A question I often get is whether to do cardio before or after weight lifting. I see many folks do their cardio before they hit the weights, justifying it that it’s a good warm-up. However, this can be counterproductive for your weight lifting. Here’s why.
Always do your cardiovascular exercise after your weight lifting workouts!
There are two main reasons for this:
- First, performing cardiovascular/endurance exercise before weight lifting/resistance exercise decreases the natural growth hormone response to the weight lifting workout 1.
- Second, by performing your weight lifting workout before the cardiovascular workout you will increase the amount of fat burned for energy during your cardiovascular/endurance workout 2.
The same holds true for sprint exercise; that is, always do you sprint exercise workouts after your weight lifting/resistance exercise workouts because doing them before (like a cardiovascular/endurance workout) will decrease the growth hormone response to the weight lifting workout 3.
Doing your endurance/sprint workouts after your weight lifting/resistance exercise workouts also ensures that you start your weight lifting with full muscle glycogen stores. This might further benefit you weight lifting since muscle glycogen, apart form creatine phosphate, is an important fuel source for resistance exercise workouts 4-6. So starting your weight lifting workouts with larger muscle glycogen reserves might allow you to lift heavier and more intensely. This in turn can further increase the natural growth hormone response to the weight lifting, and thereby let you achieve a better training effect, since the combination of growth hormone and mechanical loading (i.e. weight lifting) activates anabolic processes in muscle 7, 8.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t do a short cardiovascular warm-up before your weight lifting workouts. Actually, it is a good idea to warm up for 5-10 min on a cardio machine before you start to lift weights. It is the longer aerobic/endurance workouts which last 30 min or more, that you should do after your weight lifting.
1. Goto K, Higashiyama M, Ishii N, Takamatsu K. Prior endurance exercise attenuates growth hormone response to subsequent resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. Jun 2005;94(3):333-338.
2. Goto K, Ishii N, Sugihara S, Yoshioka T, Takamatsu K. Effects of resistance exercise on lipolysis during subsequent submaximal exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Feb 2007;39(2):308-315.
3. Goto K, Ishii N, Kurokawa K, Takamatsu K. Attenuated growth hormone response to resistance exercise with prior sprint exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jan 2007;39(1):108-115.
4. Essen-Gustavsson B, Tesch PA. Glycogen and triglyceride utilization in relation to muscle metabolic characteristics in men performing heavy-resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1990;61(1-2):5-10.
5. Robergs RA, Pearson DR, Costill DL, et al. Muscle glycogenolysis during differing intensities of weight-resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. Apr 1991;70(4):1700-1706.
6. Tesch PA, Colliander EB, Kaiser P. Muscle metabolism during intense, heavy-resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1986;55(4):362-366.
7. Hameed M, Lange KH, Andersen JL, et al. The effect of recombinant human growth hormone and resistance training on IGF-I mRNA expression in the muscles of elderly men. J Physiol. Feb 15 2004;555(Pt 1):231-240.
8. McCall GE, Byrnes WC, Fleck SJ, Dickinson A, Kraemer WJ. Acute and chronic hormonal responses to resistance training designed to promote muscle hypertrophy. Can J Appl Physiol. Feb 1999;24(1):96-107.