The most common question I get asked is: Should I do cardio before or after weights?
When I first started working out, I would always try to get my cardio in before my weight session because, to be honest, I hated cardio and just wanted to get it over with. After I got more serious about working out and meeting my goals, I became more interested in what the most efficient way truly is. Should I continue doing cardio before lifting, or should I switch it up?
I have heard both sides of the argument and although both have their pros and cons, I believe in one way more than the other from first-hand experience. Let me explain.
What you decide to do first is strictly based off your personal goals. If your main goal is to improve endurance and lose weight, you will probably have the best luck doing cardio before lifting weights. If you’re focusing on building muscle, you might have the greatest success by lifting before doing your cardio.
Let me back up and go into more detail as to how I came up with this theory…
Weight Training VS Cardio
Weight training and cardiovascular activity are two different types of physical activity. They both have a different effect on our muscular cells and vital organs such as our heart.
Cardio is always an essential part of any training routine because it increases our endurance levels and strengthens our heart. At the end of the day, having a strong and healthy heart will lessen the chance for many diseases. Cardio should always be an important staple to everyone’s life, no matter what your goals are.
Weight training on the other hand, is equally as important in order to build muscle which in return will burn more calories. By having more muscle mass on your body, your body will naturally burn more calories (even at rest. Winning!!).
If your main goal is to lose weight
If your main goal is to lose weight / body fat, you could go the route of doing cardio before lifting. The reason I say this is because you want to start your workout with what will help you reach your goal the fastest. When trying to lose weight, cardio is crucial. You want to start your workout by doing cardio because at this time you’ll have the most energy and your glycogen stores will not be depleted yet. An intense cardio session can totally or almost completely deplete your glycogen stores and cause your body to tap into carbohydrates and fat as the next source of energy.
If your main goal is to build muscle
If your main goal is to build muscle, you should lift before doing cardio. You will be able to put your full energy into the goal that you’re most interested in, which in this case is to increase muscle mass. You may have heard this saying before, but it’s true: “The last 2-3 reps are where your muscle is changing & growing.” I’m talking about those last 2-3 reps of a set where you can barely lift the weight and your body is shaking. THOSE are the reps that will cause your body to change. It will force your muscle fibers to tear and have to rebuild themselves stronger than they were before. When you lift before doing cardio, you have that extra energy to concentrate on those important last 2-3 reps of each set. If you were to have done cardio before lifting, you just may not have enough gas in the engine to push yourself as hard as you need to.
Here’s an example…If you were trying to build muscle but had a routine of always doing a grueling 45 minute cardio session before your lift, you can bet that your protein synthesis will drop low and at that point protein breakdown will increase. What does this mean? You can say goodbye to that hard earned muscle! This means that your energy is coming from your protein base which you need to maintain your muscle. This will cause your muscle to slowly break down. As any fitness or bikini competitor would tell you, this is their WORST nightmare! Muscle is hard to grow (especially for us women) so when you have it, you need to maintain it!!!
Another beneficial part of lifting before cardio is the fact that your glycogen stores will be partially depleted before even starting your cardio. As we all know, we do cardio to lower body fat. If we have already depleted some of our glycogen stores through our weight training session, our calories are forced to come from carbs and fat almost immediately starting our cardio. Basically, you’ll burn all these extra calories from all the right places if you do it this way!
When I was training for my bikini competition, I followed the rule above (weights before cardio) and it worked like a charm. By focusing mostly on weights with some cardio after, my body transformed exactly like I wanted it to.
Let’s be real for a minute…
Lots of girls, including myself at times, will go into the gym to lift and really not give it 100% all-out effort. I’ll be the first to call myself out on this. I have days where I just half-a$$ my lift so that I can get out of the gym and onto other “adulting” responsibilities. Life simply gets in the way sometimes and I tend to just go through the motions. In situations like this, where I lifted but didn’t lift to the intensity that I should have. AKA, if I’m not crawling out of the gym because my body feels like jello or feeling like I just got run over by a truck, the order of cardio before or after weights isn’t AS important.
In situations like this, where your intensity isn’t as high and you are not completely depleting your glycogen stores from one type of activity, it’s truly okay to do whatever way you’re more comfortable with doing. The most important thing for most people is just getting your workout in and incorporating both weight training and cardio into your routine. It may even be a good idea to just switch up what you do first every week. This will keep your body guessing and continuing to make changes.
In the end, it’s truly based on your goals and your intensity level. As for me, I personally lift before cardio because I have seen the best results this way but I’m not saying it’s the only way to go. It’s just what works for me and scientifically it makes the most sense based on my goals.
What do you think about this topic? Do you prefer to do cardio before or after weights? Leave a comment below!
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