For generations, athletes have been posed with a tricky question: Should I lift weights before or after cardio?
This age old question has adamant supporters on both sides. Many doctors, nutritionists, and athletes defend cardio after weights and vice versa.
For lifters, it can be tempting to forego a regular cardio routine. After all, you’re not looking to lose any of those gains you worked so diligently for.
Then again, cardio is proven to have a number of positive impacts on your overall health that shouldn’t be ignored.
In reality, cardio and weight lifting can go hand in hand. It just requires a delicate approach.
We’ve got your answers. Here’s what you need to know about doing cardio after weights.
Why You Need Cardio
Let’s face it, cardio is no one’s favorite. Unless of course, you’re a marathon runner. But for us normal humans, cardio can be viewed as a nuisance and even a barrier to gaining muscle mass.
However, cardio plays an integral role in maintaining your overall health.
It can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and give you energy for daily activities. Additionally, cardio exercises burn over two-thirds more calories than anaerobic exercises.
You will be less fatigued and see improved recovery between workouts by implementing cardio into your routine.
So yes, you can still get shredded while implementing cardio into your daily routine.
You don’t need to run a 10K every day to get enough cardio.
Cardio frequency is going to depend on what your goals are and your level of conditioning.
However, you can follow a basic guide on cardio when weight lifting.
You should get one to three cardio sessions in per week. These can be anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour sessions.
Cardio can be anything from running to playing basketball or swimming. Try to keep your heart rate reasonable by going no more than 80 percent of your max heart rate during your activity.
You don’t want to expend all your energy on cardio. But you want to get in enough of a sweat that you feel accomplished.
Why You Should Do Cardio Before Weights
Okay, I’ve (somewhat) convinced you to do cardio.
Well, there’s a case to be made for doing both cardio before weight and cardio after weights.
First, let’s talk about doing cardio before lifting.
Cardio before lifting gives you the best chance to burn the most calories. One hour of cardio will burn more calories than one hour of lifting.
You’ll have the energy to expend more calories up front by getting your cardio out of the way first.
Also, cardio workouts put your body in an elevated state.
Your heart rate rises during cardio as your body works to burn calories. This puts your body in a heightened state even after you’re done working out.
Post cardio, your body can have elevated levels of testosterone that can lead to improved workouts.
Doing your weight lifting last can allow your body to be primed for muscle growth for a long period of time. This can help you maximize the results of a good lift.
Why You Shouldn’t Do Cardio Before Weights
As you can see, doing cardio first can be beneficial for your body.
It can also be detrimental.
A study found that aerobic exercise can impair the potential of strength endurance.
During the study, young athletes were not able to duplicate their full workouts after doing strenuous cardio. They were unable to match a number of reps they performed before a cardio workout after participating in a cardio exercise.
In another case, researchers evaluated the potential strength and power development of young men. They found that men to have worse strength gains when they did cardio before strength training.
The Science Behind It
Why? There are several factors.
For one, cardio contributes to depleted glycogen levels.
Doing cardio exerts a lot of energy. Your body gets the energy from glycogen.
Lifting doesn’t require as much glycogen as cardio does. Thus your workout can suffer because your glycogen may be low due to being burned out.
So if you exert all of your glycogen during cardio, it’s easier to get burned out during a heavy lifting session. This will especially show during maximum reps and longer sets.
Basically, you won’t have enough energy to get through a final push.
In addition, doing cardio first can hurt your ability to build muscle.
Cardio impacts your ability to synthesize protein. Your protein breakdown increases after cardio, making strength training less effective.
Why You Should Do Cardio After Weights
Weight lifting isn’t easy by any means. But there are some benefits to getting your lift out of the way before working on cardio.
You can use your glycogen for strength gains while still leaving some leftover energy for a decent cardio routine.
Weight lifting first can also result in better overall strength.
For one, your body generates more Adenosine triphosphate or ATP. This is the biochemical way in which your body stores and uses energy.
Basically, you’ll be at full strength during the muscle gaining portion of your workout because your energy levels will be higher.
You should easily be able to conquer a half hour or more of weight lifting before transitioning to cardio. That’s if you’re lifting session isn’t super high in intensity.
Another benefit is that after lifting your glycogen levels will be low and your body will be focused on burning fat. This is ideal because cardio can shed fat calories quickly.
The Downsides to Both
There are downsides to both strategies.
We’ve already mentioned that doing cardio first causes decreased weight lifting performance. However, doing cardio after weights can be detrimental too.
Studies have found that cardio exercises make the heart beat more times per minute after strength training. That means your body is going into overdrive to keep up with your level of exercise.
Basically, cardio after weight lifting is difficult. But you’re still going to be tired regardless of which routine you do first.
In addition, by doing both strength and endurance training you’re sending your body a confusing message.
By doing cardio first, your body will want to suppress hormones during your lift. By doing cardio after weights, your body will have to work harder and it can lead to a breakdown in muscle tissue.
In an ideal world, you can knock out cardio and weight lifting separately.
Best results are seen when strength and cardio training are conducted on separate occasions.
Experts suggest that you do cardio exercises on rest days. It’s recommended that if you’re lifting three to four times a week you sacrifice three days to getting in some form of cardio.In essence, your body isn’t fully equipped to take advantage of both types of exercise back to back.
You’ll still see yourself getting into better shape. But you won’t be reaching your full potential.
Sometimes it’s not possible to spread out your workouts across different days. Try giving yourself at least two to three hours rest between exercises.
This gives your body time to restore glycogen and other necessary energy.
It’s also important to replenish protein to prevent further breakdown.
You can do so by taking supplements or by paying close attention to your diet.
We don’t live in a perfect world. It’s understandable if you don’t have the time to commit to six or seven days of exercise per week.
But by separating your workouts you’re setting yourself up for the best chance for success.
What’s Your Goal?
As with any workout, it’s important to keep your goals in mind.
The takeaway from this information isn’t necessarily that doing cardio after weights is better.
It all boils down to your personal fitness goals. Are you looking to gain mass or endurance?
Doing cardio before weights is beneficial if you want to work on your overall endurance. Meanwhile, doing cardio after weights can be more beneficial in reducing fat and building muscle.
Essentially, whatever workout you do first is going to be more effective.
Be aware that not spacing out your workouts won’t lead to the best results.
Having said that, there’s evidence that cardio before weights and cardio after weights can still help you hit your fitness goals.
Some cardio and some weight lifting is better than none at all.
It’s tough to declare a true winner.You can see that there are multiple pros and cons for both methods.
However, the slight edge for strength trainers goes to doing cardio after weights.
This strategy gives you the best chance to maximize your performance and reach your strength training goals. Doing cardio first will still have a big impact. You’ll get greater endurance, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.
However, you won’t have the full energy to focus on gaining muscle mass. If you’re crunched for time, get your lift out of the way and cool down with a light cardio routine. Your muscles will thank you later.There you have it. Cardio and lifting can coexist.
Contact us for more information on how you can best meet your fitness goals.