Should You Do Cardio Before Or After Weights?

Many people often ask: “Is it better to do cardio before or after weights?” The first thing to understand is that cardio and weight training are completely separate forms of physical activity that affect the cells of muscles differently. When we lift weights, inactive genes in our muscle cells get switched on, conversely, the changes in the cells that our body needs for resistance training are not the same as the alterations our body requires for a cardiovascular workout. As a result, if we do both cardio and weight lifting during the same session, both forms of stimuli often strive to negate each other. This culminates in a minor melioration in both endurance and strength, however this improvement is less than it would be if only one form of training is done on its own.

So, when it comes to the same workout session, how should they be timed? The simple answer is: if building muscle is your goal, keep your cardio short and intense and do if after your weight training. Conversely, if to want to develop your endurance more than the mass of your muscles, then you can do the opposite. Smart supplementation can also help with workout recovery, with whey protein and creatine particularly effective (especially for women).

However, all things considered, and although the extended answer to the question “is it better to do cardio before or after weights?” is “it depends,” the majority of individuals have an advantage if they perform their cardio-vascular workout after weight training, no matter if their main aim is fat loss, gaining strength or gaining muscle.

There are substantial benefits to doing cardio training after weights. You will have a higher energy level for weight lifting. This is because when we exercise, the glycogen stores in our muscles get used up, and if the body runs low on glycogen, then it has a knock-on effect on our level of energy. Therefore, if you do a cardio workout before weight training, your energy stores will be reduced and can cause poorer performance and less weight lifted, ultimately hindering your results.

You will have beneficial PH changes in your blood. This is because doing cardio training results in a more acidic PH, due to the breakdown of energy to generate lactic acid. When the blood is acidic the muscles become tired and your performance suffers. Therefore, aside from utilising the energy required for heavy resistance workouts, it is more difficult to contract your muscles effectively if you opt for cardio training first.

Another benefit of doing cardio last is advantageous hormonal changes. This is because if it is done in the beginning, the body releases the hormone cortisol without a simultaneous elevation of testosterone. Muscle tissue is broken down by cortisol so that the body has more energy for the workout. This is beneficial when you are doing cardiovascular exercises; however, it is no good for building muscle if there is no testosterone increase as well. Yet when you are lifting weights, both testosterone and cortisol levels elevate. This empowers you with energy to do the workout and helps to rebuild your muscle tissue once the session is over. If these hormonal changes do not occur, then it is harder to gain muscle.

Other benefits of doing cardio first include not inhibiting the body’s muscle-building pathway mechanism, and the fact that the rate of “perceived exertion” is greater. This basically means that if you do cardio in the beginning, it will seem much harder to do than if you lifted weights first. Also, there is less chance of being injured due to tiredness.


  • Updated May 27, 2020
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