Should you do cardio before or after lifting?
This is a common question that nearly every lifter runs into at some point in their training career. At Pheasyque, we have a couple of ways we like to approach this question and scenario. Cardio and lifting can live in the same resistance training program, we just need a strategy when tackling both throughout the week.
In this article, we’re going to equip you with the knowledge you need to strategically approach the scenario of doing your cardio before or after your weight training. For the visual learners, check out the video below from Coach Jake to help you decide if you should do your cardio before or after lifting.
[Join the program that teaches you as you go. Pheasyque Lab programs now starting at $9.99 a month!]
Use Your Goals to Dictate Cardio and Lifting Sessions
The first step for deciding whether to put cardio before or after your lifting is to identify your long-term goals. Goals can dictate the flow of your programming and can help you make the most educated choices possible to be proactive with your activity selection.
Take a quick moment to write down your current training goals. Our advice, choose the biggest three and rate from 1-3 (1 being most important). Once you’ve done this, we can structure your activity selection accordingly.
Should I put cardio before or after lifting if my goal is endurance?
If your goal is improving endurance and if you’re working towards end running goals such as a half-marathon or full marathon, then putting running first will typically be the right call for you. You want to place the most emphasis and effort on the activity that is most aligned with your primary goals.
For this population, generally, resistance training is a means to maintain the muscle they have to and to work on areas that are not receiving a lot of attention through endurance training. It’s basically a means to help you maintain your body armor (muscle!).
- Actionable Step: For endurance focused athletes, cardio should come first to avoid limiting performance due to muscular fatigue.
Should I put cardio before or after lifting if my goals are building strength and mass?
If your goals are building strength and mass, then cardio should follow your lifting. Strength and mass focused goals require ample energy and attention, and going into workouts already fatigued, even if it’s a little bit, due to pre-lifting cardio can be counterproductive for these goals.
- Actionable Step: For strength and hypertrophy focused athletes, cardio should come after lifting.
For our avid lifters out there, you might be wondering, why though? Why does cardio need to come after lifting if my goals are focused on building and strengthening my muscles? Let us explain.
Why Cardio After Lifting?
To take it a step further, we wanted to provide you with three reasons why cardio should come after lifting if your goals are focused on strength, hypertrophy, and even power.
Reason 1: Mental Energy and Fatigue
When we work towards specific resistance training goals, our minds need to also be fresh in addition to our muscles. If we run before our training sessions, then we can be mentally taxing some of our valuable energy and focus levels. Things like mind-muscle connection matter, and if we’re mentally fatigued before resistance training, we can leave gains on the table. (1)
In addition to a decrease in mental energy, long-duration endurance training can also cause an accumulation of physical fatigue which can then result in a decrease in our ability to perform and produce high-effort driven sets.
Reason 2: Decreased Energy Stores
The second reason why cardio should come after lifting for hypertrophy, strength, and power goals is due to our body’s natural energy stores. Different forms of resistance training will use various energy stores depending on the demands of the training and intensities selected.
The three primary energy systems in the body include:
- ATP-PC Energy System: (+/-) 12-seconds
- Glycolytic System: 30-seconds – 2-minutes
- Oxidative System: 2+ minutes
[Coaching and programming for a fair price. Try Pheasyque Lab’s Tier II program and course for $19.99!]
Different forms of resistance training will utilize each of these to various degrees. For example, power training where we’re working with high intensities and low reps will utilize the ATP-PC energy system, while low-intensity high-rep sets will work the glycolytic and oxidative systems.
If we head into workouts with decreased energy stores due to cardio before lifting, then we’ll be limiting our performance potential, and this goes for strength, hypertrophy, and power. Think of your energy stores as a bank, and lifting and cardio are both players taking currency out.
Reason 3: Conflicting Enzymes
The final reason why cardio should come after lifting is due to conflicting enzymes. After resistance training, we have an enzyme called mTOR that is elevated for roughly 48-hours after our training session. This enzyme plays a large role in muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of utilizing protein to repair and build muscle tissue.
After longer endurance training sessions, we have an enzyme called 5′ AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) that is elevated. It has been suggested in acute settings that elevated levels of AMPK can blunt or cause a decrease in mTOR, which would then impact muscle protein synthesis. (2)
So, for the goals of hypertrophy and strength, the conflicting nature of these enzymes can be counterproductive for proactive growth and training. This is why it’s often recommended to do cardio following lifting or later in the day if your main goals are increasing your muscle’s size and strength.
Note, as we continually perform both cardio and lifting in the same training week, our enzymes may acclimate to this style and flow of training, so this point may not be as prevalent from a long-term setting. Research is still a little scarce on the long-term impacts of this point.
How to Program Cardio and Lifting
When programming cardio and lifting, you’ll need to experiment with what’s feasible for both your time and energy levels. By using the best suggestions above, then relating them to your individual needs, we can carefully create the perfect training flow.
For the Same Session Training Try This
- First: Lift
- Second: Cardio
If it’s a really tough lift, then do a lighter cardio session. If it’s a lighter lift, then you can push your cardio session harder!
For Two-a-Days Try This
- AM: Lifting Sessions
- Mid-Day: *Recover and Fuel (yes, meal timing matters in this scenario)*
- PM: Cardio Sessions
For Tough Daily Back-to-Back Training Sessions
- Monday: Lifting session in the AM
- Tuesday: Cardio session midday/early afternoon
The goal here is to spread the tough endurance and lifting sessions out to the best of your abilities, so by doing a tough AM lifting session, then a tough PM cardio session the day after, we give our body 24-36 hours to recover.
Cardio and Lifting Takeaways
Both cardio and lifting can live in the same program. What’s most important is that you establish your primary goals, then make educated programming choices that align with your established long-term goals. You can have your cake and eat it, too, you just have to be a little bit more strategic with your programming.
1. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., & Jay, K. et al. (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 116(3), 527-533.
2. Mounier, R., Lantier, L., Leclerc, J., Sotiropoulos, A., Foretz, M., & Viollet, B. (2011). Antagonistic control of muscle cell size by AMPK and mTORC1. Cell Cycle, 10(16), 2640-2646.