Cardio and resistance training: does order matter?

Combining cardio with resistance training is believed to offer numerous health and fitness benefits, but does how you go about your training play a role? Maybe not in the long run, according to a new study by researchers at the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä.

Led by Professor Keijo Häkkinen and coordinated by PhD student Moritz Schumann, the research team studied some 200 healthy men and women as well as endurance athletes from 2011 to 2013, with initial findings regarding physically active men published in journals Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Participants were between 18 and 40 years old and performed either supervised cardio immediately followed by strength training, or vice versa, 2-3 times per week for 24 weeks.

Researchers wanted to determine if immediate anabolic effects of one single exercise session would differ between training orders and if such differences would be reflected after six months of training.

Since prolonged aerobic performance can potentially "weaken" exercise muscles, thereby impairing ability to lift weights in a following resistance session, researchers theorized putting cardio before weight lifting would result in less favorable anabolic effects. While the study did prove this correct after a single training session, recovery time differences weren't observed after the 24-week period. Rather, both groups increased physical prowess and muscle size at about the same rate.

However, researchers advise caution "when performing high amounts and/or a high frequency of training," noting that their findings relate to two to three 90-120 minute sessions per week. Whether this concept applies to athletes who engage in frequent, intense training sessions and others who regularly work out remains unknown at this time.

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