Endurance and Strength Together Are Effective: Adding Sprints Does Nothing
Many gym-goers are concerned with how much cardio they do because they believe it will hinder their strength or size development. In reality this seems to be false. Although doing a lot of cardio might slow you down a little, as long as you avoid overtraining, adding in aerobic cardio especially will only aid in your efforts for success. It may also help you get fitter and healthier.
What kind of cardio and how much of it are the questions that are controversial. In general it does seem that adding variety to your training will only add to your success, despite the common fear to the contrary. Because many studies on the topic look at a combination of strength training and steady state cardio, researchers in a study published this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning wondered how adding a few sprints on a bike would affect strength and power.
Adding sprints seemed like a good idea because variety is good and there's really no middle ground in a routine that focuses on strength and steady cardio alone. In the study, the participants doing the sprints worked out for an average of about one minute longer than the group not doing the sprints. Otherwise, their workout of strength training and cardio were the same. The training took place over about twelve weeks, although testing added another week and a half onto that time period.
Ultimately, there were no differences in performance between the groups at the end. There was a trend towards better jumping results in the group that had the interval cycling, but it wasn't significant. Adding the sprints didn’t seem to do much. The researchers were only examining the results on strength and power. They did notice an improvement in each of these for both groups, so again, training both strength and endurance together is efficacious. However, there didn’t seem to be any difference when adding in the sprints.
In my opinion, one reason why the addition of sprints might not have made any difference was the lack of relative variety in the program. Despite the sound of it, there was less variety than it may seem. Although a good amount of the strength training was with single-digit maximums, much of it was using 10, 12, and even 20 rep maxes and with fairly standard rest periods, which is far from high intensity. The steady state cardio sessions were only done for 15 minutes, so again, they were pretty short and perhaps more intense than a 30 minute or longer cardio session. I’m curious about what the difference between programs might be if there was a greater disparity between the strength and cardio aspects of this workout. In that case, the sprints might truly be filling in a void.
Ultimately, at least in the context of this type of program, you might be better off saving your energy and that extra minute and leaving off the sprints. If your program is different from the above, experiment a little with training multiple systems in the same workout. You may get better results if you do.
1. John McNamara, et. al., “Effect of concurrent training, flexible nonlinear periodization, and maximal-effort cycling on strength and power,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(6), 2013
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