All endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, cross-country skiers…) need some strength training. Personally, I prefer to train for endurance and strength on separate days, but for many of us it is more time-effective to combine the two in one session. If that is your case, what do you do first?
This is an important question, as research has shown that endurance and resistance training lead to different adaptations. Strength training leads to increased muscle mass, while endurance training will allow you to use the available energy and oxygen more effectively and exercise for longer. If you combine both in one session, you will not have any recovery between them and it might be impossible for your body to benefit fully from both. If so, the order in which you do them (first endurance and then strength or the other way around) is important. Getting it wrong could make a big difference.
Most, if not all, runners I know will start by endurance exercise, and according to Moktar Chtara and his colleagues that is indeed the right thing to do. They divided 48 young men in five groups. The first group performed endurance training only, the second strength training only, the third endurance plus strength and the fourth strength plus endurance workouts. The fifth group did not train and served as a control group. After 12 weeks the endurance plus strength group outperformed every other group during a 4 km run time trial, and their VO2max had improved most.
In the September issue of Medicine & Science in Sports and Medicine however, Moritz Schumann and colleagues published a study suggesting that this does not matter for cyclists. They divided 34 young men in two groups, one of which performed endurance plus strength workouts and the other strength plus endurance. The endurance part of the sessions consisted of cycling, and the strength part of exercises for all the major muscle groups but mainly for the legs.
Both groups improved in strength, VO2max and time to exhaustion, but after 24 weeks there were no significant differences between the groups. The researchers concluded that as endurance cycling is biomechanically similar to many of the strength exercises, they could enhance each other’s effect. Running is of course different.
Surprisingly, Schumann could not notice any significant reduction in body or visceral fat, or in cholesterol levels. Studies whereby the participants perform strength and endurance workouts on separate days on the other hand, typically do show improvements. The researchers could not really explain this discrepancy: did the participants not train frequently enough (as they did two sessions worth in one go)? Only further studies can figure this out…
In the meanwhile, I’m going to continue planning my endurance and strength workouts in separate days.
M Chtara. K Chamari, M Chaouachi et al. Effects of intra-session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. Br J Sports Med. 2005; 39:555-560.
GA Nader. Concurrent strength and endurance training: from molecules to man. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006; 38(11):1965-1970.
M Schumann, M Kuusmaa, RU Newton et al. Fitness and lean mass increases during combined training independent of loading order. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014; 46(9): 1758-1768.