Can you train to improve endurance and strength at the same time?
A Finnish study highlights the importance of ‘personalising’ your training program to get the greatest benefits:
In another article called ‘Having It Both Ways’, we discussed the so-
called ‘interference effect’ which describes the situation where you’re training to
achieve two or more different goals at the same time, do the potential gains from
one exercise cancel the other?
For example, if you’re training with weights with the aim of gaining strength, will
running 10 kilometres every day interfere with your potential maximal gains in
strength? The answer is probably “yes” although, like most things in life, there’s
plenty of debate on this issue!
So, can you have it both ways?
The debate has continued in a recent study conducted by Finnish researchers who
examined the individual ‘trainability’ of aerobic capacity (which contributes to
endurance) and maximal strength, in older adults.
They recruited 175 previously untrained volunteers, 89 men and 86 women
between the ages of 40 and 67 years, who then completed a 21 week program
Strength training twice a week
Endurance training twice a week
Combined endurance and strength training four times per week
No exercise (a group that acted as ‘controls)
At the end of the training period, the researchers examined the volunteers’
peak oxygen uptake (which is a measure of aerobic capacity) during a bicycle
ergometer test to exhaustion, as well as their maximal leg strength, determined
from the force produced during a leg extension exercise.
The researchers also looked at how changes in aerobic capacity related to
changes in maximal strength in individual subjects to examine how they
responded to doing just one type of training (either endurance or strength
training) in a session compared to when they did both types of training.
The first thing the researchers found was what they expected: that the individuals
who did the 21 week endurance training did show significant improvements
in aerobic capacity and those that did the strength training showed significant
improvements in strength.
But, rather more interestingly, they also found that there was a large variation
in responses of different people to combined endurance and strength training.
People who tended to be ‘high responders’ in building aerobic capacity did not
tend to do so well in building strength, and vice versa. Only about half of the
participants who did the combined strength and endurance training managed to
increase both their strength and aerobic capacity.
What these findings suggest is that general training programs are not likely to be
equally effective for everyone.
For example, it may be that some people require more rest between sessions
than others in order to maximise their response to training. Some people may
respond more favourably to training by doing fewer sessions of one activity
compared with doing more sessions of another activity.
Implications for designing effective training programs
The take home message is that training programs should never be considered as
a ‘one size fits all’ design.
Because your body adapts to training in its own unique way, training programs
which are personalised to your specific requirements are more likely to deliver the
best benefits. If you’re working hard but not getting the results you want, it may
be that you need to mix up your approach a little.
Working out the best combination of endurance and strength training for your
body, and whether you combine strength and endurance activities in the one
session, or do them separately may help you reach your goals and take your
fitness to a new level.
Karavirta L, Häkkinen K, Kauhanen A, Arija-Blázquez A, Sillanpää E, Rinkinen N,
Häkkinen A (2011) Individual responses to combined endurance and strength
training in older adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 43: 484-490.