How to perform concurrent training without losing your gains.
By Coach Hunter Bennett
What is concurrent training?
Concurrent training is a term used to describe performing both cardio and weights in your training regime.
For example, doing 2-3 weight session and 1-2 cardio sessions in a single week is concurrent training.
Concurrent training involves trying to improve multiple physical qualities at the same time. Often this is with emphasis on aerobic fitness, strength, and muscle growth.
It is well established that adding strength training into an aerobic regime can improve performance by making your more efficient.
However, many in the fitness space consider concurrent training to be a disaster if your goals are related to strength and size.
They argue that because the adaptations that come from strength and aerobic training are opposites, they somewhat cancel each other out. Instead stating you should spend dedicated periods of training focusing on one quality before moving onto the other.
But here’s the thing.
While there is some research indicating they can impact one another negatively, this is not always the case. In fact, in some settings doing both may even lead to greater improvements than simply training one alone.
It just comes down to how you manage concurrent training.
Why should you train concurrently?
There are some obvious situations where concurrent training is a good idea.
1. Concurrent training for sports
Firstly, if you play any type of sport, concurrent training is a must.
Strength and power are integral for speed, agility, and jumping performance. They are also improved through weight training.
Aerobic endurance is integral to maintaining performance throughout a game. This is obviously improved through aerobic training.
2. Concurrent training for health
Secondly, concurrent training is a great for health.
Weight training increases metabolic health, bone density, stability, and functional capacity, while reducing risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and a host of other things.
Aerobic training increases the health of your heart and cardiovascular system, which literally helps you live longer.
3. Concurrent training to be a beast
Lastly, some people train to so they can handle anything that comes their way.
This means being big and strong, while also being able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.
This means doing both weight training and cardio on the regular.
But can concurrent training be accomplished?
Is training concurrently bad?
When people talk about the negatives of concurrent training, they are quick to draw on early research. One such example is a famous 1980 paper by Hickson.
In this study they had three groups perform different exercise regimes:
- A strength group that lifted weights five times per week
- An endurance group that trained aerobically six times per week
- A concurrent group that did both interventions
After ten weeks of training, both the endurance group and concurrent group saw the same improvements in aerobic fitness (the strength only group saw no change).
However, the strength only group saw considerably larger increases in strength than the concurrent group. This highlighted the existence of the interference effect, and the potential negatives associated with concurrent training.
However, something that is often missed is that this was a proof-of-concept study.
It was designed in such a way that, if a negative effect did exist, it would show because both training regimes were so extreme.
In the real world, people wouldn’t try to perform five heavy lower body sessions and six intense aerobic sessions to get strong and fit. They would find a happy middle ground.
In fact, finding this middle ground might even improve certain outcomes.
Can concurrent training improve training outcomes?
There are a few things that are worth mentioning here.
Firstly, aerobic training improves aerobic fitness. This can lead to improvements in recovery between sets, and between training sessions. Better recovery can lead to better training performance and increases in total training volume.
Over time, this means more gains.
In fact, there is some evidence suggesting that performing cycling (three sessions per week) in conjunction with weight training (2 sessions per week) can lead to larger increases in muscle size than simply performing weight training alone.
Secondly, aerobic training can increase the number of blood vessels within your muscle tissue. This may aid in nutrient delivery, which could improve training outcomes.
A recent study found that performing a couple of weeks of aerobic training before weight training may improve the muscle growth caused by that weight training, likely due to improvements in muscle blood flow.
So when we are looking at concurrent training and muscle growth, it may be even more beneficial than weight training alone.
Concurrent training on strength and power
These previous studies have largely looked at muscle growth.
But there is also a large body of research looking at concurrent training and its effect on strength and power.
And there are some findings that deserve consideration.
A recent meta-analysis (a study combining the results of other studies) combining the results 43 studies found that adding aerobic exercise to a strength training program had no significant impact on muscle strength compared to strength training alone.
However, it did a appear to have a small impact on explosive power.
Interestingly, the effect on power was more pronounced when aerobic and power training were performed in the same session. If they were separated by at least three hours, this negative effect dwindled.
This effect was also more pronounced when the aerobic training modality was running, which has a lower recovery cost than cycling or rowing.
Which means that concurrent training might impact power adaptations under certain circumstances.
But if you are worried about concurrent training and strength, then you can relax – because it is unlikely to have any impact.
Especially if you follow the recommendations below.
How much should you worry about concurrent training?
So, with all that said and done, do you really need to worry about concurrent training killing your gains?
In fact, with evidence suggesting that concurrent training may improve training outcomes, it might be worth having both in your routine at all times.
It just depends on how you structure it.
How to concurrent train optimally
Taking the above into consideration, we can see some situations where concurrent training may be a bad idea.
- You do extremely high volumes of cardio
- Your cardio is done in the same session as your strength work
- Running is your main form of cardio
However, this also means we can make some recommendations about how to implement concurrent training optimally:
- Try and separate cardio and weight sessions by ~24 hours if possible
- If they must be performed on the same day, separate them by ~3 hours
- If they must be performed in the same session, do your weight training first
- Choose low impact modalities (cycling, rowing, ski-erg, etc.) over running
If you tick these boxes, then you are going to be in a great place to get the most out of all your training.
Take home points
Concurrent training is not the killer it is made out to be.
In fact, using the tips in this article to structure training appropriately, you may even see better results using concurrent training than just weight training alone.
And if you want to read more about how to design training programs, read this article explaining how to create a workout plan.