Is it better to do cardio before or after weights?
Weights before cardio or cardio before weights? The argument over which is best has not gone away but perhaps the way we look at it has changed? Should I do weights before cardio or should I do cardio before weights, is a question that surely, most professional trainers worth their title would have been asked more times than they can count.
Arguments related to fat burning, muscle strengthening, increased calorie incineration and more make up the core grounds of the debate. Cardio before some say is a no-no because it increases muscle fatigue but some say weight training before cardio is equally crippling for endurance when performing cardio after.
But is either way better? Does it have anything to do with what you’re looking to gain in the long term when it comes to body goals, as opposed to questions about better performance? We’ve assembled the points to discuss and keep in mind whenever you think about doing cardio either before or, after using weights.
Remember to ask the right questions and have your goals in mind
Are you looking to build muscle or lose fat? Do you want to be bigger or leaner? Depending on what your workout goals are, how you approach doing cardio-based exercises as part of your workout should, differ considerably.
How serious you are about training and exercising is going to be a factor. If you’re not a particularly motivated person when it comes to lifting weights or, going for a run, then you will need to ask yourself serious questions about what you want to get out of working out. It is important to have your goals firmly established beforehand as this will help you build a workout regime that suits you and at a pace you’re comfortable with. Throwing yourself headfirst into working out for the sake of it isn’t going to achieve half as much as having a clear set of pre-defined goals as this will bring you balance and structure to each workout session.
Now let’s move on and look more specifically at the role cardio plays in working out and how its results might differ before or after weight training.
How often should you do cardio?
If burning fat is your goal then most fitness professionals agree that cardio is the way to go. The more of it you do, the more fat you’ll burn off more quickly and move you that little bit closer to your body goals! At the same time, if you want to get more fit from the cardiovascular sense, more cardio is always going to be the way forward to improving your cardiovascular fitness. To that extent, it is always good to try some form of cardio each day to not only improve your fitness in this area but to also sustain it. No matter what your goals are body-wise, it is advisable to stay away from the misguided notion that you should never do cardio.
Arguments about doing less-to-no cardio to achieve better results for both maintaining and building muscle exist, as do arguments for doing cardio every day. But, it is important to remember that everyone’s bodies are different and finding a balance to any training or workout regime, is crucial to prevent yourself from getting injured. To that end, starting by pursuing extremes - whether they are all cardio or no cardio – is not the way for any individual to approach working out and the same should be said for trainers. What your client wants and their goals are important but, trainers are obligated to make sure they set their clients down the right path, and do not look to encourage extreme ideas.
Weights before cardio - is that an option?
Should I do cardio before or after lifting weights? As mentioned earlier, it depends on what your goals are. Before you contemplate doing weights before cardio ask yourself; do you want to build muscle or burn fat?
When it comes to building and strengthening muscles it is arguably better to do weights before cardio. The more you exercise before lifting weights or any kind of heavy training, the faster your muscles will tire.This comes as a result of your body's muscle generating force capacity being depleted as a result of burning stores of fat and carbohydrate it would normally use for this purpose by doing cardio first. On the upside, this also makes weights before cardio a great way to burn through fat in any post-weights cardio session, as a result.
You will find it very difficult to build and strengthen muscles if you’re tired and this then opens you up to the possibility of causing yourself an injury if you train too hard. To that end, heavy cardio sessions before weights is not a good idea but, lifting weights before a cardio exercise or workout can have its drawbacks. If you were weight training before a race, your endurance and running form could suffer as a result of the increased muscle strain and fatigue brought about by said weight training. This will again, leave you more prone to injury as a result of muscle fatigue, so make sure you’re getting in decent rest and recovery time afterwards if you do weights before a heavy cardio exercise.
Cardio before weights - when is that good?
Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with cardio before lifting weights providing you do not exercise too much that those fat reserves we mentioned earlier run out too quickly. As soon as they’re gone, your muscles will struggle to cope with the strain of whatever workout you’re doing, but that doesn’t mean starting a workout with cardio is all bad. A light cardio session before lifting weights can be a great way to warm the muscles in preparation for weight training, or if you want to get a six-pack. Alternatively, if your main body goals are to increase cardiovascular fitness or lose fat, then starting any workout with cardio is necessary to increase cardiovascular fitness or burn fat off faster.
Although it might seem like you have to look at always alternating between cardio or weight/heavy training exercises, we know this isn’t the case. High-Intensity Interval Training or Boot Camp based workouts are great ways to combine cardiovascular intense exercises with strength-based ones to deliver results more quickly than traditional workout programs that alternate between exercises each day.
Don't forget about the Epoc
For those wondering what Epoc is, after a workout, your body continues to burn additional calories for up to 48 hours. This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and is a result of your body needing energy to repair your muscles after you're done exercising them
Epoc occurs at a much higher rate after intense weight-training than after low-intensity, steady-state cardiovascular training like jogging. As a result, increased cardiovascular training before weight training will always result in less energy spared to help with the recovery of your muscles from the effects of weight training. Ultimately this will lead to less calorie incineration with each weight training exercise, and will likely only end up hampering your attempts to build muscle. However, certain studies have shown that cardio training after weight training can lead to increased calorie incineration and help you burn through fat faster.
The bottom line: know your goals
So should you do cardio before or after weights? As mentioned in our first paragraph it comes down to what you’re hoping to achieve. For many people, building muscle and losing fat is a shared goal, in which case you’ll have to work even harder to maintain a healthy balance between cardio and strength-based workouts.
Keep in mind that if you’re looking to build muscle that:
- You can perform light cardio sessions before weight training to warm up your muscles but not tire them out.
- A heavy cardio session before weight training will leave you more tired and prone to muscle fatigue/injury.
- A post-weight-training cardio exercise or workout can still be draining but will help you burn through fat faster.
If you’re looking to burn through fat quicker or improve your cardiovascular fitness:
- Remember that heavy weight training before heavy cardio can also increase fatigue and put more strain on muscles.
- It is important to rest accordingly after heavy weight training before heavy cardio to prevent injury.
- EPOC occurs at a lower rate after lower-state low-intensity cardio exercises so you’ll need to up the intensity of your cardio exercises to burn more fat over time.