A systematic review of 18 studies found that combining aerobic exercise such as running, walking and cycling with resistance strength training helps older people to be more active and less likely to fall and hurt themselves, compared to those who did just aerobic or strength training alone. They become stronger, more coordinated, and have greater balance (Frontiers in Physiology, Jan 4, 2022;12:798068).
If you want to gain maximum benefit from your exercise program, you should try to do both endurance (heart-lung) activities and resistance (muscle strength) training. The usual way to do this is to:
• do your endurance training with an activity that uses primarily your legs, such as running, walking or cycling
• use weight-training machines aimed at strengthening primarily your upper body and core (belly and back).
If your main sport does not focus on your legs, you will want to do some resistance work for leg strength as well.
How to Combine Strength and Endurance Training
Researchers in Australia showed that adding a weight lifting program to cycling or running will help to improve performance only if you know that when your muscles are sore, you have to take the day off or go slow and easy (Sports Medicine, July 2017;1–14).
• After running or cycling very intensely, you need to go slow and easy for more than 24 hours.
• After lifting weights intensely, you should go easy on those muscle groups for several days
If you want to train the same muscle groups for both endurance and strength, you need to use long recovery periods of less intense exercise after each intense workout, or you will be at high risk for injuries and an over-training syndrome of chronic fatigue and muscle damage. You should not exercise at a fast pace or lift heavy weights when your muscles are still sore from a previous workout.
In one study, high-intensity interval cycling done after heavy-resistance exercise decreased the “rate of force development,” which is the ability of muscles to contact rapidly with more force (Scand J Med Sci Sports, Sept 23, 2016). You can set up a schedule for lifting weights every second or third day and alternate running or cycling intensely on one day and easy on the next, but always listen to your body and back off if your muscles hurt.
Another study showed that in just six days of training the same muscles intensely, your muscles are likely to be so sore that you won’t be able to exercise hard and you will have a significant decrease in strength (Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Aug 2015;86(4):387-396).
Athletes who competes in total body endurance sports, such as rowing, cross country skiing or swimming, do their resistance training on the same day that they take an intense workout. Then they may need two or three days for recovery. Cross country skiers and rowers have the highest rates of fitness, and modern runners and cyclists are now following their training methods, with more than 87 percent of their workouts being slow, low intensityrecovery and about 10 percent being very intense.
My Program (87-Year-Old Male)
Strength Training: I try to use my strength-training pulley machine three to seven times a week on just my arms, upper body and core. I do only one set with a comfortable weight until my muscles start to fatigue. On most of the exercises I do 20 to 100 repetitions. This type of training will not give me large muscles, but it does help me to maintain strength and avoid injuries.
Endurance: On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, I cycle 25 to 30 miles on a recumbent tandem with Diana in our tandem bicycle group. We do not go flat out but we do pick up the pace at the end of each ride. On the other four days, I ride at a very slow and relaxed pace. My legs usually feel stiff in the morning. If they do not recover and feel fresh after a 5-10 minute warm-up, I either ride 10-20 miles at around 11mph or take the day off completely. I have to ride slowly on these four recovery days because my muscles feel sore from riding much faster with my tandem group.
Combining strength training with aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, cycling or swimming, is far more effective than doing just either type of exercise alone to make you fit:
• For younger people, it can help to make them better athletes.
• For older people, it will make them stronger and more agile so they can be more active and less likely to fall and hurt themselves.
However, you can expect to become injured if you don’t understand how to follow the rules of stressing and recovery. You take a harder workout on one day, have your muscles feel sore on the next day and take easy recovery workouts for as many days as it takes for your muscles to feel fresh again. You must avoid exercising intensely or take days off when your muscles still feel sore 5-10 minutes after you warm up. Exercising with painful muscles increases your risk of injuring yourself.
Caution: Intense exercise can cause a heart attack in a person who has blocked arteries or heart damage. Check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program or increase the intensity of your existing program.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.