“Should I do cardiovascular exercise (cardio) before or after weight training?”-Here are my guidelines:-
1. Weight training requires a high intensity effort made possible with adequate muscle glycogen (energy) stores and ‘fresh’ muscles. Cardio before weight training tires muscles and depletes glycogen, which will lower the intensity of the weights session (thereby lowering its effectiveness) and diminish the body’s ability to synthesize protein for muscle growth. Note, by cardio, I mean sustained steady state or HIIT-ie, I’m not referring to a 5 or 10 minute gentle warm up prior to training.
2. So, cardio after weights is better:- You will have the energy to complete a high intensity weights session, with enough muscle glycogen to get you through a moderate intensity cardio session at the end, whilst tapping into fat stores.
3. However, doing weights and cardio on separate days is first prize- particularly when you are training for muscle gains. Some days however will require weights and cardio on the same day to get through the total volume of work required, in which case, 2 above applies. If you are training for general fitness and functionality, and the intensity of your weights sessions is not that high, cardio after weights is an acceptable strategy. Note, hard gainers-people struggling to pack on muscle, and body builders may drop cardio altogether for extended periods during their training cycle.
4.When doing weights and cardio on the same day, I recommend allowing some time in between sessions, (particularly when doing HIIT cardio) eg do weights in the morning, cardio in the evening, to allow time to recover, refuel and maximize effort.
5. Try to avoid doing high intensity cardio too close to a heavy leg workout- your legs won’t function properly, so you wont feel great or perform optimally, and for HIIT to be most effective, you need to be able to put in your best effort. Remember too, when working for muscle gains, the legs need rest time (at least a couple of days) after an intense weights session for growth and repair. If necessary, rather perform an upper body orientated cardio session around your leg workout eg boxing or arm ergo.
Work hard this week, and have fun!
Note, also, if your goal is aerobic fitness or training for an endurance event, your weight training will be of a relatively low intensity and designed to supplement your cardio. In this case, it’s fine to do cardio before weights. High intesity leg sessions eg plyometrics, which also has its place in endurance sports should be performed with fresh legs, prior to any aerobic activity.