These days it seems that everyone is looking to get as strong and jacked as possible. They implement the best training programs, eat all the best foods, and take the right supplements in order to maximize their strength gains. Although there is constant debate over which training style is best for optimizing strength, it seems that most will agree cardio has no place in strength sports. After all, marathon runners are small and weak compared to the elite powerlifters of the world. Why would you spend your time performing an activity that seems to have an effect opposite of those gained from strength training? Upon first inspection, this logic seems to hold weight. However, a deeper look at the physiology surrounding both training modalities exposes some unexpected truths. While it may be true that individuals who train primarily for endurance are not as strong as pure powerlifters, it doesn’t necessarily mean that cardio has no benefit for those who train for strength. In fact, it’s possible that you are missing out on serious gains if you choose to neglect your conditioning altogether.

 

The Skinny on Cardio

For years, lifters have pointed to an apparent interference effect between strength training and endurance training. Each training style elicits a specific cascade of physiologic effects within the body which are aimed at improving your ability to perform within that domain. Specifically, it has been shown that endurance exercise seems to activate mechanisms in the body which inhibit muscle protein synthesis. MPS is thought to be one of the major players when it comes to strength adaptations. So obviously, this presents bad news for those looking to maximize their strength. However, much like everything that happens in the human body, we can’t just look at one piece of the puzzle to draw conclusions.

Early studies that looked at concurrent training (simultaneous endurance and strength training) seemed to find that endurance training did seem to have a negative effect on strength. Those who strength trained alone saw greater adaptations compared to those who trained concurrently. While this seems to give further evidence to stay clear of cardio, we need to look a bit deeper. The methods and criteria for these early studies were simple and perhaps did not represent the community of heavy lifters or the type of cardio in which they would partake. In fact, most studies that have investigated concurrent training lack a bit of carryover to the real world for one reason or another.

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