This is BY FAR the most popular question I get asked by clients. I have to admit, I have been saving this blog post for a day I am feeling especially “spicy”. If you know me well, you would know I am super passionate about this topic. So passionate in fact, that I get unnecessarily frustrated when individuals do the opposite of what science tells us. Yes, I’m stubborn, I know.
Let me give you an example…
You’re sitting down for lunch with your mom who is desperate to lose 50 pounds of body fat. You have watched her addiction to sugar and processed foods and are relieved to hear that her doctor has told her to stay away from both! She explains she needs to eat greens, drink more water and consume small meals every few hours to be successful. You are listening intently and happy to help support her with a plan! You volunteer your help by going to the grocery store, making healthy meals and hitting the gym with her. Her eyes light up and she is relieved to have an answer to the her health crisis provided by you and her doctor. You are feeling proud of the plan you have hatched together! Success! The Fitness Fairies and their mommies are cheering!
Then the waitress comes to take your order. You order a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side and a hot tea hoping to set an example for your dear sweet mom. The waitress smiles then turns to your mother who quickly glances down to her menu. She then looks to the waitress and begins…
“I’d like to start with the mozzarella sticks and onion rings please. You can bring that out first, dear. Then I’ll have the chicken fried steak with country gravy. I suppose I should have a green salad instead of the steak fries…..but maybe I’ll take a Diet Coke instead of regular Coke, so I can order those fries!” She turns to you and says, “Aren’t you proud? Now that’s a great compromise!” Your mouth drops to the table because she’s not done. “I’ll also take the ice cream sundae instead of the Colossel Mudpie this time around….trying to watch my figure, dear.”
Mom, are you freaking kidding me right now? You can’t even form words because you are flabbergasted! What did you just spend 15 minutes talking about?
Ok, let me get off my soapbox before I really start to piss someone off…
SHOULD YOU DO CARDIO BEFORE WEIGHTS?
Obviously, I will back this up based on science and physiology. Ready for this?
- GLYCOGEN: Glycogen is stored in your body as energy. This energy is needed to get through workouts! When lifting weights, your body demands more use of glycogen because lifting weights exhausts the muscle . When hitting cardio, you use less glycogen stores and can even train your body to run on extremely low glycogen stores to get through your cardio session. This is especially true with endurance athletes!
If you do cardio first, your glycogen levels will deplete and therefore, your performance when lifting afterwards will suffer because you have little left to give. People usually have NO IDEA they can give more during lifting because they don’t know the difference. You will perform better lifting first! Better performance = Better results!
Hitting the weights first will use those glycogen stores/energy in order to get STRONGER! The stronger you get, the higher your metabolism. The higher your metabolism, the more calories you burn just being alive! WINNING! After weights, move on to cardio. You are now in the fat burning stage of your workout, typically about 30 minutes in. This is where you get maximum fat burning. Yes please!
- PERFORMANCE AND FATIGUE: The goal of any weight training program is “Progression Overload”. Which means, you are trying to gradually increase your resistance over time in order to become stronger. You need to do this by performing at your best and most rested in order to demand the most from your muscles, to reach goals and create the changes you are fighting so hard for. WIN!
When hitting cardio before weights, this is what happens…
- Muscle fatigue will set in, which will compromise muscle force production, performance and results.
- Your heart will be taxed and exhausted, which effects energy transportation and ability to get through your lifting session.
- You may be mentally fatigued, which will impact your focus and motivation.
Basically, you will not be your best and your results will suffer.
Now on the flip side, lifting BEFORE hitting cardio can still impact your cardio session but on a much smaller scale. Here’s why…
- Cardio does not demand as much from your glycogen as lifting, so you will probably have enough leftover to hit your cardio afterward.
- By the time you transition to your cardio routine, your Type 1 muscle fibers have recovered enough to get you through effectively anyway.
Ok, so let me go on record saying this…
If doing cardio first makes you happy? By all means, do it! But when you are choosing to pair both forms of exercise together, lifting and cardio, I know I have done my due diligence of providing the science behind the question. However, you’ve got to do what makes the most sense to you and keeps you happy!