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May 21, 2018

Cardio Before or After a Workout?

Let’s get a few things straight before we jump into the ever-popular subject of cardio.

There is not BEST time. It just depends on what the goal is, both for your training program and for that given day.

Also, cardio DOES NOT have to be on a treadmill, elliptical, stair-master, bike or any other “cardio machine.”

There are different types of cardio:

  • Steady state (low intensity, able to hold a conversation)
  • Interval training (any high intensity interval paired with a lower intensity interval [threshold training, 1:1 intervals, cardiac power output intervals, mile repeats and literally anything you can think of]) Get the heart rate up to a certain desired percentage of the max heart rate for a given period of time, and then bring it back down for a given period of time. And repeat.
  • High Intensity Continuous Training (keeping the heart rate at a high percentage for 15+ minutes while not taxing the muscles of body) Think uphill fast walking, or added resistance on a stationary bike, or long continuous sled pulls [hate these].

And a million more variations of these. But today we are diving into WHEN to use these options and what effect it can have on your other training.

Cardio before a lift

Doing cardio before a lift is a great way to increase the overall intensity of the entire workout. This is due to the accumulation effect. Basically the more you get your heart pumping pre-lift, the higher it will stay during that lift, giving you more bang for your buck.  However, this is where the TYPE of cardio comes into play. If the plan is to squat heavy and you need your trusty ham-hawks to feel strong and stable, you may not want to do hill sprints before those squats. Weigh your options and choose wisely.

The main reason to do cardio before a lift is to get that heart rate up and take advantage of science. I personally do this on upper body days because it takes be longer to get warm in an upper body lift.  I use less overall energy, and upper body dominant lifts tend to be less metabolically demanding (through my personal programming).

Cardio after a lift

This is death in my opinion and experience. Your girl is not a fan of cardio in general, so asking me to muster up extra energy to do something I don’t enjoy AFTER a lift…that’s a hard pass for me.

But this is not to say that there are not benefits to doing cardio after a lift. Doing it after a lift is a great way to increase caloric expenditure AND burn fat.  This is greatly beneficial if fat loss is part of your goal.  You have likely used up your glycogen stores and are done using carb sources as fuel. This means your body has the potential to use fat for fuel in post lifting cardio sessions. Not a bad gig if you ask me.

Cardio before and after lift

Oh, the sandwich approach. This is a doozy. Also one of my favorite ways to use traditional cardio. [I used this in college with prowler sled intervals both before and after a lift – it was brutal]. Without getting too science-y, you get the best of both worlds. Your overall workout intensity is higher, plus you burn more fat stores post lift because (if you lifted hard enough) your glycogen stores are done for and you’ll use fat as fuel.

Cardio in general should be used in increase your work capacity and train your heart and lungs just like to you train your muscles. Allow me to just debunk the myth that cardio is more effective for losing weight or fat than lifting as well. You need a lot of things to be in place to lose fat. Having muscle is one of those. SO, adding cardio to strength training is a great way to increase that caloric deficit you’re looking for, but so would a lot of other things.

If you found this helpful, make sure to share it wherever you please!
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You might enjoy these blogs if you’re diggin’ what I put down today:

5 Must know tips for barbell training

How a heart rate monitor can increase the effectiveness of your lifts

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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