Friday, January 25, 2013

Cardio or Weights First?

Team workout in Germany.

  You've made it to the gym, what should you tackle first? The weight room, or the treadmill?

  Even the experts can't agree. Many of them have different answers, and different preferences. But truly, the answer depends on what your goals are. What are you trying to accomplish in your workouts?

  Are you trying to get stronger, improve cardiovascular training, or lose weight/fat?

Train With Your Goals in Mind
  Ironically enough, your fitness goals will tell you what you should do first! If your goal is to become stronger, and increase muscle: hit the weights first. If your goal is to increase aerobic endurance, or lose body fat, perform your cardio first

  The ultimate, most-efficient way to exercise is to do both, cardio and weights, at the same time via circuit training. If done at a high pace and intensity, circuit training can be considered a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

  The key to circuit training is that there is no rest. At least not the kind we're used to seeing. Never are you just sitting or standing (in between sets) idly doing nothing. Your rest time is active rest, either by moving to a different muscle group, or doing a cardio interval, as the muscle groups you've just worked, recover.

  By training in this fashion, your heart rate is always elevated, working both cardiovascularly and muscularly.

Weights First, Hypothetically
  If you prefer to focus on one thing at a time -- strength training and cardio separately -- it is said to lift weights first.

  You should do strength training first because at the start of your workout, there's more blood sugar available to burn through. Your muscles will have a more powerful contraction, resulting in a more powerful workout. You get the most out of your muscles by lifting weights first, and then finishing with cardio.

  Hypothetically, you burn through the available sugar (during the weight session), and during the cardio session, your body moves into burning a higher percentage of stored energy (fat). I say hypothetically because there really isn't much research to back up this assertion. 

Personal Preference and Consistency
  I also look at it like this: what do you prefer? What is your routine? In my opinion, whatever keeps you going on a consistent basis, is the right way to go.

  For me, I prefer to do my cardio first because I like my muscles and body to be warm when I start lifting and doing more-explosive exercises. But, I also am not throwing around extremely heavy weights either, so needing a high level of power isn't as necessary. I have not 'maxed out' (or anything close to it) in the weight room in quite some time!

First season in Sweden. 2008-2009.
  You also might find yourself skipping the second part of your workout (because you're tired from the first part, or are running short on time), so do whatever you enjoy doing the most, first. You're going to put a better effort into something you enjoy over something you despise!

  Likewise if results are most important to you, do what coincides with your goal, first. So if you do skip part of your workout, it's not the part that's the most important!

  I can speak from experience about this too. On the occasions when I do lift before running, I find myself lagging and wanting to cut my cardio workout short. And I always want to get a good cardio burn in, so I prefer to focus on my cardiovascular goals. 

  All in all, despite what you are good at, or what you like, it all comes down to what your goals are, and how much you value accomplishing those goals.

  If you have a goal to lose stomach fat, doing 1000 sets on the bench, or any other muscle-isolating lift, isn't going to help you reach that goal. And vice-versa: if you're trying to get more explosive muscles, running for hours on end on the treadmill isn't going to get you any closer to accomplishing that goal.

  Take a look at what you want to accomplish, and go from there!



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