Let’s Stop Pitting Strength Against Cardio—They’re Better Together

It took me years to say the sentence “I’m a runner” with confidence. It felt like a badge of honor that I’d earned from morning after morning of early alarms and hundreds of miles—often begrudgingly—chasing the sunrise around New York City. Once I became part of this cool group of people that talk about things like “anti-chafe sticks” and “gait,” I realized that I was letting other activities like strength training fall by the wayside.

The same thing happened, inversely, when I got super excited about CrossFit a few years back. Day after day, loading up barbells to crush through reps of overhead snatches, power cleans, and other strength-centric movements that sound equal parts scary and promiscuous. I’ve come to realize that, like many women, I’m an extremist. More often than not, I’m leaning into cardio-specific or weight-specific training, without a middle ground.  Sound familiar?

If you're nodding along or screaming "Yaaaas!" quietly (silently, likely) to yourself, there's good news. You're likely already combining the two more than you think if you're hitting a fitness studio these days. Joey Gonzalez, Well+Good Council member and the CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, knows a thing or two about that. Founded in 1998, the boutique studio now has more than 50 locations internationally, and their method is all about switching back and forth between treadmill intervals and strengthening exercises on the floor throughout the hour-long, high-intensity workout.

Here's why: “If you’re a cardio queen and that’s all you do day after day, you’re burning through muscle when your body is attempting to build it,” he says. “It’s important to incorporate both strength and cardio regularly. Cardio’s crucial for your heart and lungs, and strength helps with everything from staving off injury and improving bone density to boosting metabolism, which ultimately burns more calories throughout the day.”

For some time, it was widely debated whether or not combining strength and cardio (or aerobic) training would diminish the results of either, reducing the ability of the muscles to strengthen and grow. Canadian scientists, however found no evidence that there was an interference. Likewise, another group of researchers, who published their work in PLOS ONE compared a group of men who only lifted versus those who did both lifting and steady-state cycling for 30 to 60 minutes. The group that double-dipped gained much more muscle and improved aerobic capacity. There’s also a good deal of research that backs doing one for the betterment of the other. Norwegian researchers found that heavy strength training (defined as 3 sets of between 4 and 10 reps of exercises including half squats in a smith machine and, single-leg leg press) improved both cycling and running performance.

Even newer studios are following the time-tested model: Rumble Boxing, which reportedly plans to open up 30 new locations by the end of 2019, also relies on the strength-cardio model. Class-goers tackle weight training intervals, including movements like squats, biceps curls, and thrusters, in between rounds on their signature water-filled, teardrop punching bags.

“The combination is like a 1-2 punch,” says Andy Stern, founding trainer and director of talent at Rumble, which will soon add “Rumble Treading" to its portfolio. “We want people to feel good  with quick routines balancing both strength and conditioning exercises that are not only safe, effective, but fun. When something is fun, you will do it more consistently. When you do it more consistently, you will see and feel more success.”

On the west coast in Los Angeles at LIT Method (LIT stands for “low impact training”), founders Justin and Taylor Norris couple the cardio blast of rowing with resistance band training in a high-intensity, low-impact workout. “We believe that everyone needs to implement strength and stamina in their workout to achieve a strong physique,” says Taylor Norris, CEO and co-founder. “By joining the two, we create a balanced total-body workout that not only increases endurance, but strengthens and tones your muscles at the same time.”

Not near a major city? You don’t need to be to get boutique-worthy instruction and guidance of how to incorporate both disciplines into your regular routine. Virtual fitness thought leaders like Peloton, Aaptiv, and NeoU are bringing the strength-cardio double-headers into the comfort of your own home, so that you're reaping the maximum benefits that your workout can offer.

And BTW: Here's whether you should do strength or cardio first in your workout and this is how many days a week it feasibly works to do arm day.

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