02 May 2012


In yesterday's post, I discussed the need for most people to reintroduce regular, extended walks into their lives.  Doing so, in conjunction with a healthy diet, provides a maintenance level of physical fitness.  If you are an athlete, an avid hiker in rugged terrain, or otherwise in need of more advanced physical training, you're a likely candidate for membership with a gym which features (at minimum) aerobic equipment like treadmills, stairmasters, stationary bicycles, and elliptical trainers ~ in conjunction with weight-resistance equipment like free weights and a variety of weight-adjustable machines designed to work on specific muscle groups.  If your gym also has a swimming pool, a basketball or handball court, a yoga class, or a sauna, so much the better.

I've been a natural athlete most of my life, though I was well into adulthood before I believed it.  In my mid- to late-thirties, while a student at the University of Arizona, I was doing shorin-ryu karate workouts and weight workouts daily.  During the summer I was a lifeguard at the university's family housing swimming pool.  At the time (mid-1980s), no one was shy about mixing cardiovascular (aerobic) training and weight training on the same day.

In recent years, according to a NYTimes article, there are those who advocate separation ~ cardio one day, weights the next.  Why?  Because some "coaches and athletic trainers have come to believe that aerobic exercise, if practiced in close proximity to strength training, reduces the ability of muscles to strengthen and grow.  Conversely, many content that weight training performed on the same day as aerobic exercises blunts the endurance training response."

However, most of the discussion has been anecdotal, with little scientific evidence supporting or challenging the existence of interference.  Until now.  Studies in Sweden and Canada (with only men as subjects, a glaring omission) have concluded that there is no evidence of either mode of training interfering with the other, whether performed on alternating days or on the same day.  Little or no difference in the genetic or biochemical responses within muscles was found.  According to the Times, "These findings are important for serious competitive athletes who are designing serious, complicated training regimens.  But they also have implications for those of us who've been, until now, ignorant of the possible existence of exercise antagonism.  We can, it seems, remain blissfully unconcerned .... Best of all, [one study] suggests that you can potentially do less of each form of exercise when you combine them, and still gain considerable benefits."

Whether you're a serious athlete or someone who simply wishes to become fit and toned, in my experience moderation is key.  Start at a level of exertion which feels challenging but not painful, and gradually increase the aerobic or weight workout over time.  It's like losing weight ~ if you lose too much too quickly, you're more likely to gain it back.  Just so with exercise ~ if you build up gradually, it will remain rewarding and you'll be more likely to stick with it.  The best reward?  You'll feel better, look better, and live longer.

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