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Categories: Cardio Training

Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

By John Leyva / May 5, 2017

One of the most common questions I get is, “Should I do cardio before or after weights?”

While the long answer is “it depends”, most people will be better off completing cardio after weights whether their primary goal is muscle gain, strength gain, or fat loss.

7 Reasons To Do Cardio After Weights:

1. Increased Energy For Lifting Weights

During exercise, the body uses stored energy in our muscles called glycogen. If glycogen levels are low, it affects our energy levels for workouts. For example, if you’ve ever gone on a low carb diet and experienced less energy during workouts, then you know what it feels like to have low glycogen levels. The same phenomenon happens if you do cardio before strength training – you use up your body’s preferred energy source for intense exercise. If you use up that energy, it won’t be available when you need to lift heavy weights, making a goal of building muscle, increasing strength, or maximizing calorie burn through weight lifting compromised.

2. Favorable Changes in Blood PH

Completing cardio can make your blood more acidic. As you exercise, energy gets broken down and utilized to make lactic acid. Although lactic acid helps to replenish your fuel sources for continued exercise, it does so by creating excessive hydrogen ions. These hydrogen ions need to be buffered, which your body handles at an ineffective rate, lowering your pH (which makes your blood plasma more acidic). This acidic environment causes muscular fatigue and performance drops. So besides using the energy you need for heavy resistance training, doing cardio first also makes it harder for you to contract the muscles.

3. Favorable Hormonal Changes

By completing cardio first, cortisol is released without a concurrent increase in testosterone. Cortisol breaks down muscle in order to give your body the continued energy to workout. This works fine when doing cardiovascular exercises and happens extensively in long duration cardio (think marathons), but is detrimental to building muscle if there’s not a concurrent increase in testosterone. For example, when you’re strength training, cortisol levels will go up but so will testosterone levels. This hormonal shift not only allows you to have energy for the workout, but also helps to rebuild muscle after the session. Without these changes in hormonal profiles, it becomes much harder to gain muscle.

4. Clear mTOR Pathways

Another nail in the coffin for doing cardio before strength training is the inhibition of the mTOR pathways. Many people have not heard of the mTOR pathway, but in essence, this is the pathway that tells your muscles to grow. In fact, one of the biggest genetic differences between those that gain muscle easily and those that really struggle to gain muscle size is due to the differences of expression for the mTOR pathway. In other words, “genetic freaks” have easy access to this pathway, whereas “hardgainers” don’t. When you do cardio with strength training and especially before strength training, this muscle building pathway becomes inhibited, making an already difficult situation that much harder. 1

5. Greater Afterburn Effect

The workout that causes the largest afterburn effect will be the most effective for fat loss because you will
not only burn calories during your workout, but also for up to 48 hours afterwards. While the research is inconclusive (some studies show the afterburn effect to be greater with cardio before weights), an intense metabolic resistance training workout can create a very large afterburn effect and increase your cardiovascular health. A traditional bodybuilding workout on the other hand will not create a very significant afterburn effect so in that case, cardio before lifting may make sense from a fat loss perspective.

6. Exercise Feels Harder Doing Cardio First

The “perceived exertion” rates (how hard exercise feels) is higher when you do cardio before strength training – even if the results you get from both routines are the same. This simply means that if you do the same routine, but do cardio first, it will feel much harder then if you did the same exact workout by doing the strength portion first. In other words, all of those reasons listed above truly do make your workouts feel harder. The sad part is that this method is not more effective for fat loss or muscle gain than if you simply did the strength first. 2

7. Less Risk of Injury Due to Fatigue

If you try maxing out on squats after an intense cardio session, you may be mentally and physically fatigued, which increases the chance of injury. Besides needing the mental fortitude to put a heavy weight on your back after cardio, you will also need the help of a number of smaller “assistance muscles” to help with the movement. These may have become fatigued from the cardio beforehand. By tiring these stabilizer and assistance muscles before performing heavy strength training, you risk the chance of completing an exercise incorrectly or with improper form.

Why Not Combine Cardio and Weights?

If you’re truly pressed for time, you can combine strength and cardio movements. An example would be to complete two strength training exercises – think lunges and cable rows – followed by bike sprints for 30 seconds. By combining the strength and cardio portion, you are satisfying the need to create damage to the muscle, keep your heart rate high throughout the session and have more spikes to your heart rate creating a greater oxygen debt.

The Wrap Up

While there are several benefits for lifting weights before cardio, at the end of the day, the best fat loss plan is the one you will stick to and that continues to produce results. If you enjoy completing cardio first, then by all means go for it! I would caution using the “weights after cardio” approach, however, if your main goal is building muscle.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Show 2 References

  1. Nader GA. Concurrent strength and endurance training: from molecules to man. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(11):1965-70.
  2. Wilson JM, Marin PJ, Rhea MR, Wilson SM, Loenneke JP, Anderson JC. Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(8):2293-307.

66Comments

  • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

    @tane- It sounds like you are a bit confused. I would suggest checking out my Get Lean Guide https://www.builtlean.com/workout-plan/ and for a structured program, you can check this out https://www.builtlean.com/workout-plan/. Finally, we have over 200 articles so far that you can easily sift through by using the search bar at the top right hand part of the site.

