. Then there are those who want to lose body fat by training aerobically. Yes, aerobic training, and although this word may make the bodybuilder or weightlifter run away like Dracula from the cross, I believe there is some application for those who would like to combine the two training methods for some excellent results.

Historically those who are interested in putting on mass or getting stronger have avoided any kind of cardiovascular work for fear of losing muscle. One of my colleagues once told me if you used mixed methods, you get mixed results. This is an accurate statement, but for the majority of people out there, I would guess that many actually enjoy taking part in cardiovascular exercise. I know I enjoy getting up early two to three times per week and going out for a 40-minute jog by the river. This type of work accomplishes a number of physiological and psychological results, most of them really are quite positive. BUT if you do too much, or sequence it the wrong way, you are doomed.

My interest in this area actually began back in about 1984 when I started training hockey players. Hockey demands great speed, quickness, strength, power and high levels of cardiovascular fitness, if you want to be successful. The problem that I encountered back then was how do you increase strength and mass, while you are trying to improve cardiovascular condition? Most people would think that it couldn't be done. But a review of the literature indicates that it may be possible.

I began training the Quebec Nordiques in 1991. By 1995 they had moved on to Colorado as the Avalanche and won the Stanley Cup. In training camp of that Stanley Cup-winning year, I tested all the players in a number of performance tests. They had the highest level of leg strength and cardiovascular test results that this team had ever achieved. So I believe that it is possible to use the mix methods for increasing mass, strength and cardiovascular condition.


One particular study looked at a number of variables to see if combined training was compatible. Kraemer and his colleagues had four groups, high-intensity endurance, high-intensity endurance and total body strength training, high-intensity endurance and upper body strength, and a strength group. They trained for 12 weeks using programs of the following makeup: On Monday and Thursday they did a whole body workout designed to induce hypertrophy using sets. On Tuesday and Friday they did another whole body workout designed to build strength. The workout consisted of 10 to 12 exercises on each day, many of them being the same exercise each day. The cardiovascular work included a 40-minute run on Monday and Thursday, and interval sprint work on Tuesday and Friday. These men were members of the U.S. Army and had been in training for the last two years.

Some of the interesting info that came out of this study was that both power and strength were attenuated when both forms of training took place using the same musculature. The authors used the word attenuated, which means to lessen in severity, value, amount or intensity. This was a good word to use because only in the leg press and leg extension tests was there considered to be significant improvement in percentage increases. The most notable was a 30 percent increase in leg press strength for the strength group, vs. a 19.5 percent increase for the combined group. In the other strength tests (bench press, and military press there was no difference. In the scores the strength group had a decrease of -.99 percent, and the combo group had an increase of 7.69 percent, and the upper body combined group had a 9.6 percent increase.

Now this 30 percent increase in strength is impressive for the strength-only group, but when you consider how much more work the combined group did, the 19.5 percent increase is something that I would be happy with after a 12-week program. Now the authors also stated, "Simultaneous training appears to compromise strength improvement only when both modes of training engage the same muscle group.

Another area to look at is with regard to speed or velocity of muscle contraction. One study found that you could combine the two types of work together and realize positive results, but not at high speeds of contractions. This is important if you are a speed-power athlete, as your combined training program will hinder your ability to be explosive.

One other aspect that has been examined in the literature is what kind of gains and maintenance would you expect if you did five weeks of strength training, followed by five weeks of endurance training and vice versa. One group looked at this using high velocity contraction and low velocity contractions. It was concluded that no matter which training velocity you are using, you would achieve better results if you do your initial strength work first, followed by endurance training. It appears that strength increases are more readily maintained in this sequence.

One of the more recent research articles took a good look at the "Effect of Strength Training and Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training on Strength, Testosterone and Cortisol." This study also looked at comparisons between men and women. The results indicated that for men, there were no differences in increases in strength, or changes in testosterone or cortisol for the combined training group as compared to the strength only group. For women they found that some strength levels were compromised and attributed this to higher levels of cortisol, hence the women were in more of a catabolic state.

The information that I have presented so far does not clearly indicate that combining these two training methods will inhibit strength or hypertrophy. One author went so far as to say; "Even in those studies that have found statistically significant impairments in adapting to concurrent training, the extent of the impairments are relatively minor, or could be explained by over-training due to volume and intensity of training required to elicit both strength and endurance training effects." This statement alone backs up my notion that it is possible to combine these two training techniques, without having to sacrifice mass and strength.

The Nutritional Supplement Factor

There are numerous supplements that will enhance the optimal metabolic environment you are after. Most notable are the testosterone precursors, phosphotadylserine, glutamine and protein supplements. I will not go into the methods of utilizing these as this is beyond the scope of this article. There is no question that the use of these supplements would have enhanced the results, of the combination training groups, of all the studies mentioned.

My advice to those of you who may be attempting aerobic work for the first time, find an activity that you will enjoy, and start off slow. Many people who have not ever performed work for any longer than 40 seconds at a time could have potential for overuse injuries, i.e., shin splints, sore hip flexors etc. You may want to try cross training to start so you are not doing any one activity for too long a period. An example would be 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the stepper, and 10 minutes on the stationary bike.

These recommendations will provide you with a strong mind and a strong body. You will look great and feel great. Two things that every-body wants and needs!

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