Should You Do Cardio Before or After Weights?
The debate never ends, every other day I see gym-goers asking the same question again and again, "Do I do my cardio workout before or after my weight training?" and "Do I do it at a different time of the day or should I bundle it all together?" of course, a barrage of answers, almost all conflicting often results in a case of paralysis by analysis.
You don't know what to do so you end up doing nothing.
The minimalist will tell you that you can do them in the same workout, in whatever order you please - the 'get it done and you'll be fine mentality'.
Meanwhile, the pro bodybuilder stresses the importance to the enth degree that cardio must be done either 6 hours before or 6 hours after your weights session, otherwise you're wasting your time and the gains goblin will consume any and all gains you've been working for.
Both of those are not quite true, let's first of all take a look at the two different approaches before we delve into what I do and why.
Cardio Before Weights
Cardio, when performed correctly is exhausting.
If fat loss or explosive speed are your goals there's no reason to be performing hours of steady state cardio.
The research has been performed time and time again, and the consensus is the same each and every time - high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most effective method of training when it comes to burning fat.
10 - 15 minutes of alternating intervals between work and rest on your choice of cardio equipment - be it the rower, cross trainer, stair sprints or jump rope.
The problem here is if you're actually giving it your all when it comes to cardio you're going to be completely spent come the end of your high intensity intervals, if you're not... well you're not maintaining a high enough intensity or heart rate.
Performing weights when in such an exhausted state can quite often be a recipe for disaster, CrossFit is a perfect illustration of this.
Many CrossFit 'WODs' involve an athlete sprinting a mile or two before performing a series of heavy olympic lifts (think snatches, cleans, squats etc.)
Form depletes quickly when you're fatigued.
Wonky legs from sprinting will do you no favours when it comes time to hit your heavy squats on leg day...
Cardio After Weights
You've put in the hard work in the weights room, obliterating your legs with several variations of squats, the leg press and romanian deadlifts... and now you're supposed to run?!
Cardio is often frowned upon in general, let alone after performing a heap of heavy lifts.
This method makes sense, think about it...
When it comes to cardio, yes there is technique when it comes to running, rowing or jump rope, however the technicality of it is far less than that of an olympic based lift, especially when coupled with heavy weight.
Getting through a hard few rounds of HIIT after performing my weights is far more efficient than performing it before my weight training as I mentioned - the resistance, the difficulty, the motivation... it's all in the mind.
I highly recommend performing your cardio after weights for numerous reasons including:
- Your form on your weighted exercises will not suffer due to fatigue
- You'll be able to apply progressive overload and lift as heavy as possible
- You're far less likely to encounter injuries as you're not compromising form
- It's mentally easier to push yourself through cardio you can almost go onto auto-pilot mode fort after lifting weights as opposed to vice versa
How about the reasons for performing cardio first?
As far as I'm concerned, there are none.
Many pros and gym rats throw around the idea that your weights and cardio sessions absolutely MUST be performed at separate times during the day.
Unless you're Mark Wahlberg and have a dedicated aircraft hanger gym in your backyard this means you're going to be trekking it to the gym twice a day.
"If getting shredded is important to you, you'll get your ass to the gym twice a day!" - Instagram fitness models
The people advertising variations of the above quote do not understand opportunity cost.
Reading, writing and working on other projects occupy a large portion of my day - if there was a giant advantage in hitting cardio and weights seperately I would 110% commit to doing just that.
However, after going through numerous cutting phases during which I experiemented with cardio before weights (big mistake) cardio after weights as well as seperate cardio and weights sessions I found no noticable difference at all in terms of results.
Provided I was placing my body in the necessary caloric deficit each time and utilizing cardio as a tool to burn more calories I got the exact results I wanted and expected.
If you're inclined to go to the gym twice a day that's fine, but just know that you don't have to. Keep it simple - perform your high intensity interval training cardio workout after your weights and get it done.