Cardio and Weight Training

Cardio and weight training

Cardio and weight training are both important for overall health and fitness.

Cardiovascular activity works out the heart and lungs. Cardio is the kind of exercise that leaves you out of breath and sweating – and cardio is the only kind of exercise that burns fat.

In fact, cardio not only burns calories during the exercise, it also increases your metabolism to burn fat when you are at rest.

Cardio and weight training can be combined in your workout programme if you are looking to get leaner as well as stronger – and cardio is always beneficial for your health.

cardio and weight training

How much cardio should you do?

If your aim is to burn fat and lose weight then aim for at least four sessions of medium to high intensity cardiovascular activity a week. If you want to build muscle as well as hold off fat, you should only do one or two.

If all you want is to build muscle and you don’t want to lose fat, you can hold off the cardio altogether. However, it is always advisable to do some kind of cardiovascular workout to benefit the health of your heart and lungs.

There is no reason why cardio and weight training cannot work together, in fact, both are necessary for the best overall fitness.

cardio and weight training - treadmill

How intense should cardio workouts be?

Long lasting, medium intensity cardiovascular exercise causes your body to lose fat and a small amount of muscle. Short, high intensity cardio causes your body to lose fat but preserves more muscle.

Long lasting, low intensity cardio does not cause many changes at all. So, to help your strength training, the best cardio to perform is shorter, higher intensity workouts. This is because your body thinks it needs muscle to cope with the high intensity.

In contrast, the lower intensity, longer lasting exercise causes your body to think it needs to lose some bulk, which could mean lose muscle as well as fat.


Combining cardio and weight training intelligently lets your body develop muscle while also improving fitness – the best of both worlds.

In order to do this, you need to make certain you are getting all the essential nutrients from your food and getting adequate rest.

nutrients pie chart

Diet and cardio

When performing cardio it is essential that you get plenty of calories for energy.

If you don’t feed your body enough food, your metabolism will slow down to make up for what your body sees as starvation during a physically hard time.

Your body always tries to hold on to fat for protection, so if you give it food it will know it can happily lose the fat and still flourish.

Bulking and cutting

Cardio and weight training can be combined in a two part cycle known as bulking and cutting.

Some people looking to bulk up through weight training prefer to leave cardio workouts out of their training routine for a while. This is know as the ‘bulking’ phase.

After they have achieved a bulky look with more muscle they may choose to enter a ‘cutting’ phase in order to strip away body fat and allow the muscle to show through the skin more easily, as with a ‘six pack’.

The cutting phrase will require a clean diet with lots of cardio to melt away body fat developed through their bulking phase.

six pack man and woman

When to perform cardio

You should do your cardiovascular workout whenever you feel most energetic. It is best to have a small meal about an hour beforehand. You should not do cardio on a full stomach. This is something cardio and weight training workouts have in common,

This is not only because this would be uncomfortable and give you a stomach ache or the stitch, but also because you need to give your body time for the insulin levels to drop (insulin is releases after eating, especially after eating carb rich foods).

Insulin interferes with growth hormone secretion – essential for development, repair and growth of muscle.

Should you eat breakfast before a morning workout?

You should also not do strenuous cardiovascular activity on a totally empty stomach and when you are hungry, for example, after having just woken up.

After sleeping, your body is not warmed up enough to do a beneficial cardio session, it lacks energy and is more likely to suffer injury and slow down your metabolism.

Contrary to popular belief, you won’t burn more fat doing your cardiovascular workout first thing in a morning. In fact, you may actually lose muscle due to your body being in a slightly catabolic state having had no food through the night.

Breakfast revs up your metabolism and gives you the energy you need to benefit from a full cardio session.

healthy breakfast

Combining cardio and weight training

Cardio and weight training should be combined in any fitness programme for overall health. In fact, lifting weights is one of the best ways you can improve your cardiovascular workouts.

This is because when your muscles are stronger, you can run, walk or swim much faster, for much longer, before your legs and arms get tired.

This is especially true for hill running. It can be frustrating when your have plenty of energy left but your muscles are just too tired to continue.

hill running - weight training before cardio

But when should you do your weights workout to fit it around cardio training – or vice versa?

Ideally, you should do cardiovascular workouts and weight training on different days. However, if you want to do cardio and weight training on the same day, it is best to perform weights first, after warming up with a little light cardio. Then later in the day do your cardio workout.

It is also possible to do cardio and weight training on the same day, right after each other. Again, it is best to do your weight training before cardio because your muscles need all their strength for your weight training session.

Intensity is more critical to weight training than to cardio. This is why you need most of your strength still in your muscles for effective weights. It is no good if your strength is all used up by the cardiovascular activity.

Should you do weights before or after cardio?

You should always try to do your weight training before doing cardio. The science behind this is simple. You body uses two kinds of energy – glycogen and fat.

Weight training is a short burst, high intensity anaerobic exercise, which can only use glycogen for fuel. In contrast, cardio is a longer lasting exercise which uses fat as well as glycogen for fuel.

If you do your weights first, this depletes your glycogen reserves, leaving just fat to be used by your cardiovascular workout. This is what we want in order to reduce fat and build muscle.

But if we do a cardiovascular workout first, the body will always choose to bur glycogen rather than fat (because the body always likes to store fat in case of a starvation emergency).

So the cardio will use up your glycogen, leaving nothing left for the muscles to use in your weight training workout, as muscles can’t use fat for fuel.

weights before cardio

Muscles too tired after weight training to do cardio?

Unfortunately, some people find their muscles feel too tired after a good weights session to be able to do a cardio workout afterwards. This can be avoided by steering clear of leg workouts before a cardiovascular session and concentrating on arm exercises that day.

Also, the stronger you become, the more you will be able to do and, when your legs get stronger, you won’t find cardio after weight training so difficult.

It is easy to combine cardio and weight training if you plan your workouts beforehand.

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