This week we are going to unpack an age old question: “Should I be doing cardio before or after weight training?”. Now, if you have ever google searched this you have most likely come across a lot of articles saying if you’re goal is to lose fat and “tone up” that cardio before weights is best. In this article I am going to argue against that point using science and just common sense, practical information.
If you haven’t picked up on my stance on the subject yet, I am a firm believer that cardio should always come after weight training – regardless of your physique goals. Notice that I said physique goals, and not training goals – if your goal is to be a world class runner you have absolutely come to the wrong place because as a coach my goal is to help people mold their bodies into something they can be confident with and proud of, I am not concerned about your mile time.
With all of that out of the way, let us dive into why I believe you should be doing cardio after weights to see optimal gains.
First, on a non-arguable basis, cardio before weights is bad for muscle growth and recovery. How is this? Back in 2016 a group of scientist were trying to provide a scientific reason to skip cardio (not really) and what they found in their study is aerobic cardio was associated with a down-regulation of the mTOR pathway (1). Now if you’re wondering what mTOR is, in simple terms it is the pathway that must be active for muscle recovery and growth to occur. So if the main process for muscle recovery and growth is shut down, how much sense does it make to do something that will induce that immediately before training muscle with hopes of getting it to grow? None.
Another noteworthy fact is while cardio in general (along with muscle atrophy) is a contributor to down-regulation of mTOR, muscle hypertrophy is an up-regulating factor. Why does this matter? To guarantee you keep seeing gains in muscle hypertrophy it makes sense that getting the most out of your weight training sessions should be the highest of priorities. With that said, do you think you’re going to absolutely crush your resistance session after 45 minutes of cardio? “Nope” is the correct answer!
From a practical standpoint, doing a lower intensity exercise makes sense to do at the end of a higher intensity exercise rather than the other way around. This way the higher intensity session gets all the attention it deserves. Don’t rob yourself of muscle growth gains, which by the way will eventually lead to a higher BMR and more calories naturally burned – if getting leaner is your thing, to follow some false notion that cardio before weights burns more calories and is better for fat loss – this is absolutely false. With every rule there is an exception however – if your goal is to look like a flabby runner, then by all means hit cardio first!
Here is the take home: Focus on crushing your weight sessions and polish it up with cardio after, not the other way around!
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