Quick guide: How to properly combine cardio and strength training

This article is for the cardio junkies. You know who you are: the diehard runners, the marathoners, the cyclers – those among you who think the only way a workout is worthwhile is if you burnt a hole in your runners and you’re dripping with sweat.

I want to convince you to add a wee bit of resistance training to your normal routine.

Doing this will help you get more out of your cardio, I promise.

People who love doing cardio, endurance athletes, and coaches of endurance athletes have long pushed back against the addition of strength training to their own or their athletes training regimes.

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With this article I’ll tell you why you should be doing both. I’ll also tell you exactly how strength training can boost your cardio workouts and how to successfully integrate resistance training with cardio.

Myth: Resistance training is bad if you want to improve cardiovascular fitness

It was long thought that resistance training has no effect on performance in activities that require endurance. Some even thought it was detrimental.

Research tells us this isn’t the case, however – at least when it’s done properly.

Improper integration of resistance and cardiovascular training – when you just add resistance training on top of an already exhausting cardio training workload – will do more harm than good.

If you reduce your cardiovascular training load to accommodate the added stress of resistance training, then you’ll notice a positive effect. I’ve outlined some of them below.

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Why resistance training is good for people who want to get more out of their cardio workouts

We have learned from endurance athletes that those who are stronger perform at a higher level.


Because resistance training can improve some key factors that contribute to endurance performance: aerobic power and capacity, anaerobic capabilities, and neuromuscular function.

Aerobic power and capacity consists of oxygen transport and oxygen utilization. Basically, how efficiently your body can get blood to working muscles and how well working muscles can make use of it once it gets there.

Anaerobic capabilities include:

  • Glycolytic capacity: how much energy can be created from glycolysis (one of the energy systems in the body).
  • Lactic acid production capacity: how much lactic acid (a byproduct of glycolysis) can be produced.
  • Phosphocreatine stores and utilization: the amount of energy that can be created from the phosphagen system (another one of the energy systems in the body).

Increases in these three factors result in an increase in lactate threshold, movement efficiency, and high intensity exercise endurance, which all contribute to increased endurance exercise performance.

Neuromuscular capacity involves factors related to the brain-muscle connection: motor control, muscle strength, muscle elasticity, and rate of force development.

  • Motor control: relates to how well the brain can regulate body movement.
  • Muscle strength: developing the neuromuscular connection can increase muscle strength.
  • Muscle elasticity: the ability of a muscle to snap back to its original state. Resistance training increases this too.
  • Rate of force development: how quickly a muscle can generate force is a measure of the speed it can contract.

Increases in neuromuscular capacity through strength training can increase movement efficiency and high intensity endurance exercise, which – as we’ve already learned – increase endurance exercise performance.

In addition to performance improvements, strength training can also reduce the likelihood of injury by correcting muscular imbalances and improving joint stability.

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How to integrate the two

The success of the strength training, endurance training combo lies in proper integration. Just adding strength training on top of what you’re already doing endurance-wise is nothing but a fast track to fatigue and burnout.

Taking the care to modulate the workloads of the strength and endurance portions of your overall workout, however, will get you the benefits you’re seeking.

Follow these steps to properly integrate strength training with endurance training.

Step one: Reduce the amount of cardio to accommodate the addition of resistance training.

The intent of cutting back cardio is to avoid introducing too much additional stress on the body, which will leave you vulnerable to fatigue.

How long are your training sessions right now? They shouldn’t increase with the addition of resistance training. If you typically spend an hour exercising, cut back the time you spend during that hour doing cardio to allot for some resistance training (e.g. 40 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of resistance training).

Step two: Maintain the frequency of cardio training.

Many people, including experienced trainers and coaches, compensate for the addition of resistance training by decreasing the frequency (i.e. the number of times per week) of cardio.

The scientific literature suggests better cardio performance outcomes by maintaining the frequency of cardio while decreasing the amount of cardio done in an individual session.

Step three: Mix up which you do first and mix-and-match your intensities.

Changing the sequence of cardio and resistance training is another way to manage fatigue and how fatigue effects your workout (we’re talking about performance here). If you do cardio first, you’re going to have less energy for your resistance training, which you’ll do right after or later on in the day. If you do your resistance training first, you’re going to have less energy for your cardio training.

Switch the order of your workout from time to time – either on a weekly or monthly basis – to maximize adaptations to both types of training while minimizing the changes of overwork and fatigue.

You should also mix-and-match your intensities, always pairing high-intensity with low-intensity. If you have a high intensity cardio session, pair it with a low-intensity resistance training session and vice-a-versa. This technique also ensures you don’t become overworked and fatigued.


If you’re a cardio junkie, I hope I’ve convinced you to add some resistance training to your regular workout routine. If you’re not, I hope you’ve at least learned to appreciate the importance of both in a proper training regime and learned how to seamlessly integrate the two types of exercise to get the most out of your workouts and yourself.

As always, contact me directly via my contact page if you’d like to learn more, follow the blog and follow Healthy Wheys on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Have a great week!




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