Should I Do Cardio Before or After a Weight Lifting Workout?

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question-icon-newI’ve been reading articles that say starting with cardio is not the way to go when doing a weight training workout. My friends and other people in the gym say I should end my weight lifting workout with 45 minutes of slow cardio (walking, bike) or 20 minutes of intense cardio to maximize results. How do I start my weight lifting workout each time I go to the gym? Do I start with a cardio warm-up, or should I go straight to the weights and start lifting right off the bat? If I start with cardio to warm up, how long should it be? I’m really confused and would love some help with this.

answer-icon-newA question many people ask in regards to their daily workout regimen often deals with cardio and how it fits into their overall routine. The main concern is whether its most effective before or after a workout. I would actually have to say that a little bit of both is the best. Are you even more confused now? Well, it’s because there are different benefits cardio has in each situation. Let me explain a little more.

Prior to a workout, your muscles are cold. If you have not been doing any physical activity before you begin lifting weights, it can be extremely harmful to your muscles, joints, and tendons. Your goal is to get your body temperature up which will warm and loosen your muscles. Doing a small amount of cardio before your weight training workout has many benefits. Don’t go overboard though, since all you want to do is break a slight sweat which can be achieved in about 10 minutes of light exercise.

A light jog, doing the elliptical machine, walking on the treadmill, riding the stationary bike or climbing on the Stairmaster for as little as 10 minutes before lifting weights can aid greatly to get your blood flowing which will provide your muscles with a much-needed warm up. It gets your heart rate up a little and primes your body for an intense weight lifting workout session.

The key is to avoid doing too much cardio before your weight training workout or you will burn up all your glycogen (carbs) which need to be used for energy throughout your intense training session. The post-workout cardio of 20 minutes of HIIT (high intensity) is good but you can also do slow to moderate cardio work of 30-40 minutes. It’s nice to switch up cardio a little bit.

Now, in regards to the post-workout cardio phase once you are finished working out with weights, it’s also important at this time as well. You might be asking if doing this much cardio is a bit of overkill. For some, it might be. If your body is already lean and does not need a great deal of help in dropping weight and burning excess body fat, and instead your main goal is to build muscle and bulk up, then post-workout cardio may be unnecessary. Since most people are focused on getting as lean as possible while packing on quality muscle, cardio is usually a cornerstone in a fitness routine.

In terms of which type of cardio you should do after your weight training workout, whether it be slow and steady or high intensity interval training (HIIT), this comes down to several factors such as your schedule, fitness level and overall goals. Slow and steady cardio takes much longer so if you’re in a time crunch then you probably don’t want to walk on the treadmill for 60 minutes after your workout. This is where HIIT cardio comes in handy. You can burn a ton of calories in a very short amount of time (15-20 minutes). But, with HIIT cardio you really need to push yourself, so if your fitness level is not the best then you might want to choose slow and steady cardio starting out and then gradually progress to HIIT cardio down the road when you are in better cardiovascular shape.

Performing cardio after weight lifting has an additional benefit that many people forget or fail to mention. When you lift weights, you are tearing down the muscles so they can heal and grow after you train. This causes some level of soreness the next day. Well, the soreness is caused by a build up of lactic acid. Doing cardio for at least 20-30 minutes right after your weight workout will cause the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles to breakdown. This breakdown reduces soreness the following day, allowing you to get back into the gym faster so you can continue making gains and build more muscle!

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