It’s a pretty simple question: should I do cardio before or after weights? The answer isn’t so simple though. In fact, there are a few different variables that effect whether it makes more sense to do cardio before weights or cardio after weight training. One of the biggest factors is your overall fitness goals. Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain strength, or are focused on conditioning and overall health determines the intensity of your workout routine which can in turn determine whether it makes sense to do cardio before or after weight training.
Cardio vs. Weight Training
In addition to fitness goals, the important variables to consider when deciding the order of cardio vs. weight training include:
- Intensity of each component: are you performing a simple aerobics routine of steady state cardio or high intensity interval training (HIIT)? Do you perform low rep, heavy lifting or high rep training to failure?
- Duration of each component: is cardio a marathon or short but intense session?
- Conditioning: how do your muscles feel after cardio vs. weights? What fatigues you more?
- Motivation/mindset: do you prefer to get one form of exercise done first? Are you more focused earlier in your workout or later?
Cardio Before Weights
Doing cardio before weight training was proven to be beneficial in a small study of ten men done by Brigham Young University. The findings are as follows:
- EPOC (the caloric after burn effect) was highest when cardio was done before weight training.
- Cardio after weight training was more physiologically difficult than cardio before weight training.
- The overall recommendation was to perform “aerobic exercise before resistance exercise when combining them into one exercise session.”
Far be it from me to believe a study of ten men constitutes a truth though. I would certainly agree that doing cardio before weights has some benefits, but I think the findings on fat burning may be questionable.
Cardio After Weights
Doing cardio after weight training has always seemed more practical to me. I like to make sure I have a high energy level so that I can lift heavy weights. In addition, heavy weight training requires coordination and focus. I tend to use cardio as my leg workout, but imagine trying to perform a set of heavy squats after a 45 minute cardio session. That being said, the inverse is also true in that trying to run after doing heavy squats isn’t the easiest thing in the world either.
Recommendations Based on Fitness Goals
While I believe in doing cardio after weights or even splitting cardio and weight training into separate workouts, here are my recommendations for exercise order based on common fitness goals:
- Increase muscle: cardio after weights; use high energy levels to maximize weight training workouts
- Increase cardiovascular endurance: cardio before weights; use high energy levels to maximize HIIT or marathon workouts
- Burn fat: it depends! Many beginners benefit from doing cardio before weight training because they can burn more calories by performing a longer cardio routine relative to a weight training routine which tends to fatigue them faster. However more advanced exercisers can get a nice release of HGH and fatty acids by performing resistance training and follow that up with cardio to burn the fatty acids in the bloodstream.
- Improve health: order has no impact when it comes to improving overall health
Cardio Before or After Weights
The bottom line is that there is no clear answer to the question: should I do cardio before or after weights? Cardio after weight training is more beneficial for increasing muscle size and strength, but cardio before weights can help improve cardiovascular endurance. Use your own unique goals and experiences to determine what feels best for your body. If you’re looking for a great cardio routine, I would highly recommend Visual Impact Cardio.