In this article I am going to address an issue that is probably in the top 3 questions I am asked by clients, and that regards: Strength training vs. Aerobic training, specifically the 'order' in which to do them. By now, most of us know that there are 3 main aspects of fitness: strength, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility. You probably also know the little trick to remembering that "FIT" can help you remember the three key factors in your workout: "frequency / intensity / time". But something that seems SO variable among programs and workouts is the old "which comes first" in the session, cardio or strength training. In reality of course, we should always switch these things up anyway, and use periodization when working up our programs, so that we are training our bodies in the most comprehensive way. But beyond that "general" issue, and dealing with a specific workout goal, let's take a look at the body and how one method will produce a different result than the other.
Your body stores different types of fuel for different types of 'work'. You have available "quick fuel" in the form of glycogen (sugar) in your muscles and liver. Think of this as 'one' of your body's 'gas tanks'. This is the "main" fuel your body grabs for when you need energy FAST, or need a lot of fuel availability at once, such as intense lifting. You also have that storage tank that we tend to dislike, the all important 'fat cells'. This fat fuel is mostly used for those activities that are low to moderate in nature, as your body needs more time to 'metabolize' this stored substance into 'fuel'. At all times your body uses a mix of fuel (for the purpose of this, and all of my articles, understand that this is somewhat 'simplified' to make the important issues easier to understand). Contrary to many statements made on products, nothing is going to make your body use only your fat OR only the sugar for fuel. However, different intensities most definitely use a different mix of the two.
Aerobic vs. Strength Training:
Note that I am calling this 'aerobic' work, which for this purpose is a bit different from 'cardio', because aerobic, by definition, is 'with oxygen', and involves training at a level at which you can still converse and breathe comfortably, whereas cardio training can be very intense and use mostly glycogen (your quick fuel). You can go on and on when working aerobically, and you will be using a greater percentage of your "fat" fuel during this kind of activity. Anaerobic cardio can only be maintained for a short time, due to the availability of the quick fuel.
For strength training, you need to 'overload' your muscles in order to make them respond and adapt to your work. You need plenty of 'quick' fuel for intense strength training, as your muscle's demand for fuel skyrockets! This is very different from AWT (aerobic weight training), where you are actually working aerobically with weights for weight "loss", and not for strength "gains."
So, back to the question of which comes first? This is, as is so often true in any fitness program, dependent upon your goals. Approaching it from that angle, most women's DVD and video workouts you will find have set up the workout to begin with cardio and end with weight training. Why you might ask? For the most part this seems to be due to the female FEAR of 'bulking'. Working out in this order will definitely keep you from bulking as much, because you are depleting your training training fuel prior to even picking up a dumbbell. As stated earlier, you need to 'overload' to make a muscle stronger. This requires that you have enough of the quick fuel available to do so, and to really get intense with the training. So, by placing the weights at the END of these workouts, you are toning, and maintaining what you have, and burning calories during the weight training, but very likely will not 'gain' much strength working out in this manner. Again, this is because you simply do not have the fuel to overload to the needed needed to 'progress strength'. This is a great way to lose fat, however, as now that your initial cardio part of the program is over, you have probably burned most of your 'quick' fuel, forcing your body to metabolize more fat for your continued efforts. But do not get too intense at this point or you may just 'hit the wall'.
For the best STRENGTH gains, you would want to do your resistance training when you are fresh and have the greatest fuel available to give to your muscles for overloading and progressing. Then, you can hit that treadmill afterwards at a moderate rate to continue the fat burning, but DO keep in mind that too MUCH cardio work during your strength gaining period can be counter-productive. You do not want to starve muscles that need to recover and build.
That brings us to the other very common question: Can I train for both fat-loss and strength gains at the same time, and still be effective? This depends upon your interpretation of 'strength gains'. Absolutely, a person who has been sedentary can begin a program containing weight training and cardio in the same sessions and gain strengh while losing fat. This, however, will only bring the strength so far. If you are talking SERIOUS strength training, and serious strength gains, you would do better to periodize and design your periods to "focus" on one or the other. You will always want resistance AND cardio to be part of your program, just as you will always add flexibility training to that list; however, you will FOCUS on one or the other. During the time you will focus on strength, you will only do the cardio you need for HEART health, and use the rest of your resources towards building that muscle. During your fat burning period, you will focus on the cardio and aerobic work, using the weights only to emphasize both, but not to the intensities that you use for muscle building. My suggestion would be to use your strength training first, then move into a fat loss period. By building muscle FIRST you will have more metabolic lean body mass to be burning the fat in the fat burning program. The down side to this for some is that building muscle under excess fat can make you appear to be even more "overfat", but 'if' that happens, it is only a temporary result. Usually, you are burning so many cals with your resistance training that you burn plenty of fat at the same time and do not have this problem.
Take this info into your next session and approach it with new knowledge!
~ Sherilyn ~
Anonymous: "Mans main task in life is to give birth to himself".