You walk into the gym and make a beeline for the crowded cardio area, scanning the scene for an open treadmill or elliptical. Thank goodness, there’s an open machine, because you can’t miss cardio if you’re going to reach your goal weight, right?
You warm up with a walk, then jog at a moderate pace for the next 20 minutes. Now you’ve got a good sweat going, you’re feeling more pumped up from the endorphins and fast-paced jams in your headphones. Time for a little weight training….
But wait. Is it?
Have you ever thought about why you do your cardio first? If haven’t, it’s time, because you may be negatively impacting the quality of your workouts and diminishing your results.
Cardio Before or After Weight Training?
Should cardio be done before or after exercise? Everyone seems to have a different opinion. But what should YOU do?
It all depends on your goal. There’s no one-size fits all method, so this blog will break down the answer by your fitness goal to help bring clarity to this debated issue.
GOAL #1: WEIGHT LOSS AND/OR MUSCLE GAIN
It’s safe to say that most people at the gym are there for one of two purposes: weight loss and/or muscle gain. If that’s you, then do cardio after your workout.
Here are the reasons for post-workout cardio:
When you lift weights, your body uses its stores of glycogen for energy. Essentially, this means using carbohydrates already stored in your body. When glycogen runs out, then your body turns to fat for fuel. This means that when you perform cardio after your weight lifting session, you’re going to optimize fat-burn without compromising the intensity of lifting. Remember, weight lifting should be intense if you truly want to see changes in the shape of your body.
Intensity is what helps boost metabolism, build muscle, gain strength, essentially “get the beach body you’ve always wanted”. If you perform cardio first, followed by intense strength training, it’s likely you’ll burn through most of your glycogen and end up tapping into muscle for energy while lifting.
The exception may be if you aren’t weight lifting very intensely, for instance if you’re just starting to lift weights in which case you should progress slowly, or if you’re rehabilitating muscles. In this case, you can safely perform cardio after weights without worrying too much about muscle loss.
If you spend 30-60 minutes on cardio, and then go start lifting weights, you’re going to be short on energy for the hardest part of your workout. Again, weight lifting should be challenging to get the best results. Performing exercises properly takes a lot of focus and strength, so if you perform this after you’re already tired from cardio, your training will suffer, chance of injury increases, and it’s likely to take much longer to reach your goals.
GOAL #2: ENDURANCE
Another group of people at the gym are individuals training for a sport-specific endurance goal, such as a marathon, long-distance swimming, or triathlon. If this is you, weight training can improve your performance, but endurance is what most important. Performing weight training after cardio may improve your ability to perform hard work over a long period of time. For this reason, lifting weights when you’re already tired may be beneficial.
Additionally, endurance athletes may have a hard time keeping weight on if they’re regularly training at lengthy intervals and burning hundreds or even thousands of calories, so using fat for fuel isn’t such a big deal. Large, bulky muscles don’t usually benefit these types of sports either, so your weight training doesn’t need to be as intense.
Muscle-sparing is still important, however, so depending on the length of a workout, you may want to take a break to ingest some carbohydrates or a sports drink before weight lifting.
IS THERE ANOTHER OPTION?
What if you’re one of the many people who either 1) hates cardio or 2) doesn’t have time for weights and cardio at once, is there another option?
If you’re not working out for maximal strength and size, you could try two other options: 1) Split up your cardio and weight training and complete several hours apart, or 2) High intensity cardio bursts between exercises.
While weight training, it’s important to rest between sets to allow your muscles time to recover. This can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes depending on your goal, which is an opportunity to sneak in some cardio.
As mentioned before, this has the possibility of sapping energy, so if you’re working out intensely and find this negatively impacts your lifting, then it may not be the best choice for you. But if you have energy to spare, you can always try exercises like high knees, burpees, mountain climbers, sprints, jumping jacks, jumping rope, or battle ropes between sets.
WARM-UP/COOL DOWN CARDIO
As a final note, it is always good to start your workout with some cardio or any warm-up that gets your heart rate up slowly, and to end your workout with the same to bring your heart rate down slowly.