We've all heard the myth: Keep your cardio and resistance training separate, or you'll spoil your results. But recent studies have shown that the order in which you do your cardio or your sit-ups and push-ups might not matter.
Of course, how you schedule your workout ultimately depends on your fitness goals. Your body does respond differently to specific ordering and combination of your exercise routine, but your strength and performance will improve regardless of when you schedule certain moves.
The Truth About Muscle Interference
Mixing cardio and resistance training, like push-ups and sit-ups, has long been rumored to inhibit the progress of both strength and endurance. The concept of muscle interference implies that the aerobic stresses of cardio inhibit your muscles from maximizing on your strength training, and that your strength training limits the development of your aerobic endurance.
According to the International Sports Sciences Association, muscle interference has its roots in research conducted in the 1980's by R.C. Hickson of the University of Illinois College of Kinesiology. Hickson's research showed that adults who skipped cardio but performed regular resistance training garnered greater strength gains.
Research conducted since Hickson's initial inquiry has painted a clearer picture of the effects of muscle interference, showing it's not always wrong to mix your cardio and resistance training.
Read more: Morning vs. Evening Cardio
Of course, how you schedule your workout ultimately depends on your fitness goals.
The Science of Concurrent Workouts
Muscle interference has been a subject of close research by kinesiologists and scientists over the last few decades. In a meta-analysis of 21 studies, J.M. Wilson of the Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance at the University of Tampa identified the most important findings in research surrounding concurrent workouts, where cardio and resistance training were mixed.
If your goal is to develop power through your sit-up and push-up workouts, Wilson's review shows that cardio isn't your friend. The International Sports Sciences Association recommends limiting cardio to 30 minutes or less, and only three times a week. A concurrent workout is fine, as long as your cardio is kept under the recommended threshold.
If you're looking to maximize your cardiovascular system for endurance sports, a concurrent workout shouldn't have any effect on your performance. In other words, strength training through push-ups and sit-ups won't impact your cardio workout negatively, so you're free to do as many of each as you please.
If your goal is to trim your waistline, a concurrent workout is encouraged. You'll see better weight loss results if you pair up your cardio and resistance training. In fact, the results shown in the research reviewed by Wilson shows that a concurrent workout is better than either type of training by itself.
Read more: The Best Cardio Workouts to Lose Weight
Before or After?
Luckily, the order of your workout hasn't been shown to have any effect on the quality of your performance gains. You're free to mix and match sit-ups, push-ups and cardio in the order of your preference.
Research conducted by Stuart Phillips, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario showed that the individual cells in leg muscles expanded their endurance capability and their strength equally, regardless of the order in which cardio and resistance training was done.
“We saw no indications of interference,” Dr. Phillips told the New York Times, which corroborated with results in other studies conducted in Sweden. As it turns out, the order of your workout doesn't produce a significant change in your results.
- R.C. Hickson, University of Illinois College of Kinesiology: Interference of Strength Development by Simultaneously Training for Strength and Endurance
- J.M. Wilson, Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance, The University of Tampa, Florida, USA: Concurrent Training: a Meta-Analysis Examining Interference of Aerobic and Resistance Exercises
- International Sports Sciences Association: Do Cardio and Strength Training Actually Work Against Each Other?
- The New York Times: Mixing Weight Training and Aerobics