I still remember the first distinction of exercise types/styles I ever heard:
A. Lift heavy with low reps to get big and stronger
B. Lift light with high reps to get shredded.
To say the least: this is a gross oversimplification that completely ignores diet, however, the old saying about lifting heavy to get stronger is certainly true. People differentiate themselves into cliques around the gym by what kind of training they are engaged in and the division I see quite often is between Strength and Endurance Athletes. These guys can often be heard around the gym professing their superiority over the other. The funny thing is that without context they’re usually saying the same thing:
Strength athlete: “Well… he can’t squat as much as me” (Referring to weight)
Endurance athlete: “Well… I squat more than that guy” (Referring to rep/set amount)
From personal experience this division seems to be driven by the school of thought that bulky muscles will limit endurance and training for endurance will hinder muscle growth. Is there any real truth to these beliefs? Research seems to indicate that the effect is much more minor than many of us make it out to be.
For the purposes of this article I’m going to set very simplified definitions of endurance and strength athletes that attempt to not denigrate either:
Endurance Athletes: Focus on Aerobic activity and higher rep weight training with good mechanics.**
Strength Athletes: Focus on heavy weightlifting and explosive strength with good mechanics.**
**Please note both descriptions say “with good mechanics” because if this isn’t part of your goal, you’re hopeless.
Many of us have atttempted to combine our efforts of strength and endurance training, this type of combined training is popular amongst Crossfitters, Obstacle course racers and various other types of athletes. Let’s take a close look at strength and endurance training results. In one study participants either took part in a 10 week strength training regimen, a 10 week endurance training regimen or both. The strength trainers gained strength but no endurace, the endurance trainers gained endurance but no strength, all as expected. The experimental group, strength + endurance, gained the same amount of endurance as the endurance control group and their strengths gain were on par with the control group for the first 7 weeks before leveling off indicating an earlier cap on strength gains due to endurance training. Another study found that with concurrent strength and endurance training had no effect on strength gains or hypertrophy and the only affected area was explosive strength. This study had participants strength training for two days out of the week and performing endurance training for 2 days out of the week.
So one study says yes your gains will be limited, another says no. Personally I’m inclined to believe the latter due to much more realistic methods used over the course of the study. In the first study participants likely began to develop the symptoms of overtraining due to combining a full strength training schedule and a full endurance training schedule. So… Will endurance training kill your gains? Well the definitive answer is maybe. It all depends on your approach to combinining the two. Clearly having a packed strength training schedule stacked on top of a full endurance training schedule is a recipe for disaster but not because you’re going to “Kill your gains.” It’s because you’re not allowing your body to reap the benefits of your training. If all you do is train, train, train then eventually you will plateau and all progress will halt to a standstill. Even if you never started endurance training with a overpacked strength training schedule you will still hit a similar wall eventually and cease all improvement. To optimize any sort of improvement in performance you have to avoid the pitfall of training 24/7. If you’re trying to have a combined aspect of endurance and strength training you will have to make some tough decisions about your time usage and distribute your time wisely.
How you balance endurance and strength routines is entirely based on your goals. Currently I am not training for any endurance related event so I allow strength training to be the current focus, however I do work in 15-20 minute sessions on the heavy bag after some workouts and I spend one cardio day running two miles at a steady pace every week. The reason I do it this way is that strength takes much longer for me to develop than endurance and I have noticed that by maintaining this baseline I truncate the amount of time it would take to cultivate higher levels of endurance while consistently gaining strength.
What did you think of the article? Do you think endurance and strength training are best separated or have a different approach to combining the two? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below.