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  • Suzie says:

    OMG! I have been doing cardio before weight training for months, and noticed I have gotten more toned, but I don't feel as if I have the energy to lift weights after I do cardio until I read your article. I gave it a shot doing lots of 8 pound reps and squats then went to cardio and burned every single energy I had. I knew this felt right. Thanks!! I can finally lose some body fat!!!

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  • Ken says:

    As a triathlete does this hold true for me when I'm trying to build endurance over muscle? Sometimes I do a 'pre-burn' upper body workout and then swim... do I want to flip that so my initial focus is on the sport I will be doing when I compete?

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  • Donald says:

    Mark, how much time after weight training can you do cardio without losing any of the benefits?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Donald, John can chime in, but I think when you do cardio after weight lifting is your call. You can even do it later in the day if you want. The idea is to not get too catabolic. Some workouts once the hour mark hits, your body will become more catabolic and cortisol can rise substantially. So if you have a very intense workout, I would recommend keeping it to under 60 minutes. Less intense with more volume can be longer, but we don't think longer workouts are necessary unless you just want to clear your head :)

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  • Raymond says:

    Marc,

    After reading most of your articles and your free get lean guide.
    I was able to lost about 19.4 pound and 4 inch of waistline in 8 weeks. I am now 173.8 lb. I am 39 year old and for the very first time in 25 years I am able to see some of my abs again!! It is just fantastic.
    I do 60 min of weight lifting 3 times a week, and cardio (running, hiit etc.) 45 min after workout 5 times a week.

    So, I do more cardio than weight lifting, that’s because I want to lose at least one inch more of waistline. But the last seems to be more harder to do, special that little love handlers (hate handlers). What can I do, cardio for an another 4 weeks? I like to do more weight lifting for body definitions but that love handler is annoying me!!

    My calorie intake is about 1550-1700 a day, no more!
    Please can you give me some idea what can I do for loose those love handlers and that one inch more?

    Thks in advance.

    Btw. Because of your articles a begin to eat and move in a healthy way!!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Raymond - That's awesome news. Congrats! The last couple pounds is very difficult. It sounds like you have a healthy, lean, and fit body, which is what matters. In terms of going from lean, to very lean, or ripped, I think it requires extra precision primarily with your nutrition plan, and a little with your exercise plan. I would encourage you to read this article if you haven't already, or if you have, check it out again - How to Get Ripped.

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  • Ezra says:

    Marc,

    I do mixed martial arts and am trying to gain muscle mass since mma only makes you leaner. So I'm thinking about lifting weights before my mma classes since they have a small area for weights, would that be a good idea or would I be too fatigued for my classes? If so do you have any solutions?

    Also does mma count as a cardio workout?

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  • Raymond says:

    Marc,

    Thks for your advice and articles. I read your article over get ripped.
    good advice to follow and yes do i really want to get ripped?

    Nop i just want to be lean and healty, btw my waistline is now 33 inch one more inch and thats will be enough.

    thks, ones again!

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  • rohan says:

    Hi Marc,
    I m 20 years,
    weight - 69kg
    height - 5'6inch
    i m working 6 days a in a week, i do weight exercise first then abbes exercise.. i m doing abbes exercise daily. i dnt wanna lose weight just i wanna lean by maintaining my wait
    i wanna ask doing this is right??
    i can achieve my goal by this schedule...
    help me plzz

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Rohan - it sounds like you are bit confused. I highly recommend checking out our free 20-Page Get Lean Guide, which will give you a good overview of how to lose fat without losing muscle to get the body you want.

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  • Sanjay says:

    Hi Marc,

    im a 37 year old male.

    weight - 128 kgs

    height - 6'2 inches

    ive suddenly had an epiphany after being lazy for so many years and have got myself into the gym to start working out. ive been doing cardio roughly for 45 mins to 1 hour. im a big guy as the weight already suggests..but thanks to playing a lot of sports in my younger day ive survived the sessions. my query is i really want to lose weight at the same time i want to get toned..weight loss being a priority..im naturally quite bulky so i dont think i will ever get the lean look..would you recommend that i do weights before and maybe a 30 min cardio session..i have heard a lot of people go on about how if u weight train u dont burn as much calories as in cardio..is that true? I would really love to get some help and put me on my way back to a healthier life...cheers!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Sanjay - It sounds like you are a bit confused. I would recommend checking out the Get Lean Guide, which will give you a good overview of how to get leaner.

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  • Chad Smith says:

    Age: 22
    Height: 6"2
    Weight: 160
    Perry I found your article very interesting and will try the cardio first next time. The reason I stumbled upon this in the first place was because after doing an 8 mile run the other day I decided to do a short lifting session and by the time I finished I thought I was going to pass out or throw up. It didn't really hit me until I was in the locker room and I had to sit down for five minutes to keep from passing out. On the bus I slept for fifteen minutes and felt infinitely better. This isn't the first time this has happened and almost only happens when I do cardio and lifting on the same day. Strangely sleeping, even if for only fifteen minutes, has been the only cure. I thought you might find it interesting and it definitely seems to support your article. Keep up the good work! Any advice is welcome.

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