Ask the Experts Series: Fred Schuster MA, STS Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Question: Is there a single piece of exercise equipment that combines the optimum workout for both cardiopulmonary health and strength training? - Jerry C.

Answer: Unfortunately, the answer is no. There is no single piece of exercise equipment or single activity that will adequately develop both cardiopulmonary (aerobic) health and muscular strength and endurance simultaneously.

Exercise scientists have studied this question for years and found that when you combine aerobic training and strength training in a single activity, you compromise the adequate development of each one. In other words, the optimal development of each element suffers.

For optimal development of cardiopulmonary (aerobic) health, muscular strength and endurance, it is best to separate them into two distinct workouts.

The physiological reason for this lies in the type of energy source your body utilizes to fuel activity.

When you start an activity, the body searches for fuel to support that specific activity. The body has three main energy sources at its disposal: carbohydrate, fat, and protein. While protein can be used as a fuel source, especially in long-duration endurance exercise, it is not a desirable situation.

Protein is more important for maintaining the structural integrity of your body. While its primary goal is to build and maintain muscle, it is also involved in the production of collagen and is necessary for healthy hair, skin, and nails.

Additionally, it is needed to manufacture red and white blood cells that help to maintain and regulate healthy immune and cardiovascular systems. The main point is that protein should never be your primary fuel source.

That leaves carbohydrate and fat as your two primary fuel sources.

When you perform short-duration, high-intensity exercises, such as weight training, your body preferentially uses stored carbohydrates to fuel that activity. It also preferentially recruits highly-glycolytic, fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are specifically designed to utilize that carbohydrate. All of this takes place in an anaerobic environment, meaning that energy production occurs in the absence of oxygen.

When you weight train, you are specifically using and improving your body’s anaerobic energy system.

When you perform long-duration, moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, your body preferentially uses stored body fat to fuel that activity. It also preferentially recruits highly-oxidative slow-twitch muscle fibers, specifically designed to utilize that fat.

All of this takes place in an aerobic environment, meaning that energy production occurs in the presence of oxygen, so when you walk, jog, bicycle, or swim, you are specifically using and improving your body’s aerobic energy system.

Remember, it’s like apples and oranges. Each body system is different and designed to respond to the specific demands placed upon them. It is easy to see why attempting to improve cardiopulmonary (aerobic) health, muscular strength, and endurance on a single piece of equipment, or in a single activity, is unproductive.

To optimize development, it is always best to perform separate cardiopulmonary (aerobic) and muscular strength and endurance exercises. 

For more information on Cape Regional Miracles Fitness, or to speak to one of their medical fitness professionals, call (609) 886-7070 or visit their Rio Grande location in the Joe Canal’s Plaza,408 Rio Grande Ave.