Should You Do Cardio and Strength Training on the Same Day?

Experts recommend a variety of different types of exercise for a healthy body, including flexibility, cardio, strength training, and more.  If you’ve got a job, a family, hobbies, and other commitments, it can seem nearly impossible to cram in all these workouts into your week.  Some people solve this problem by doubling up: putting cardio and strength training in back-to-back exercise sessions.

However, there’s some controversy over whether this is a good habit to get into.  Some experts say that you shouldn’t try to do both in the same day, following the logic that one type of exercise or the other is going to get the short shrift.  Anecdotal wisdom says that try to do both could stunt muscle growth or reduce overall endurance.

Despite this, most people who aren’t training for a specific purpose – like a professional sport or a bodybuilding competition – can do both in the same day without encountering problems.  Studies done in both Canada and Sweden showed that a 50/50 strength training and cardio workout had the same effect as the same amount of exercise done at 100% on alternating days.  What’s important is that you do these exercises, not when you do them in relation to one another.

If you still have questions, read on for more information about both types of exercise and some suggestions for fitting them into your busy schedule.

Cardiovascular Exe​​​​​rcise

Woman doing cardio training in gym

Short for “cardiovascular,” cardio refers to physical activity that elevates the heart rate for a certain period of time.  It’s also called aerobic exercise because your body requires a great deal of oxygen to maintain this activity.  The intensity of this workout is generally low to medium, since the goal is to sustain heart rate and increase endurance.

Interestingly, whether or not something qualifies as “cardio” depends less on the activity than how long and how intensely you do it.  For example, climbing stairs is often given as a good example of cardio, but if you only climb five stairs, it won’t give your heart much of a workout.  However, if you lift low-weight kettlebells continuously for half an hour, your heart rate will stay up in the zone needed for cardio exercise.

How much cardio do I need?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week, and many people interpret this to mean 30 minutes of cardio five days a week or 50 minutes three times a week.  However, there are many ways to split the total up to achieve this goal.

To do cardio correctly, it’s important to determine your target heart rate.  For most people, this is between 120 and 150 beats per minute for 45 to 60 minutes.  This can take the form of long, steady state exercises like walking.  Another option is called high-intensity interval training.  This type of exercise requires doing about 20 seconds of intense exercise (e.g., sprinting) followed by 40 seconds of active rest (e.g., walking) for 45 to 60 minutes.

What are some good cardio exercises?

Anything that gets your heart going at the target rate for an extended period of time is a cardio exercise, but here are some typical exercises that fulfill this requirement.

  • Elliptical machine
  • Recumbent bike
  • Running at a moderate pace
  • Climbing stairs
  • Jumping rope
  • Cycling at an intense pace
  • Swimming or treading water
  • Rowing
  • Sprinting

Remember to stick with these exercises long enough to keep your heart rate up for the required amount of time.

Strength Training

A high-intensity, short-duration workout, strength training is a type of anaerobic exercise because your muscles don’t use as much oxygen.  As the name implies, it increases strength by building muscle, but it also increases bone and joint strength.  Additionally, this type of exercise will increase your metabolic rate, meaning you’ll continue to burn more calories even when you’re not working out.

How much strength training do I need?

Experts recommend strength training sessions two to three times per week at 45 to 60 minutes per session.  These sessions should include a warm-up period of at least five minutes to stretch and prepare your muscles, and they should finish with five minutes of cool down.  These practices reduce the risk of injury and prevent excessive soreness.

Frequency and longevity aren’t the only important dimensions to strength training; comprehensiveness is a factor as well.  You want to balance pushing and pulling activities and make sure you’re focusing on all areas of your body in turn.

What are some good strength training exercises?

Anything that provides resistance to your muscles can be used as a strength training exercise. Here are some of the more popular ones.

Strength and Cardio Workout Plans

Whether you want to do cardio and strength training on the same day or alternate days, it’s always a good idea to have a plan.  When you put exercise in your schedule, you’re less likely to procrastinate or forgo it altogether.  Here are some plans that provide a good balance of both strength training and cardio.

Cardio and Strength in the Same Workout

  • Monday: 35 minutes of cardio + lower body
  • Tuesday: 30 minutes of cardio + upper body
  • Wednesday: yoga + core strength
  • Thursday: cardio medley + lower body
  • Friday: high intensity intervals + upper body

Cardio and Strength on the Same Day

  • Monday: AM – 30-60-90 interval training; PM – lower body pyramid
  • Tuesday: AM – 35 minute cardio; PM – upper body pyramid
  • Wednesday: AM – treadmill cardio; PM – core strength
  • Thursday: AM – lower body pyramid; PM – stretch
  • Friday: AM – low impact tabata; PM – upper body pyramid
  • Saturday: basic endurance cardio

Alternating Cardio and Strength Training

  • Monday: 45 minutes on the treadmill
  • Tuesday: total body strength and stability
  • Wednesday: 30 minutes on a bike
  • Thursday: 10 minutes of yoga
  • Friday: total body strength and stability
  • Saturday: high intensity aerobic exercise

No matter what type of workout schedule you choose, be sure to find a good balance of strength and cardio, don’t forget to stretch, and meet your fitness goals with activities you enjoy!