Aerobic and resistance exercise training results in distinct structural changes of the heart. The mechanics of how cardiac cells adapt to resistance training and the benefits to cells when combining aerobic and resistance exercise remains largely unknown. The purpose of this study was to compare mechanical adaptations of skinned cardiac fiber bundles after chronic resistance, aerobic and combined exercise training in rats. We hypothesized that differences in mechanical function on the fiber bundle level coincide with differences previously reported in the structure of the heart.
Twelve-week-old rats were assigned to (i) an aerobic running group (n = 6), (ii) a ladder climbing resistance group (n = 6), (iii) a combination group subjected to aerobic and resistance training (n = 6), or (iv) a sedentary (control) group (n = 5). Echocardiography was used to measure cardiac structural remodeling. Skinned cardiac fiber bundles were used to determine active and passive force properties, maximal shortening velocity, and calcium sensitivity.
Aerobically trained animals had 43%–49% greater ventricular volume and myocardial thickness, and a 4%–17% greater shortening velocity and calcium sensitivity compared with control group rats. Resistance-trained rats had 37%–71% thicker ventricular walls, a 56% greater isometric force production, a 9% greater shortening velocity, and a 4% greater calcium sensitivity compared with control group rats. The combination exercise–trained rats had 25%–43% greater ventricular volume and myocardial wall thickness, a 55% greater active force production, a 7% greater shortening velocity, and a 60% greater cross-bridge cooperativity compared with control group rats.
The heart adapts differently to each exercise modality, and a combination of aerobic and resistance training may have the greatest benefit for cardiac health and performance.