Many athletes form a preference for particular kinds of training. Runners run and lifters lift. But what do athletes miss out on when they focus solely on one form of training? Here are five benefits to mixing up your workout:
Improve General Fitness
Strength training includes barbell strength training and weight machines, and its purpose is to build muscle. Ironically, building muscle through barbell strength training and weight machines begins with breaking down muscles. After a strength training workout, rest is required for the muscles to rebuild and grow. In this sense, it is the rest after strength training that builds muscle, rather than the strength training itself. Aside from building muscle, strength training improves mobility, balance, and agility.
Cardiovascular training (or cardio) are those activities, like running, swimming, and cycling, that get the heart pumping. This pumping action "exercises" the heart and blood vessels, improving their overall health and reducing their susceptibility to high blood pressure and heart attacks. Aside from improving heart health, cardio burns calories and improves endurance.
Stretching includes activities like yoga that tone muscles and enhance muscle control. Stretching improves flexibility and balance and prevents muscle injury.
There is very little overlap among the benefits of strength training, cardio, and stretching. The best way to realize all the benefits of exercise is to engage in a mix of exercises.
Strength training, narrowly speaking, is not a form of weight loss. Muscle is denser than fat. Therefore, replacing fat with muscle may actually result in weight gain. However, the body will be more fit and toned as fat is replaced with muscle through barbell strength training or other resistance training.
Cardio is all about burning calories. Cardio burns energy from consumed food before that energy can be stored as fat deposits. When cardio has no energy left to burn, fat deposits are raided, thereby burning off fat.
One reason to mix cardio and strength training is that muscle burns calories very efficiently. The more muscle you build, the more calories your body can burn. Even though weight may not come off as quickly (since the new muscles will add weight), fat will disappear more quickly with a mix of strength training and cardio than either one alone.
More Efficient Muscles
As mentioned above, cardio builds endurance. This includes those muscles you build with barbell strength training. As blood and oxygen are delivered more efficiently to those muscles, they improve their ability to recover and build. For those who focus on building muscle, this means that muscle builds faster when pairing strength training with cardio.
For those who focus on cardio, pairing cardio with strength training means that your average power output and peak power output increase. This means that your sprint at the end of a road race will likely improve if you spend some time building your leg muscles.
Both strength training and cardio require rest days. However, because strength training and cardio exercise different muscles in different ways, your cardio rest day can include weight lifting and your strength training rest days can include running, swimming, biking, or other cardio activity.
Compared to doing nothing on your rest days, alternating strength training and cardio will lead to better and more restful sleep. After your strength training days, your fatigued muscles will require rest to repair and build. Your body knows this and will rest those muscles through sleep. In fact, 60% of the people who strength train sleep an average of 7 or more hours per night.
On your cardio days, your energy levels will naturally drop as your body burns consumed calories and fat deposits. Your body will simply have no energy left and will recover through sleep. In either case, your body will take care of itself by providing the restful sleep it needs.
Reduce Risk of Injury
Overtraining can substantially increase the risk of injury. Training before your body has recovered and rebuilt is like pulling on an elastic band after it has already been stretched. Since it has not been allowed to recover to its unstretched state, stretching it more will break it. Alternating between strength training and cardio allows some muscle groups to rest while other muscle groups are exercised. The result is a more complete level of fitness rather than an overtraining injury.