It used to be that an athlete in a cardiovascular sport was just an athlete in a cardiovascular sport. You were a runner, a tennis player, a swimmer, or a cross-country skier, and those activities made up the vast majority (if not the entirety) of your daily exercise regimen.
What Is Cross Training?
Nowadays, though, the concept of "cross training" is growing more and more prominent in many parts of the world. The most basic definition of cross training is "training in two or more disciplines." In other words, if you're a runner, you don't just exercise by going for runs every day. Instead, you supplement your running with other fitness activities, like strength training, other cardio activities, or competitive team sports.
The idea behind cross training is that, by exercising in disciplines beyond their main sport, athletes will be able to boost their performance levels in their primary sports. When you are a runner or swimmer and your only training is running or swimming, you are working the same basic muscle groups every time you exercise. When you cross train, you give yourself the opportunity to work other muscles.
This process aids your full-body fitness, helps you develop strength and flexibility, and lowers your risk of injury by creating a greater muscular balance throughout your body. In addition, cross training can help to break up the monotony in day-to-day exercising. If you are bored with your usual running route or pool exercise, taking a day off and trying a workout in a completely different discipline can offer a much-needed change of pace.
Pairing Cardio and Strength Training
One of the most popular cross training combinations pairs cardio and strength training?at least, among some groups. For every athlete who pairs cardiovascular workouts with strength or resistance training, there is probably another who buys into the old myths that cardio and strength training are at odds with one another. One of the oldest bogus tales in the gym world is that cardio workouts burn muscle as well as fat, and that they can therefore dampen the impact of weight lifting or other types of strength and resistance training.
The flipside of this myth is that lifting weights will turn you into a bulky mass of muscles, weighing you down in your cardio training and getting in the way of your weight-burning goals. In reality, cardio and resistance training actually complement each other remarkably well. As mentioned above, cross training is beneficial because it creates full-body fitness regimens, fixes muscular imbalances throughout your body, and reduces that risk of injury. If you are an athlete in an intensely cardiovascular sport, strength and resistance training can go one step further, creating muscles throughout your body that are stronger and have greater endurance.
In other words, by making the time investment to do resistance training a few times a week, your cardiovascular system and your body as a whole will become stronger and more efficient. Whether your cardio goal is to go faster, last longer, or burn more calories and lose more weight, strength and resistance training will help you reach your goals rather than hindering the pursuit. As for the belief that cardiovascular workouts will burn the muscle you've worked so hard for in the weight room, that idea isn't as much a myth as it is an overstatement.
Your body will eventually start burning muscle during a workout. When you exercise at a very high intensity or for an extreme length of time, your body can enter a catabolic state. In this state, your body actually will start burning muscle, just as a means to keep itself going. However, by avoiding excessive training and making sure your nutrition levels are replenished both before and after a workout, you can avoid muscle loss and the other negative effects of going catabolic (like joint pain, muscle pain, and fatigue).
One of the reasons that many cardio athletes load up on protein shakes or carbohydrates after workouts is that doing so replenishes the body's fuel levels and gives the muscles the opportunity to rest and grow instead of withering away. Bottom line, any workout can reduce your muscle mass if you don't consider proper moderation and good nutrition. As such, there is very little reason to skip cardio workouts just because you want to keep the muscles you've gained through strength and resistance training.
So long as you are smart about your workouts and smarter about your nutrition, you should be able to reap the benefits of both exercise disciplines without facing any major negative consequences.
How to Design a Cardio/Resistance Training Regimen
If you are interested in combining cardiovascular exercise with strength and resistance training, the first thing that you need to understand is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to do this. The only real absolute here is that you should do cardiovascular workouts some days and resistance training workouts on the other days, without ever doing both workout types on the same day. Trying to do a cardio workout and a strength training workout in the same day will have a few different negative effects.
First of all, you will have to split your exercise time between two completely different workouts, which will naturally reduce how much you are getting out of each workout. Giving your full attention and time to one workout or the other will maximize the fitness benefits of that athletic pursuit. The other reason not to do cardio and resistance training workouts on the same day is that, by doing so, you will risk working your body too hard. Excessive exercise will push you into a catabolic state, which, as discussed above, is precisely what you don't want from a cardio/strength cross training regimen.
Focusing your days on one type of exercise or the other will give you a better chance of seeing the results you want from your workout. Beyond the one-type-of-exercise-per-day stipulation, there aren't really any hard-and-fast rules about how you should balance cardio workouts and resistance training in your schedule. If you are trying to build muscle, you are going to want to give more days to strength training.
If you want to lose weight, cardio should be your primary exercise. If you are a primarily cardiovascular athlete and just want the endurance and muscle balance advantages that resistance training can offer, you will probably focus on cardio four or five days out of the week and just do two or three strength workouts per week.
Make It Work for You
As you can see, a cross training regimen that balances cardio and resistance training will vary depending on what kind of athlete you are and what types of fitness goals you are chasing. If you are looking for a basic workout plan to get started with, look around online for ideas. However, remember that it is important over time to tweak your workout and design a fitness regimen of your own. Everyone's fitness needs are slightly different and everyone has unique goals.
A cross training strategy that mixes cardio and resistance training is something that should work for you. You aren't trying to fulfill anyone else's challenge, or to prove that you can run x number of miles on Tuesday and y number of reps in the weight room on Wednesday. Ultimately, the most important thing is for your cardiovascular training and your resistance training to combine into a cohesive fitness strategy that makes you a more effective athlete in both pursuits.
If you feel like you aren't seeing the results you want from your current cross training workout, tweak it. Find a different balance. Subtract a cardio day and add a strength training day, or vice versa. Add a rest day into the mix. Fiddle around a bit with how much cardio or resistance training you are doing each day of the week. Take a look at your dietary and nutrition strategies and adjust as needed. It might take a bit of trial and error, but you will eventually find a cross training model that works perfectly for you. When that day comes, you'll find yourself burning fat, building muscle, feeling strong across the board, and noticing a clear increase in endurance and performance. There's a reason that cross training has become such a widely embraced philosophy in the fitness world, and once you realize its benefits, you'll never want to go back to training in just one discipline.
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