Should Bodybuilders Do Cardio After Weight Training?
Spend some time in a corporate gym and you will see hundreds of bodybuilders lifting moderately heavy weight for sets of 10-15 reps, then you’ll see them hop on a StairMaster or elliptical machine for about 20-30 minutes of moderate intensity endurance cardio. There are many reasons for this behavior, the most common being that weight training is just a hell of a lot more fun than cardio.
Apparently the weights-first-cardio-second protocol is considered the most effective way for bodybuilders to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. But is it?
For many decades now, bodybuilders have waited until after they lift weights to start their endurance cardio sessions. The widely accepted rule is that you should perform your endurance cardio after weight training to get the biggest fat burning bang for your buck.
As with all myths, personal trainers and other sports coaches have testified that there are other, better ways to burn fat. Some say you should perform cardio before weight training, because you can burn the most calories and fat when your body is fresh. Others say you should perform cardio at the opposite end of the day from weight training or on off-days, so you can utilize the awesome fat-burning effects of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). So who is right?
In this case, there are two truths:
- HIIT – The most efficient way to schedule your cardio sessions, if your body can handle it, is on your days off from weight training. This allows you to use maximum intensity to perform HIIT workouts, which burn a ton of calories, recruit the entire spectrum of muscle fibers (type 1 and type 2), and elevate the metabolism like nothing else. HIIT sessions are also quick and to the point – they can take only 15-20 minutes, whereas endurance cardio workouts can sometimes last up to an hour.
However, this can sometimes lead to overtraining when you find yourself doing intense weight training and HIIT sessions every day of the week, sometimes twice a day. Especially when life around you is stressful, it is sometimes beneficial to step away from high intensity exercise and instead choose a moderate intensity endurance exercise.
- Endurance – The most effective way to schedule your cardio sessions is indeed to lift weights first and do cardio second. In this way you can maximize muscle and strength gains first, but still get all of the benefits of a cardio session without sacrificing muscle gains. Performing cardio first will eat up your glycogen stores and will hamper the growth hormone release that results from intense lifting.
In a recent Japanese study, researchers found a much higher rate of fat burning in athletes who lift first and cardio second, than in those who cardio first and then lift. The theory is that growth hormone levels are higher when you lift intensely, and when GH levels are high you get more muscle growth and more fat released from adipose cells. Additionally, stored glycogen will be completely used up by the weight training, so those free fat molecules will be burned for fuel. By keeping your heart rate in the fat burning zone – 65-75% of max heart rate (MHR) – you will burn fat even more efficiently.
There is officially nothing wrong with doing cardio after weight training. Let these cardio myths finally be put to rest. I am a huge advocate of HIIT training and I have spurned endurance cardio in the past, but we need to be open-minded and we don’t always have to be so hardcore in thinking that endurance cardio is for wussies. Our reality is that endurance cardio after intense weight training has significant benefits when you’re trying to lose fat while building or at least maintaining muscle mass.
Nutritionally, we need to keep a couple points in mind:
- Do not consume any sugars during the second half of your weight training. You want to burn as much glycogen as possible out of your body during weight training, in order to maximize fat burning.
- That includes your post workout drink! You are just going to have to wait until after your cardio session to drink your shake.
- Water is extremely important. Be sure to drink plenty of water while lifting, and continue to hydrate as you do your cardio.
Remember, there’s no reason not to toss in one or two HIIT sessions each week, even if you are doing post-lifting endurance cardio. HIIT has a TON of muscle building, fat burning, and metabolism accelerating benefits. Don’t blow HIIT off completely.