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Same Day Weights & Aerobics

More Efficient and More Productive

I have often suggested doing weights and aerobics on separate days. I believed doing the two together would send a mixed message and hamper results. Most exercise physiologists, coaches, and athletes were (and are) of the same mind, although there was little or no solid evidence one way or the other. Well, now we have objective evidence and it appears that we were all wrong—according to new studies conducted an ocean apart, in Sweden and Canada.

Both research groups anticipated an antagonism between the two forms of training. They expected that aerobic exercise alone would build endurance components (mitochondria) and that weight training alone would build strength components (myofibrils)—and that training the two together would stymie both results.

As luck would have it the two studies taken together covered the main variables quite well. The diversity between the two studies added considerably to the significance of the finding. 

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute and other institutes in Sweden had active young volunteers pedal a stationary bicycle for 45 minutes—with one leg only. Six hours later, the students did four sets of maximum effort leg extensions using both legs. The effect was to train one leg aerobically and with weights, while the other leg was trained with weights only. To evaluate the results of individual and combined training the researchers took muscle biopsies before and after each session.

The other group of scientists, working at McMaster University in Canada, had older sedentary volunteers perform three separate trails on different days. On one day, the men rode a stationary bicycle for 40 minutes at a moderate pace. On another day, they did eight sets of intense leg extensions. In the final session, they did four sets of leg extensions followed by 20 minutes on the stationary bike. (Both legs were exercised on all three days.) Again, biopsies were obtained before and after each trial.

Note that volume was reduced by half for both forms of exercise on the combination training day.

Neither study found the anticipated muscle confusion from combination training. What's more, doing both weights and aerobics back to back turned out to have a startling advantage.

“It appears concurrent aerobic and resistance exercise may enhance skeletal muscle anabolic environment,” the Swedish scientists reported. “It appears the diverse exercise modes employed in the current study can successfully be scheduled on the same day without compromising performance or vital molecular responses,” they summarized.  

The McMaster researchers and their colleagues produced even more encouraging results. “Despite the proposed interference between resistance exercise and aerobic exercise the current study data indicates that concurrent training is as effective as either isolated mode in stimulating acute myofibrillar and mitochondrial protein synthesis rates,” they wrote. “Importantly, the increases…occurred despite the completion of only 50% of the workload performed in each of the isolated resistance exercise and aerobic exercise modes.”

Stuart Phillips, the McMaster University professor who oversaw the study, said his team expected that “we would see a greater response to each exercise individually,” but that didn’t happen. Instead, after combined training, the men’s muscles displayed the same amount of change within both cellular pathways as after either type of exercise on its own—even though the men had actually completed only half as much of each. “We saw no indication of interference,” he told New York Times fitness writer Gretchen Reynolds.

“It appears that you can set up a workout regimen that happens to be convenient for you…and you’re not going to get less training response,” Phillips said. Best of all, he explained, the men did only half as much cycling and lifting. “But their muscles couldn’t tell the difference.”

The results were the same with the active young Swedish volunteers and the sedentary middle-age Canadian volunteers. No matter what your age or experience, combining weights and aerobics appears to have no physiological downside. Do what suits you best, and you’ll be fine.

The Swedish study was first published March, 2012, in Medicine & Science in Sports & Science. The Canadian study was published April 5, 2012, in The Journal of Applied Physiology.

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If doing weights and aerobics separately suits your schedule and energy level, that’s fine. Do it.

But if you’d prefer to combine the two types of exercise, that’s also fine. Your results won’t suffer. You may actually get more bang for the buck that way.

I do it both ways. That might work for you as well.

Do what suits you best.

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