As you’re aware, there are two types of training – aerobic training and resistance training. Aerobic training improves aerobic capacity and endurance while resistance training builds size and muscle strength. Over the past few years, the lines between these training modalities has blurred.
Depending on how you do it, resistance training can give you some of the benefits that aerobic training does. For example, we now know that resistance training with short rest periods between sets increases your heart rate enough to have cardiovascular benefits and improve your aerobic capacity. Also, some strength and power training, like kettlebell workouts and plyometrics, boost your heart rate and work your cardiovascular system hard enough to improve your V02max, or aerobic capacity.
Some people still separate aerobic training and resistance training by doing them on separate days. One day is “cardio” and the next “resistance training.” Others do both forms of training on the same day at different times or one after the other – 30 minutes of cardio followed by 30 minutes of weight training. When you do one session after the other, it’s called concurrent training.
Another variation on concurrent training is to mix aerobic training with resistance training, an approach aptly named integrated concurrent training because you’re integrating the two forms of training into a single workout. With this type of training, you alternate an aerobic move with a resistance exercise, switching back and forth until your workout is complete. It’s similar to circuit training with aerobic exercises added to the mix. For example, you might do a set of squats followed by squat jumps and proceed directly to a set of overhead presses and jumping jacks.
The Pros of Integrated Concurrent Training
What are the advantages of this approach? One benefit of an integrated workout is it’s an efficient way to work out. You get cardio in at the same time you’re doing resistance exercises. If you have limited time, you can work your entire body at once. It’s also dynamic enough that it’s never boring.
Integrated concurrent training is also a highly adaptable way to work out. You choose the exercises you want to do and you can vary them as often as you like. For the cardio sets, you might do plyometrics, kettlebell swings, or more conventional cardio exercises like butt kicks, jumping jacks, high knees, or jump rope.
For resistance, you might focus on upper body during one session and lower body in another or alternate between the two. You can also incorporate barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises into an integrated routine. The sky’s the limited as long as you alternate back and forth between resistance exercise and cardio.
Another advantage of integrated concurrent training is it wakes up your metabolism more than moderate-intensity cardio or strength training alone. The dynamic nature of switching between exercises boosts the calorie burn and as long as you keep the intensity up. It also stimulates the release of growth hormone and testosterone to help you burn more fat and build muscle.
The Cons of Concurrent Training
One concern about this form of training is whether the two types of exercise interfere with one another. After all, resistance training activates different pathways than aerobic exercise does. For example, resistance exercise turns on the mTOR pathway, the primary pathway that ramps up muscle protein synthesis. There’s some evidence that endurance exercise has the opposite effect, it turns off the mTOR pathway. So, the two exercise modalities are at odds with another. This is called the interference effect. It makes sense too. You don’t see bodybuilders doing long-distance running or marathon runners bulking up with weights.
If aerobic exercise really does interfere with muscle protein synthesis, you may not make the expected gains in strength and muscle size even if you are using a weight heavy enough to challenge your muscles. This isn’t just true of integrated concurrent training but non-integrated concurrent training as well. If you do both forms of training on the same day, are you sending your muscles mixed message?
Whether this actually plays out in real life depends on the research you look at. One study showed concurrent training with periods of running interfered with gains in strength and muscle size more than did cycling. Another found concurrent training didn’t interfere with gains in strength and muscle size but negatively impacted gains in muscle power.
Interestingly, a 2008 study compared integrated concurrent training with serial concurrent training (training modalities done on same day but not at the same time). It showed that integrated concurrent training led to improvements in muscle strength, endurance, flexibility and a decrease in body fat and the improvements were greater with integrated training than with serial concurrent training. So, some research suggests that integrated training may offer more benefits than doing resistance training and cardio on separate days.
The Bottom Line
Is integrated concurrent training right for you? Whether you use this approach should depend on your goals. If you’re trying to build more powerful muscles, you should avoid concurrent training as it appears to reduce power development. It’s not as clear whether it reduces gains in strength and muscle size and it may depend on the type of aerobic exercise you do when you train concurrently.
Some research suggests that if you do low-impact aerobic exercise, like cycling, during concurrent workouts, it may actually INCREASE gains in muscle size and strength. Based on the current research, doing concurrent training is unlikely to greatly reduce gains in muscle size and strength and may even enhance resistance training gains.
If you enjoy training this way, give it a try. If you’re not making the strength and size gains you like and you’re consuming enough calories and protein, switch back to non-concurrent training and devote a greater portion of your workout time to high-intensity strength training in a non-concurrent manner.
You could also use integrated, concurrent training as a plateau buster or a break from your regular routine. It’s a slightly different approach that offers benefits, as long as your main goal isn’t to build power.