Having a strong and powerful body is useless if you're out of shape.
There I said it!
If you've ever seen a towering bodybuilder who looks incredibly muscular but gets out of breath walking up the stairs...
Then you know what I mean.
Herein lies a huge problem in the bodybuilding community:
If you're a young guy looking to pack on muscle as fast as possible, then you're led to believe that cardio and weight training just don't mix.
And If you do both you'll risk sabotaging your muscle gains.
But is this true? Or is it another bullshit myth?
I'll be answering this question in today's article.
Here's what you'll learn:
And much more...
Let's dive in.
can you mix cardio and weight training together? (what the science says)
Cardio and weight training are the two best methods for altering your body composition.
However, It's widely believed that you can't build strength and endurance simultaneously due to the concurrent training effect.
And this is evident in many studies where frequent endurance training disrupts strength training adaptations.
Perhaps the best example of this is a study examining the effects of doing an endurance workout before weight training.
In the study, the participants saw a 9.1-18.6% reduction in the total reps they could perform.
Don't do cardio before weight training! Research has shown that it will reduce your total volume by 9.1-18.6%.
Which is very significant, especially if you add up the total number of reps lost over a longer time period.
This study proves that doing endurance training before strength training is a bad idea.
But how about doing cardio after weights?
Interestingly, research has shown that doing a session of strength training before cardio has little to no impact on strength gains or aerobic performance.
This finding is exemplified in a study that compared the effects of concurrent training on the strength of highly-trained individuals:
- Sixteen highly-trained ice hockey and rugby players were divided into two groups that underwent either low-intensity cardio + resistance training or HIIT + resistance training.
- After a six-week period, parallel squat performance improved in both groups with no discernible difference.
- However, aerobic power (VO2 max) only improved in the HIIT + resistance training group.
The results tell us that the type of cardio you do has no impact on strength performance.
But if you want to improve strength and endurance at the same time, then you need to use HIIT instead of low-intensity cardio.
So, if you want to include cardio and weight training side by side, then you must cap the number of sessions you do and limit the duration of the workouts.
This is even more important when doing high-frequency training routines, such as the Bulgarian method.
Takeaway: If your priority is to build muscle, then do your cardio after strength training or on a separate day. By doing it this way, you can still train for strength and endurance with little impact on aerobic performance or muscle gains. It's also important that you cap how many sessions of cardio you do per week (four is plenty) and how long you train (do no more than 30-60 minutes of cardio per session).
Do you need to do cardio to be healthy? (the truth)
Cardiovascular exercise is important for improving physical fitness and disease prevention.
But more so for sedentary people who don't lift weights and are very inactive at work.
If you lift heavy weights on a regular basis, then cardio isn't essential.
The reason for this is that anaerobic exercise develops aerobic fitness (endurance) over time due to the crossover effect.
And as a result, once you progress to be an intermediate lifter, you'll already have above average fitness levels.
This isn't to say that cardio is useless for muscle building.
But if you want to improve work capacity then it's best to do so with specific training methods such as high-rep sets or supersets.
This will have greater carryover to weight training performance and still gives you the benefits of doing traditional cardio.
Takeaway: If you lift heavy 3-5 times per week, then doing extra cardio won't benefit you all that much. A better way to train for endurance, while maximising specificity of training, is to incorporate high-rep sets, low rest periods, and supersets into your workouts.
should you do cardio before or after weights for fat loss?
Cardio plays a crucial role in weight loss.
If you want to be as efficient with your time as possible, then I recommend doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
If you're unaware, HIIT is a short but intense form of cardio that has you alternating between sprints and rest periods.
It has many benefits over traditional cardio:
- It burns more calories during exercise.
- It burns more calories after exercise (the "afterburn effect").
- It increases blood flow to the lower body, in addition to elevating catecholamine levels in the blood (a chemical agent that triggers fat loss).
I highly recommend doing HIIT fasted in order to get the most out of it.
As such, I'd suggest alternating cardio and weight training on separate days.
