The active stereotype for the weightlifting community is that cardio is the devil that must be avoided at all costs to ensure the best gains, and to an extent, they would be correct. However, just like any training plan, if the variables of the training are manipulated appropriately then you can see benefits on both sides of the spectrum.
We have discussed the energy systems with some detail in previous posts. If you haven’t had the chance to review them, now we be a good time to scroll down and take a look. We have three primary energy systems (phosphagen, anaerobic glycolysis, aerobic glycolysis) and all three of those systems play into each other and we use all three systems everyday. In my opinion, to neglect one system in totality is a poor decision and it can lead to a plateau in training effects or even detraining. If you have a goal in mind that you are training for, then your training focus should aim to accomplish that goal. A first baseman does not have to be able to run 1600m as fast as possible, but they do require the ability to play 162 games in roughly 170 days.
Aerobic training is not just running miles on end and puking from exhaustion. It serves a greater purpose than bettering the ability to run long distance, it is a pillar in the ability to recover. When planned appropriately, cardiovascular training can facilitate strength and power advancements for the strength and power athletes. If that is the case, what does appropriate planning look like? It depends! If you are participating in a power dominant event (baseball, long jump, 100m sprint) training in the aerobic zone should be accomplished at different points in your annual plan. The further away from the competitive season, the more aerobic based training you can include. Also, including aerobic conditioning in the middle of a competitive season can be appropriate in order to facilitate active recovery between events. These particular athletes require low level aerobic conditioning (50-70% BPM of HRmax) that does not interfere with strength improvements. Not only does this modality not interfere with strength training, but the athlete was able to simultaneously improve cardiovascular and strength abilities. The time between these two sessions was a key variable, and the overall consensus was a minimum of 6 hours between training bouts of strength and aerobic conditioning.
Keeping the goal of training in mind, a stimulus that promotes a person’s recovery ability is something that cannot be ignored. The metabolic adaptation that occurs with aerobic training is an adaptation that lasts much longer than the adaptations of power and speed training, so once a foundation is established, it does not take much to maintain this adaptation. The improved cardiovascular ability facilitates blood flow to working musculature, the more blood that is pumped through your skeletal muscles, the greater the ability to resynthesis necessary energy substrates needed for explosive movements, improvements in fat utilization as an energy source so that carbohydrate utilization can be reserved for highly intense work, and increased clearance of biochemical stressors associated with strength training. I can write a book on the benefits of aerobic training, but to see advancements in your training goal, variables such as: frequency, duration, intensity, and modality must be planned carefully.
Looking at this topic from the other side of the training spectrum, the long distance athletes that also strength train. Essentially, the training considerations of the strength/power athlete flip. The endurance athlete can benefit from strength training as long as it is planned appropriately. These athletes often see immediate improvements in performance because they are often not exposed to strength training. These improvements are due to the body's improved ability to absorb and redistribute force when running, and prevent injuries. Strength training the endurance athletes is not something I have spent a lot of time doing, but avoiding hypertrophy to keep the necessary body composition for the sport, and not spending too much time in the weight room to prevent unwarranted soreness, are two general rules I would use when training these athletes.
I touched on the idea of plateauing and detraining in the introduction. This is because the body requires a different stimulus every at certain points to allow for recovery. Even the elite powerlifters do not lift heavy weight (90% 1RM <) all year round. Their body would never be allowed to recover and would never have to adapt to a new stimulus. I will discuss this topic in greater detail in the future.
In conclusion, aerobic conditioning can do wonders for athletes and non-athletes alike. Rather than avoiding aerobic conditioning, it should be planned for accordingly in order to enhance your body's ability to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself. Recovery is just as important as training, and the better your body is at recovering, the greater the demand you can place on your training.
-Thank you for your time! If you have any questions please let us know!
Coach Nate Garcia