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Concurrent training: Does cardio affect muscle mass and strength gains?

by P. Debraux | 24 October 2023

concurrent training, cardio, strength, hypertrophy, muscle mass, gains, health, training, sport, science

Concurrent training consists of developing, in the same training cycle, both cardiovascular endurance components (commonly known as cardio) and those related to muscular strength. When practiced simultaneously, cardio and strength training offer a holistic approach to physical training, aimed at both athletic performance and improved health. Cardio primarily promotes adaptations at central (heart) and peripheral (capillarization) levels, but also metabolic changes at skeletal muscle level, such as increased mitochondrial density. Regular strength training, on the other hand, leads to muscle growth, increased strength and power, while strengthening the bone, tendon and ligament systems.

From a long-term health perspective, training these two components is important, as these activities induce, to a certain extent, distinct adaptations and benefits for health. We know that good cardio is vital for life expectancy. And in the last decade or so, skeletal muscle has attracted attention for its role as a secretory organ releasing cytokines, known as myokines, and thus exerting effects on other organs. Moreover, muscle strength and power are crucial in the elderly, as they are linked to increased mobility, reduced risk of falls and fewer fall-related injuries. This underlines the importance of muscle mass and function in ensuring good physical health and independence in everyday activities.

In regard of performance, many sports often require relatively advanced training of these two components. As a result, not only athletes but also fitness enthusiasts often combine cardio and strength training. However, numerous studies have reported that aerobic training can hinder the development of maximum strength and muscle mass, when the overall total training volume is high. Other studies with lower volumes observed no difference. Specific information is therefore needed on the compatibility of combined cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength training on adaptations to maximum strength, explosive strength and hypertrophy. In addition, it is necessary to identify other factors likely to influence the results of concurrent training, such as the type of cardio training, training modalities, exercise order, session frequency, age and training level.

The Study

To find out more and provide more recent and reliable information on the subject, an international team of researchers carried out a meta-analysis to assess the compatibility of concurrent training versus strength training alone on maximal strength, explosive strength and muscle mass.

To do this, the researchers analyzed the results of 43 studies involving 1090 people and comparing concurrent training (590 people) and strength training (500 people). Among these studies, cycling was the most common cardio training, with 24 studies against 16 for running. The remaining 3 studies used a combination of running/cycling, rowing and continuous leg extension. Sub-analyses were carried out to examine the influence of training modality, training type, exercise sequence, training frequency, age and training status.

Results & Analyzes

The main results of this meta-analysis show that concurrent cardiovascular endurance and strength training does not interfere with the development of maximal strength and muscle hypertrophy compared with strength training alone. However, the development of explosive strength appeared to be negatively affected by concurrent training. This negative effect was exacerbated when concurrent training was performed in the same session, regardless of the order of exercises, compared to cardio and strength training being separated by at least 3 hours. No significant effect was found for other factors, such as type of aerobic training (cycling or running), frequency of combined training (> 5 vs. < 5 weekly sessions), training status (untrained or active) and average age (< 40 or > 40).

Although various moderating factors such as training frequency and type, age and training level were analyzed, they did not significantly influence adaptations in strength or muscle hypertrophy. Some studies indicated that in trained individuals, concurrent training had a negative impact on maximal strength performance, which was not the case for moderately trained individuals and beginners. However, this interference disappeared when cardio and strength sessions were performed separately.

To explain a possible mechanism of interference, most studies have relied on cell or rodent models indicating inhibition of mTOR signaling by AMPK following aerobic exercise. However, human studies have not confirmed these findings when examining AMPK activation following concurrent training. AMPK phosphorylation increases following cardio training, but this does not appear to affect gains in muscle hypertrophy compared to strength training alone.

Practical Applications

According to the results of this meta-analysis, training combining cardio (such as cycling or running) and strength training would not hinder muscle growth or overall development of maximal strength, regardless of exercise order, frequency of weekly sessions, age or training level. However, it's worth noting that if you're aiming for explosive strength, it may be beneficial to separate your cardio and strength training sessions. This advice could also apply to well-trained individuals and maximum strength gains.

That being said, while for athletes it's imperative to seek out the best training arrangements and combinations, for the general public and most recreational exercisers, the overall health benefits of concurrent training seem to outweigh those of isolated cardio or strength training. Adding cardio to your program will not diminish muscle mass gains, but may on the contrary help you to recover better between strength training sessions, and improve your cardiovascular capacity, which is directly linked to life expectancy.


  1. Schumann M, Feuerbacher JF, Sünkeler M, Freitag N, Rønnestad BR and Doma K. Compatibility of Concurrent Aerobic and Strength Training for Skeletal Muscle Size and Function: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med 52 : 601-612, 2022.

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