As a fitness teacher, I am constantly being asked whether cardiovascular training after strength training improves caloric expenditure and the effect on strength and hypertrophy (morphological changes). Can you help?
There is a common belief among weight lifters that doing cardio after a weight training session can hamper one’s ability to increase strength and hypertrophy. There is some truth to this notion, but a lot depends on the individual. In general, trying to perform an intense cardio session immediately after lifting weights can stress the muscles and disrupt the anabolic (muscle building) state that a weight lifter is trying to create.
If one is trying to do an intense weight lifting session to build strength, obviously a great deal of energy is required. If cardio is done prior to the weight session, the weight lifting will not be as effective since a lot of one’s available energy will have been used during the cardio session. This is because cardio burns fats and carbohydrates for energy, so those carbs will not be available for energy for the weight session.
There are ways to get around this rule. If the cardio session is not as intense, it can serve as a good warm up for the weight session. Also, if one optimizes his or her nutrition before and after a workout, then doing cardio first will not hurt the weight lifting as much.
Another benefit to performing cardio after lifting weights is that it can help rid the body of lactic acid, thus enabling the muscles to recover more quickly between workouts. If the cardio is not too intense and is performed for less than an hour, there should not be much effect on muscle building efforts. Besides, you’ll get the positive effects of the cardio sessions (i.e., working out the heart). If you are worried about weakening the muscles by doing cardio after weights, you mix up the muscle groups you are using. For example, if you lift upper body weight for cardio, do the bike or treadmill for cardio or if you perform lower body weight exercises, swim or do the arm ergometer for cardio. Or you could do weights and cardio on separate days.