Should You Do Cardio Before or After Working Out With Weights?

When is the best time to do your cardio? Don't listen to the amateurs in the gym...get the honest answers that will make a real difference. Get the maximum benefit from your cardio.

Cardio Lowers Your Glycogen Levels

Strength training is very intense. It takes a lot of energy, especially if you are training hard. Glycogen is the stored form of sugar in the body and your body's primary source of energy. If you do cardio before working out with weights, your energy levels will be very low. You won’t be able to lift as much weight and you probably will have a shorter workout. This is an undesirable situation because muscle burns calories 24 hours a day.

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Cardio generally burns calories only while you are doing the exercise. By training first, you have all the energy you need to lift weights at maximum intensity. During weight training, you don’t deplete glycogen stores as easily as you do during cardio. By training with weights first, you can train hard and still have energy left over to do your cardio workout. The added benefit of this is that you have slightly depleted your glycogen stores and at some point your body turns to stored fat to help you complete your cardio workout. Doing cardio after training results in more muscle and less fat.

Cardio Releases Cortisol

Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that can hinder your attempts to gain muscle. Although this hormone is necessary for the process of energy production, too much of it is catabolic. When cortisol is high, it leads to the breakdown of muscle tissue and in bodybuilding that is never the goal. Both weight training and cardiovascular exercises raise cortisol levels, but weight training raises cortisol levels and testosterone, which enables you to complete your weight workout successfully.

If you do cardio exercise before weight training, cortisol is released. After it’s released it starts breaking down muscle tissue and leaves you with less energy to complete your workout with weights. By saving your energy until after strength training, you eliminate the risk of losing muscle through cortisol’s catabolic effects.

Burn More Calories After the Workout

Strength training doesn’t burn lots of calories during the workout, but it burns calories for many hours after your workout. Your body is struggling to build muscle and it needs the energy to do that. When you train with weights and then train with cardio you are giving your body more work to do. Not only does it need to repair torn muscle fibers, but it also wants to replenish your glycogen stores and that’s not going to be an easy feat.

When you finish both the weight and cardio workout, and then have a meal, your body will focus on building muscle. Your body’s first priority will be to keep you strong and healthy. So if you eat plenty of protein – moderate amounts of carbohydrates and vegetables – that food will not be stored as glycogen but will immediately go towards muscle repair. The effect of doing cardio after a workout is so powerful that it can increase your metabolism for up to 48 hours after your workout.


Prevent Injury

As we have already established, doing cardio before weight training lowers your energy levels. Weight training combined with low energy is a recipe for disaster. Gaining lean mass is always paramount in your mind. You’ll begin to workout, attempt to lift a heavy weight and something will happen. If you’re lucky you just won’t be able to lift the weight. If you’re unlucky, you’ll lift the weight with bad form and injure yourself. An injury can put you out of commission for a few days, weeks, or for life.

It’s just not worth it.

When is the best time to do your cardio? Don't listen to the amateurs in the gym...get the honest answers that will make a real difference. Get the maximum benefit from your cardio.

Get the Balance Right

Save the cardio until after you've finished working out with weights and you will prevent unwanted injuries. There is no doubt that cardio workouts need to be incorporated into your exercise routine. Cardio helps your heart, helps you burn fat and just makes you feel good. But if you do your cardio exercises after weight training you'll be assured that you have adequate glycogen levels, you won't release excess cortisol, you'll burn more calories and prevent injury. Save the cardio for last, it will be worth the wait.

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Joe Bensam
 

I am an experienced bodybuilder and qualified personal trainer who specializes in strength training, conditioning and building muscle. I am committed to helping others improve their health, fitness and build through good advice on workouts and nutrition.