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  • Ciaran O’Connell

Cardio before or after doing weights?


I talk about doing cardio, I’m talking about exercise that raises your heart above 60% resting heart rate. A level at which you could still speak to someone, but not maintain full conversation.

What is cardio? Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise. This is exercise that improves your cardiovascular system (aka your heart). So it is obviously important exercise to do in some form.

Most people think of cardio as being an hour run. It actually can take many forms. Doing a weights circuit for 20-30 minutes can really work your cardiovascular system. It really is what you prefer.

If you want to do cardio alongside your weights session, I would suggest leaving it until after your weights. Cardio requires a lot of energy to perform, this is why it is always suggested to do after a weights session. It is better for your strength gains to have full energy capacity to lift weights, rather than muscular glycogen being depleted before weights. Of course a short 5-10 minute cardio warm up will not have the same detrimental effect, mainly because of the intensity difference.

Mixing cardio with weights is called concurrent training. If you are solely looking for strength gains, don’t do cardio after or before. The same is reversed for if you’re after cardio gains only. The reason for this is you’re confusing the body.

When you do weight training your body is thinking ‘ok we’re lifting today, you want me to improve this and recover from this’. However, when you add in the cardio element your body is now confused to which adaptation is required. The body will still adapt, however it will be a suboptimal adaptation and recovery because the energy to do so is being split over 2 different systems rather than one.

Of course if you are training for something that requires a mix of the two, such as a tough mudder, then definitely implement both forms in to a session to prepare the body for that type of performance. However the average gym goer should try to separate their cardio days from weights days, or at least allow 4 hours between the two session.

In summary, if you’re wanting to lose weight or improve your physique and think adding that extra 20-30 minutes on the cross trainer after a weights session will give you a better chance at reaching your goal. It won’t make a ton of difference. Don’t have your fingers in too many pots on 1 day. Do 1 thing and do it well. Rest and recover. Work the next system.

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