“Should you do cardio after lifting or before?”
This question crops up time and again, and while the answer won’t make or break your ability to get in shape, it can impact how much you get out of your workouts.
Some people say you should do cardio first since it serves as a warm up for your weightlifting. And since most people don’t like cardio, this is also a way to “eat the frog” and get cardio out of the way before you hit the weights.
Others say that since weightlifting is responsible for most of your progress, it should come first, when you’re freshest.
There’s no “perfect way” to order your training that works for all people all of the time. The best way for you depends on your goals and preferences.
In this article, you’ll learn whether you should do cardio before or after lifting and the best ways to include both strength and cardio training in your workout routine.
Table of Contents
It depends on your goals.
Specifically, it depends on whether your main goal is building muscle, boosting your endurance, or a mix of the two.
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If your primary goal is to build muscle, do cardio after weightlifting.
The reason for this is simple: Doing cardio before you lift weights saps your energy and blunts your subsequent weightlifting performance, reducing the amount of weight you can lift and the number of sets and reps you can perform. In other words, doing cardio right before weightlifting takes some of the starch out of you, limiting how much volume and intensity you can do in your workouts.
Using a little less weight here or missing a couple of reps there might not seem like a big deal, but these little speed bumps can add up over time and significantly reduce your ability to gain muscle and strength over time.
One caveat: This probably doesn’t apply to very low-intensity, short duration cardio. Walking or cycling at a leisurely pace isn’t going to stymie your gains, but HIIT or a longer, moderate intensity cardio workout, will.
How long should you wait to do cardio after lifting?
After training a muscle group with weights, it’s probably optimal not to train that same muscle group with a cardio exercise for at least 24 hours. For example, if you bench press on Monday, it would be best to wait until Tuesday to go for a swim (which heavily involves your upper-body muscles), but you could still do a bike ride on Monday since cycling trains a different muscle group than the bench press.
If you need to train the same muscle group with both weightlifting and cardio in the same day due to your schedule or preferences, though, studies show that separating your weightlifting and cardio workouts by at least six hours is a good rule of thumb.
If this isn’t possible due to your schedule or preferences, do cardio immediately after weightlifting. While training like this might not be ideal, it won’t compromise your progress as much as doing cardio before lifting.
If you want to learn more about how to combine cardio and strength training without hindering muscle growth, check out this article:
If your primary goal is to increase your endurance, do cardio before you lift weights, or better yet, schedule your endurance and weightlifting workouts on different days.
Research shows that lifting weights makes your muscles feel sore and tired, which fetters your efforts to increase endurance by decreasing your running economy, hastening the point at which you feel exhausted, reducing your power, and depleting your muscles of glycogen (stored carbohydrate).
The best way to mitigate this is to do your workouts on separate days. When this isn’t possible, though, your next best bet is to separate your workouts by at least 6 hours.
And if you have to do your cardio immediately before your weightlifting workouts, you may have to reduce the number of sets you do and accept a slower rate of progress.
Training like this isn’t optimal for muscle growth, but you should be able to make steady progress, provided you aren’t pushing the envelope with your endurance training.
Should You Do Cardio Before or After Weightlifting When You Want to Build Muscle and Increase Endurance
We now know that you should prioritize weightlifting if you want to build muscle and cardio if you want to increase endurance, but what if your goal is to achieve a mix of both?
That is, should you do cardio before or after lifting if you want to get the health, strength, and aesthetic benefits of building muscle and the calorie-burning and cardiovascular perks of cardio?
Juggling both simultaneously is slightly more of a challenge, but here are some heuristics you can use:
- Do three-to-five strength training workouts per week.
- Do no more than 10-to-12 hard sets per major muscle group per week if you’ve been lifting weights for a year or less, or no more than 12-to-15 hard sets per major muscle group per week if you’ve been weightlifting for more than a year.
- Prioritize low-impact forms of cardio, such as cycling, rowing, skiing, and rucking.
- Do two-to-three low- to moderate-intensity cardio workouts per week of 20-to-60 minutes each.
- Do one HIIT workout per week if you enjoy it (it’s purely optional and no better than moderate intensity cardio).
- Don’t do more than 2-to-3 hours of cardio per week.
- Do your cardio and weightlifting on separate days if possible, and if you have to do them on the same day, lift weights first and try to separate the two workouts by at least six hours.
- Avoid muscle failure in your strength training and exhaustion in your cardio workouts.
- Deload every 8-to-10 weeks.
And if you want a program that explains the best way to put all of this together, check out Mike’s books Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, Thinner Leaner Stronger for women, and Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger for intermediate or advanced weightlifters.
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If your main goal is to build muscle, yes.
Doing cardio after weight lifting means you go into your strength training workouts with as much energy as possible. This enables you to lift heavier weights for more reps than if you were already tired from a cardio workout, which should result in more muscle gain over time.
However, if your main goal is to increase your endurance, doing cardio before you lift weights is likely better. That’s because your muscles won’t be tired or sore leading into your cardio workouts, which will make your workouts more productive.
No, but it may result in less muscle gain than if you left more time between your workouts.
If you want to maximize muscle growth, try not to train the same muscle group with both weightlifting and cardio within 24 hours. If that isn’t possible, try to leave at least six hours between workouts. And if that isn’t possible, just make sure you do your cardio after weight lifting.
Follow the advice in this article.
Or if you’d prefer to have a strength training, cardio, and diet plan mapped out for you, then check out Mike’s best-selling fitness books Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, Thinner Leaner Stronger for women, or Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger for intermediate or advanced weightlifters.
+ Scientific References
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