When Should I Do Cardio?

when should I do cardio
Thanks to BodyBuilding.com for the image.

Back in January when I first started my website, a friend of mine asked me for some advice. He decided to start working out again, and he saw that I used to be a personal trainer. “When should I do cardio?” he asked. “Does it matter if cardio or strength comes first?”

Unfortunately, I had focused so intently on Pilates and yoga that I quit paying attention to the science and trends in fitness. I had no idea what to tell him except for personal opinion. Today, though, I also have some other expert opinions to share. Hopefully, this will (very belatedly) answer my friend’s questions.

My Personal Advice

Which Comes First:  Cardio or Strength?

My personal advice is that if you’re doing strength training and cardio in the same workout session, you should do whichever one you like the least first. Science will not back me up on that, I know. However, I also know that back when I did cardio and strength in the same workout, I would tend to skip my cardio if it came at the end of my workout and I was tired. Yet, if I did my cardio first, I always found a way to push through in my strength training.

I Don’t Like Cardio. What Do I Do?

I had to find a way to get myself to like cardio because cardio is important. Since I know myself, I decided to bribe myself to like cardio. I won’t lie–bribes sometimes work with me. A little extra incentive often transfers to personal motivation, so I figured out how to bribe myself to spend some quality time with the treadmill.

Bribes are tricky. What appeals to me today may not appeal to me tomorrow. Therefore, I came up with two kinds of bribes:  music and TV. I started only allowing myself to listen to my favorite songs when I was on the treadmill. Also, I started watching Dawson’s Creek while logging the indoor miles. Both of these bribes made treadmill time so much more appealing.

Plus, I gave myself permission to break my cardio up and put it in different parts of my day. Whenever I felt like I was getting bored or burned out, I would wrap it up and take a break. Later in the day, I would return to finish my goal.

Try doing cardio in 10-minute bursts. You can walk at lunch, do the stairs before going home, and pick up some cardio at the gym before (or after) you do your strength training.

Is There a Better Time of Day to Lift or Do Cardio?

In my opinion, listen to your body. Are you a morning person? No? Don’t try to workout then. Lift or do cardio whenever you feel like that is what you should be doing.

If you are not yet enthusiastic about lifting or cardio, pick your workout time based on whatever works best for your personal schedule. For some people, the key is consistency, so try to pick a time of day that works well throughout your week.

The Experts Say…

Although my advice is wonderful (I’m sure), I decided to do some actual research to see how the pros would answer my friend’s questions.

Which Comes First:  Cardio or Strength?

In his article for the Huffington Post, Nate Palmer compares the cardio/strength sequence to digging for gold.

“Doing cardio first is like digging for gold with a shovel. Getting through a single layer requires 32 scoops to be removed. You’ll eventually see gold, but it will take a while.

Doing resistance training first is like showing up to the same dig site with a backhoe. Now only 3 scoops are required to get through one layer thanks to your diesel fueled machinery.

So if you’re short on time, or just want to maximize your workout so you can get back to your family, pets or World of Warcraft character, hit the weights first and save the cardio for the end.”

Other experts agree. Over on BodyBuilding.com, they posed the question When is the best time to do cardio? Then, they let people answer the question and the website runners selected what they considered to be the best answers. The overall post is pretty lengthy, but it’s a very interesting read.

The consensus appears to be that yes, technically you can do cardio first, however, you will be missing out. Cardio after lifting, or even on an entirely different day, provides a better result.

Is There a Better Time of Day to Lift or Do Cardio?

According to Gabrielle Dion at LiveStrong.com, the best time of day to workout is the afternoon. This is because of the circadian rhythms, which work “like an internal body clock, controlling sleep patterns, blood pressure and even mood.”

Because of the circadian rhythms, body temperature is naturally at its highest in the late afternoon. Dion adds,

“Research continues to find that muscle strength peaks in the afternoon and correlates to one’s peak body temperature, according to Lean Bulk. A 2005 study in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” found that maximal performance is generally improved by the end of the afternoon, at the peak of the body temperature curve.”

So, the question then becomes, what counts as late afternoon? The answer is that “afternoon” is a more relative term than we may imagine. For example, the time you wake up in the morning is a factor in determining what “afternoon” is for you. Plus, since hormone levels play a role in your body temperature, they may also play a role in determining when it’s best for you to workout.

Conclusion

Although this is very belated help for my friend, I hope that this helps others who may have been asking themselves these same questions. Let me emphasize that doing something for your health is always better than doing nothing. So, even if you workout doesn’t match up with the advice from the experts, do something for your body and you will be rewarded!

Does anyone else have any questions about health or fitness? If you do, post them below in the comments. I can’t promise that I have the answers, but I can do research and get back to you hopefully in a more timely manner than I did here.

Thank you for reading this article. If you like the information on this site, please think of supporting it. With your support, I can gather and present more information about health, fitness, and wellness.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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