What should come first, Strength Training or Aerobic Training?

outdoor-running-vs-treadmill-2560x1600There are so many important questions in the world. What came first the chicken or the egg? Who came first the Jedi or the Sith? What should come first, strength training or aerobic training?

As I mentioned in my About Me entry, I am currently training for some Spring races including a Master’s Track and Field event. I have been hitting the weights hard two days per week along with my running. Besides being a husband, and the duties that come along with having two daughters, I am also a personal trainer.  All of which keep me very busy. I am sure most of you can relate with the fact that it is not always easy to find time to train.

This has recently become an issue for me, as since my final race of last year I decided (even though I run mostly middle distance events) that I needed to increase my weekly distance to improve my fitness levels. The issue I have is if I add another run on Monday and drop a strength session I would then only be strength training once per week.  This is not enough to maintain strength and muscle mass. So, I have been splitting my workouts, by doing strength training in the morning, and then an afternoon run either a recovery run or an interval workout.

As the weather changed from Fall to Winter the local track turned muddy, and due to Daylight Savings Time lost light, so I started having less recovery time between my a.m. strength training session and my evening running. I began to feel sluggish and not really ready to tackle another workout so soon after my strength training. I wondered if it was just me or the weather.

I like to stay up on the current science, by reading the latest sports journals that are published, and was happy to come across one of the studies done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Click here to view the study.

The goal of the study was to determine the ideal duration of recovery time (0, 6, or 24 hours) between a strength training session and an aerobic session. The researchers took 58 amateur rugby players. They were assigned randomly into three control groups. One group did a strength training session followed immediately by an aerobic session. Another group recovered for 6 hours post strength training before their aerobic training. And the third group rested 24 hours between strength training and their aerobic session. The groups would perform two sessions each of strength and aerobic training per week. After the seven week study concluded the rugby players were tested on the bench press, the half squat, and knee extension exercises. The gains in the player’s maximal strength were lower for the group that did their aerobic training right after their strength training.

The researchers concluded: ‘Our study emphasized that the interference on strength development depends on the recovery delay between the 2 sequences. Daily training without a recovery period between sessions (C-0h) and, to a lesser extent, training twice a day (C-6h), is not optimal for neuromuscular and aerobic improvements. Fitness coaches should avoid scheduling 2 contradictory qualities, with less than 6-hour recovery between them to obtain full adaptive responses to concurrent training’.

So, for those of you who struggle with time to get all of your workouts in or if you are trying to maintain a healthy weight you could do a short strength training workout in the morning, even a bodyweight workout, and then an aerobic session to finish out your day which will rev your metabolism as it slows down in the afternoon and evening. Conversely, if you are training for performance this allows greater recovery time, and ensures you get the most out of both strength training and aerobic workouts that day.

Thankfully, the weather is starting to be warmer here in Connecticut.  The track will begin to dry out, and the days will only become longer, as will the recovery time in my workouts.  I hope that you can incorporate the same into your training.