CARDIO BEFORE WEIGHT TRAINING
What a good question! To which, I have an answer you may not be expecting! Let’s break down if it is more effective to do cardio prior to a weight training workout or to hold off until after.
I’ve been receiving this question a lot as it relates to the Cardio + Ab Add On Plan. That’s something new I wanted to add into the Weight Training Plan 2.0 because I feel that both cardio and ab training kind of deserve their own plan and approach. My idea was that we will hit our daily weight training workouts then if we have the time and/or desire, we will do either a cardio or ab add on workout.
So, is there a particular order to weights and cardio that is most effective for seeing results?! Below I will share both the pros and cons to cardio before and after weight training. And, I’ll give my two cents on what I find to work best.
WARM UP – cardio prior to weight training is a great way to warm up the body. While we are engaging in cardiovascular training, we are increasing our heart rate. An increased heart rate leads to increased blood flow. This is beneficial for lifting because blood contains oxygen and other nutrients to muscle cells and helps flush toxins out. So, not only are you providing your body the benefits of cardio, you’re also aiding in your weighted workout.
FOCUS – there’s no science to this one… just something I notice personally. Transitioning from a chaotic, busy world to a focused workout isn’t always easy. If I’m feeling extra distracted, I notice beginning my workout with cardio helps me focus on my workout. If you struggle to let your day go and enjoy a workout, you may benefit from cardio prior to lifting.
MAY TIRE YOU OUT – where are results made? In my opinion, muscle goals all come in those last reps of the set. You know when your muscles start to burn… your legs get shaky… you want to stop… but, you say to yourself “just push through 3 more reps” and YOU DO! That is where I feel getting fit happens.
Now, if you just completed an intense cardio workout and then transition into weight training, are you as likely to push through and hit those last few crucial reps?! Maybe. Maybe not. For me personally, I can push through if I completed a lighter LISS cardio session, but a HIIT cardio workout (if completed prior) will fatigue me to the point that my weight training workouts intensity has to lower a bit.
BURNS GLYCOGEN – glycogen is the body’s way to store carbohydrates. It’s important to remember that the body doesn’t view calories/carbohydrates as food; instead, the body sees what we ingest as energy! When we are taking in more calories/carbohydrates than the body needs to pump back out for energy, the body actually stores them in the form of glycogen to be used for energy at a later time.
During an intense workout, especially HIIT or weight training, glycogen is key! Once we deplete our glycogen stores, the body has a more difficult time pushing through. So, this glycogen point relates to the above “con” of weight training prior to cardio because depleted glycogen may really tire you out for your lifting. Everyone has different endurance levels, so you may be someone who can handle cardio prior and maintain your energy, especially if it’s a lighter weight training workout. If you’re focusing on increasing in strength, this may be something you want to consider.
CARDIO AFTER WEIGHT TRAINING
BURNS MORE FAT – let’s circle back to the glycogen discussion. The body has a preferred order in which it uses stored “energy” to complete tasks, such as working out. After a weight training workout, our glycogen stores are pretty depleted. This means our body will turn to other stores for energy.. like stored fat! Some people find that weight training first followed by cardio is a better option for promoting fat loss.
The science I’ve read on this goes both ways. Some studies find that burning stored fat happens a lot more effectively this way while others show it doesn’t make all that much of a difference. For my take on this, jump down to the next section.
IT GETS SKIPPED – my hesitation with always putting something at the end of a workout is that when we are short on time or low on energy, it gets skipped. I always set a goal to stretch at the end of my workout. If I’m being honest, that happens about 20% of the time because I check my watch and want to get onto the next part of my day. Do you ever feel that way too?! If you’re like me, you may find it beneficial to sometimes do cardio prior and sometimes do cardio after your weighted workout.
MY TAKE ON WHICH IS “BETTER”
First off, there is no better. Better is going to be whichever you prefer because that is what you’ll work hardest at. My mom used to tell me to do my homework right when I came home from school but I hated that. When I tried doing so, I couldn’t focus. If I took a 30 minute break after school to relax and eat then do homework, I was way more efficient. The same goes for cardio before or after weights… you know what feels better to you.
For me, I prefer LISS prior and HIIT after. LISS 20 minutes and under doesn’t fatigue me all that much. However, HIIT cardio does! I actually think HIIT is more effective after weights because it aids in further muscle fatigue. If you’ve done my workouts, you know I like to make you sprint after leg day (lol, I really am cruel) but it becomes the best workout ever! That’s just what works best for me but feel free to tweak to your preference.
Bottom line.. there isn’t a set answer to this. Hopefully by reading through some of those pros and cons, you’ll be able to say “oh that’s me” or “oh yes, that’s where I struggle” so that you can make the best decision for you and your workouts!
WHAT ABOUT ABS??
The Add On Plan that pairs with our new Weight Training Plan 2.0 has both cardio AND ab workouts, so I want to mention a little something about ab training as well. Most women I know (including me!) train abs at the very end of their workout. However, when I can remember, I have 2 little switch ups that I want to share with you.
1) ABS BEFORE CARDIO – you won’t notice these workouts until we get to phase 2 of the Weight Training Plan 2.0 but there will be 2 days per week of cardio + ab only workouts. Again, most women would do cardio then abs. BUT I actually like to do abs first on occasion. I find that if I train abs then do my cardio, my entire core is engaged and working even harder during that cardio workout. It almost extends the ab workout. Try that out a time or two and see if you like it as much as I do.
2) FOCUS ON ABS PRIOR TO LIFTING – on upper body lifting days, I’ll sometimes do abs first. The occasional issue I encounter when I weight lift first then do abs is that I’m so tired and mentally checked out… my ab workouts get grazed over. I’ll do half the workout or just half ass it lol. So, on upper body weighted workout days, I’ll try to remember to start with abs to give that part of the workouts some extra focus. The reason I don’t do this on leg day is because leg day requires my full 100% and I’m usually pretty pumped to hit legs right when I start.
Photography by Jennifer Mathews Photography