Blog Posts, Fitness myths

Myth #31: You Should Do Cardio Before Weights

Every day I see it… people dutifully slogging away at some cardio machine.  First, face palm. Cardio isn’t the body-making superstar you think it is.  Cardio burns calories while you’re doing cardio, and for a little while afterward.  But muscle burns calories even at rest. There are lots better ways to train than pedaling on a bike while reading a book, or walking on a treadmill.

But many people don’t just have a cardio day.  They get up after 30 or 45 minutes and head over to the weights.  And who can blame them? If everyone is doing it… 

Let’s think this through for a second.

If you want the info on why Strength training is sooo important (for everyone, but especially if you’re trying to lose weight), read this post. Now that you know, let me give you some food for thought.  Why would you want to focus on anything that isn’t… well.. your focus? I went to a youth conference over 20 years ago, and still remember something a keynote speaker said, because he was right.   He said

“Keep the main thing the main thing!”

Here’s the science-y explanation: your muscles store energy in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is make from the leftover glucose you eat but your body can’t use immediately. But the body doesn’t want to waste anything, so it stores glycogen in the muscles and liver in case it runs out of the more easily acessible glucose.) Each muscle has it’s own store, and doesn’t share with other muscles.  So for example, your legs are your largest muscle groups, and thus have huge stores of glycogen.  But your triceps are little bitty in comparison, and they can’t store very much.  They can’t knock on the legs’ doors and ask to borrow a cup of glycogen. That’s why your small muscles fatigue much more quickly than your large muscles.

So imagine that you run on the treadmill (don’t get me started about the treadmill! But 0002it’s what I see people doing) for 30 minutes and then head over to the squat rack or leg press to train legs.  Thanks to the cardio, you’re nice and warmed up, right? Well yes, you are that.  But you’re also about to have a really crappy leg workout. Your body doesn’t any longer have what it needs to train at an appropriate intensity.

A lot of people think doing cardio before their workout will help them “warm up”. Think about this though.  Since cardio typically means leg work, what are you really doing to prepare to work your upper body? Sure, swinging your arms improves your circulation some.  A much better plan would be to use lighter weights for a set or two to let your muscles get used to what they are doing.

Instead of doing cardio before a workout, here are some better options:

  • Put your cardio at the end.  Focus on the main thing, then use whatever energy you have left to get in some cardio, burn a few more calories, and use up some glucose. If your post workout nutrition is good, this can be a very effective strategy when it comes to seeing results in how your body looks.
  • Keep your cardio separate from your weight days.  Lately I’ve been adding in 2-3 cardio/ab days, where that’s all I do.  That’s my focus for those days.  If you’re looking to improve your cardio endurance, this is a great way to do it.
  • Add in cardio bursts to your workout.  My clients will often do 2-3 exercises, and then I’ll add in short bursts of cardio via either a recumbent bike or step ups or some sort of plyometrics between exercises.  This is a precursor to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which is also fantastic.
  • Remember, the body doesn’t know the difference.  When I train legs, my heart rate is higher than it would be if I was out on a jog. But I strategically place my rest so that I’m keeping my heart rate high, and so that my rest periods are working in my favor.

Wrapping Up the Series and What’s Next?

Thanks so much for following along through this series of “31 myths that may be sabotaging your progress”.  I hope you’ve learned a lot, and that I’ve answered some questions.  I’d love to hear in the comments what you’ve found helpful, and what questions you still have.  Your questions could lead to a post!

I’ll be switching gears in November, and hosting a “Thankful-for foods” series, where I share some of the products that are in my cart, and why they’re great!  I’ve got some delicious recipes headed your way each week on “Recipe Thursday.”  On deck this week:  Savory Breakfast Cups, which are portable, protein-packed, paleo… and errr… perfectly! delicious.

Don’t panic if you don’t see a post every day! While posting every day for a month really forced me to grow, and I loved some aspects of it, I want to make sure I’m not choosing quantity over quality. Instead of tying myself to an every day theme, I want to go back and do some other types of writing I love.  Thanks for sharing this journey with me as I turn “Pudge” into a home for all of us.




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