Example 1 (full body)
Monday- Weight training
Wednesday- Weight training
Example 2 (push-pull)
That's all there is to it.
P.s. Many of the benefits of HIIT can be achieved with a 'minimum effective dose' of intense activity known as 'Exercise Snacking'.
This is an awesome alternative if you're strapped for time and can't commit to a 20-30 minute session.
Takeaway: I recommend doing fasted cardio on separate days to weight training. But if this isn't possible, then leave at least 1-hour between sessions and make sure to do weight training first.
cardio vs weights: Which is best for your goals?
If you don't have a specific goal yet and want to know where to start, then this next section will be very useful.
I'll be comparing cardio and weight training directly so you can see which is best for you.
Let's get started.
category A) calorie burn
If you want to burn as many calories as possible, then you'll want to pick the right type of exercise.
But you also need to consider adherence, or in other words the enjoyment factor.
For some, running is the best form of cardio, but for others, cycling is the preferred method.
In short, you need to find what works best for you.
With that being said, there is one study that compares several types of exercises for how many calories they burn.
In the study, four methods of exercise were compared for calorie burn; A) weight training, B) moderate-intensity cycling, C) moderate-intensity walking, and D) HIIT.
Here's what the study found:
...The typical weight training session burns roughly 420-540 calories per hour.
...The typical low-moderate cardio session burns roughly 480-600 calories per hour.
...The typical HIIT session burns roughly 600-840 calories per hour.
As you can see, cardio is clearly superior to weight training when it comes to burning calories.
And HIIT is the most time-efficient method of cardio.
category B) fitness
If your goal is to be as healthy as possible while maintaining your current weight, then you can benefit from cardio and weight training.
In fact, I recommend combining the two if you want the best results.
Here are the unique advantages of both cardio and weight training.
The benefits of cardio
Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to increase maximum oxygen uptake by 46%, in addition to reducing heart size.
This puts you at less risk of a heart attack and increases your endurance levels.
Furthermore, frequent exercise has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) by up to 9%.
Frequent cardiovascular exercise has been shown to increase endurance by 46%, in addition to raising HDL cholesterol by up to 9%. Better get peddling!
It appears that there is a "U-shaped association" between aerobic exercise and mortality.
Research points to 1-2.4 hours of exercise done 2-3x per week as being optimal for improved health.
The benefits of weight training
Studies have shown that people who perform weight training alongside cardio experience a greater reduction in fatty acids and have a lower overall body mass index (BMI).
Anaerobic exercise also benefits the cardiovascular system by producing a peptide known as c-type natriuretic peptide (CNP).
CNP relaxes the blood vessels, which increases blood flow and reduces inflammation in the body.
category c) body composition
The key to improving your body composition is to gain/maintain muscle mass while reducing fat mass.
To do this, you need to initiate the stress/adaptation cycle.
That's where strength training comes into play.
By lifting heavy frequently, you disrupt homeostasis and force the body to adapt.
This applies when you're in a calorie deficit too (your training should be EXACTLY the same when cutting).
You need to give the body a reason to hold onto your hard earned muscle mass rather than burning it for energy.
If you don't, you'll lose muscle and not achieve the ripped look you're after.
The main purpose of cardio, outside health, is to burn additional calories and create a bigger deficit.
But it's important to note that weight training can accomplish this as well.
If you have to chose between the two, then pick weight training.
In short, cardio and weight training are both essential for improved health and body composition.
And it's a good idea to combine them for the best results possible.
However, you need to apply these simple guidelines in order to maximise your results:
- NEVER do cardio before a weight training session.
- Try to separate cardio and weight training on different days. If you can't do this, then make sure to leave at least an hour between your weight training and cardio sessions.
- Limit how many cardio workouts you do per week to four (at the most).
- Stick to HIIT cardio if you want to improve strength and endurance simultaneously.
Now it's over to you!
Which do you prefer: cardio or weight training?
Let me know in the comments below.