Cardio and resistance training are often put together in programs and can improve your athletic performance. Both of these can be extremely important when it comes to altering body composition and overall health. However, when someone is working with a plan that strategizes both, there always seems to be confusion about which should come first. And no, this isn’t referring to a 5-10 minute pre-lift warm up you may do before lifting. Those warm-ups are extremely important but this is an article to discuss cardio training sessions. Here are a few things to look at to determine the timing:
Those who have been in the fitness world a little longer will understand that doing cardio before a lift can be exhausting. Thus, providing less energy during their workout. The misconception about when to do cardio generally comes from novice gym-goers. For those who aren’t comfortable or familiar with gyms, the safe zone is usually a treadmill or elliptical. Cardio equipment at a gym is seen as a safe place to shy away to for those less experienced. It’s okay to start where you are comfortable, but that’s where ideas of doing cardio before lifting usually come from.
An issue that is often associated with doing cardio first is fatigue. Excessive amounts of cardio can quickly tire your muscles and limit the amount of force exerted during lifting. Even if you don’t feel tired or sore from your cardio session, your muscles are still impaired. This will impact the force needed to move weights around and affects the energy systems used.
After a workout, your body continues to burn calories up to 48 hours. This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC occurs because your body is repairing the muscles that you broke down during exercise. It occurs at a much higher rate after intense weight-training that puts a lot of strain on your muscles as opposed to low-intensity, steady-state cardiovascular training; that’s why it’s important to put as much energy into your lifting sessions as possible. If you do steady-state cardio before you lift, you won’t have the energy to work as hard as you can. A less productive weight-training session can impact EPOC.
The body has three types of energy systems. These are ATP-PC, Glycolytic, and Oxidative. Each energy system will play a role in different activities depending on the intensity:
So what does that mean for you and your training? Understanding your energy sources can help you determine what type of cardio you do on your lifting days. For example, if you’re performing high-intensity sprint work, you’ll tax energy systems that heavier lifts require. This is why lifting should take priority over cardio training when performed on the same day. You may find it helpful to plan your type of cardio around what type of lifting you do.
For example: if your workout has a lot of heavy power movements, you’ll need to save the ATP-PC energy for your lift, so slower cardio that uses the oxidative system as an energy source would be best. This also works the other way around: if your training for the day is a lower intensity lift with high reps, try pairing it with explosive cardio for maximal energy output in both areas.
There are three types of energy your body uses during and after your workouts: protein, carbs (glycogen), and fats. Which one your body uses depends on what energy system you’re using. This also ties along with your body’s two main fuel systems: Anaerobic and aerobic systems.
During anaerobic exercise (weightlifting) your body will run off the ATP-CP system, using your glycogen storage for muscle contraction. Once your body burns through this storage, it will transition to burn fat instead as a secondary fuel. Since the aerobic system is more efficient in generating ATP, weight training first allows you to burn through glycogen faster. Thus, getting to the fat burning portion of the workout faster than if you had done cardio first.
Although there are many more benefits to doing your cardio after a lifting session as opposed to before, there is no one-size fits all approach to a training plan that works for you. Doing what you’re comfortable with should always be a priority and whatever you have to do to get it done, is the most important. However, if you’re looking to take your routine to the next level, having this knowledge and scheduling your cardio accordingly will help you turn it up a notch.