Whether your primary goal is to build muscle or lose fat, including additional cardio exercise in your program is a useful way to burn through additional calories.

It can be used during a mass gaining phase to keep body fat levels in check, or used during a cutting phase to create a larger calorie deficit on top of your fat burning dieting strategy.

But when is the best time to perform your cardio? Should you do cardio before or after weights?

Let’s take a look at each situation…

Cardio Before Weights?

In any training program where the goal is to optimize body composition (by increasing/maintaining lean mass and losing body fat), resistance training should always be treated as the #1 priority.

Intense weight training is the core stimulus that causes the body to build/maintain lean muscle, and you should always be entering every workout with 100% of your energy and focus still in the tank.

This is especially important for those whose primary goal is to gain muscle, as the entire basis for stimulating continued muscle growth is by consistently increasing the amount of weight you can lift on all of your exercises over time.

If you’re entering your weight training workout already pre-fatigued from a full cardio session, you’ll definitely be compromising your strength, energy and the amount of resulting muscular overload you can achieve.

A pre-workout cardio session will increase muscular fatigue, raise blood acidity (which raises hydrogen ion circulation and further decreases performance), and lower mental focus. The simultaneous increase in muscular fatigue and decline in mental focus will also increase your chances for injury as well.

Try performing a high intensity interval session on the stationary bike followed by a full leg workout and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Bottom line: whether you’re trying to build muscle or burn fat, scrap the pre-workout cardio and save it for another time.

Cardio After Weights?

Many people perform their cardio immediately after weights under the false assumption that they’ll end up burning more total body fat at this time.

The idea here is that because muscle glycogen levels have been drained as a result of the workout, more body fat will be broken down and burned during the cardio session.

The reality is that weight training workouts use up far less glycogen than most people think. Even a highly exhaustive session will typically only lower overall glycogen levels by about 30%, leaving plenty in the tank for the post-workout cardio session.

The human body is an incredibly complex and dynamic machine, and trying to manipulate the type of fuel that is burned during cardio (whether it be fat or carbohydrates) is quite honestly a waste of time and effort.

So, we know that post-workout cardio is not going to increase fat loss, but does that mean that it’s bad?

All in all, post workout cardio is a viable strategy as long as you have the necessary mental focus and muscular energy to complete the session with a sufficient level of intensity.

If you do want to perform your cardio post workout in order to keep your training as time-efficient as possible, just try to structure the session using some basic common sense.

For example…

* If you’re doing a high intensity leg workout, you’d probably be best to do a shorter duration cardio session that utilizes some upper body movements, such as body weight intervals. A high volume leg workout followed by 45 minutes of jogging is obviously not going to be ideal.

* If you’re training smaller muscle groups like arms, calves or abs, then any form of cardio is probably going to be fine, whether it be longer duration or shorter duration.

* If your weight training workout has already lasted an hour and a half, stick to a brief cardio workout to conserve energy and keep things more time-efficent.

* If you’ve just trained chest or back and you still have sufficient energy left, go with whatever form of cardio you prefer.

Etc. etc.

There is no single, definitive protocol that will apply to everyone in every situation.

The bottom line is to layout your weight training/cardio combination in a way that:

A) Allows you to be as time-efficient as possible.

B) Allows you to execute the session with the necessary focus and intensity to get the best workout possible.

Cardio Before Or After Weights: Bottom Line

To briefly sum up what we just covered…

1) Avoid pre-workout cardio altogether as it will increase muscular fatigue, decrease mental focus and compromise the effectiveness of your weight training session.

2) If you want to perform your cardio post workout, just make sure to structure the overall session in a way that allows you to complete both portions (the weight training and the cardio) in a time-efficient manner and with sufficient intensity.

Of course, you can avoid these complications altogether by simply separating your weight training and cardio into totally different sessions.

That way you’ll always enter each session with 100% of your energy and focus intact.

This could mean performing weight training and cardio on altogether separate days… performing cardio in the morning and weight training in the evening… or performing weight training in the morning and cardio in the evening.

As with most bodybuilding and fitness issues, the answers are rarely ever black and white, and it’s often about simply finding the right balance that works for you based on your body, your goals and your weekly schedule.

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