Resistance training and cardio exercise provide health benefits that are both invaluable in sustaining good health, meeting personal fitness goals, and developing a toned body. For me personally, my current fitness goals are to keep on the mass I have trained hard to gain without becoming soft or keeping on fat. Therefore, I employ short duration/high intensity cardio training as a supplement to my weight routine. I have noticed that without a little cardio training each day I have less energy, and I end up feeling drowsier throughout the day.
During cutting and slimming cycles, most people who do both weight training and cardio amp up their mileage on the treadmill, or increase their completed floors on the stair-master. Although lifters I know decrease their cardio training during bulking cycles, few of these individuals cut it out entirely, instead decreasing to 3-4 days out of the week instead of every day.
Regardless of one’s personal fitness goals, the question remains: how do we maximize our gym time and effort by order of training? Some people argue that cardio is best to complete prior to lifting because it gets the blood flowing and heats the body up. However, others complain that doing cardio prior to heavy lifting decreases their ability to maximize strength output compared to saving cardio for after lifting.
What do the experts say? What are the arguments on each side?
Save Cardio For After Lifting
An expert forum on bodybuilding.com explains that the order you choose mostly depends on your fitness goals. However, as a general guide, people who want to build muscle mass should save cardio for after strength training.
This is due to the fact that muscle growth is stimulated during those last 2-3 lifting reps where you find yourself seriously struggling and sweating. For these moments it is optimal to have adequate glycogen storages that help our muscles to push through the last few reps. These storages are affected by doing cardio before working out, because cardio exercise is fueled by the same storages.
However, for men and women who are not trying to build muscle mass and perhaps simply want to maintain what they already have, it is fine to do cardio prior to lifting.
Another argument for saving cardio until after weight training is the changes in blood PH that occur during cardio, according to builtlean.com. As you do cardio exercise, energy molecules get broken down and produce lactic acid. This acid helps your body replenish fuel sources, creating excessive Hydrogen ions in the process, effectively lowering the PH of your blood plasma. Muscles have to work harder to produce favorable results in such an acidic environment, making it harder to get in solid pumps after a tough cardio session.
Do Your Cardio Before Lifting
Interestingly enough, some experts cite similar reasons for completing a cardio routine before lifting. For example, one expert on muscleandfitness.com states that anabolic hormones in men (such as testosterone and growth hormone) remain elevated for longer periods of time when weight training was completed after cardio. The author also states that doing weights after cardio allows absorption pathways involved in protein synthesis and muscle growth to remain active for longer, compared to saving cardio for after strength training.
Livestrong.com also makes the argument that for individuals who like to complete light cardio, or short-duration cardio sessions prior to strength training did not experience any effects on muscle contraction or strength ability. Although they do clarify that any high-intensity strength or cardio training does affect glycogen levels, this short-duration cardio before working out should not change these levels. This is good news for people trying to gain mass who enjoy their light cardio prior to pumping!
Some Say Order Makes No Difference
One article published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research sampled a group of inactive female college students to study the effects of resistance training and endurance exercise (cardio). Researchers were concerned with answering the question of order, trying to find which sample of college females experienced better physical development under different-order exercise conditions.
Although researchers found significant improvements in the overall health and performance in both samples of college students, they did not find any statistical significance between the two groups. This supports the idea that if you are in below-average to average shape and want to begin exercising, cardio vs. weight training order does not matter. You will see improvements either way.