I’m frequently asked by those seeking to shed bodyfat (and that’s a lot of people, especially in the warmer months) about the best time of day to do cardio. The general consensus is that performing cardio the first thing in the morning on an empty stomach yields the best results, but not everyone can or wants to do that. If you’re trying to figure out this not-so-simple issue, let’s look at the pros and cons of doing cardio either apart from your weight-training sessions or immediately after.
Cardio in the morning
‘Pros: The benefits of doing cardio upon waking are well known. With no stored glycogen in your bloodstream, your body taps into its bodyfat reserves for fuel right from the get-go. It’s energizing to start the day off with exercise’and it lets you focus completely on your weight workout later in the day without having to cram all that exercise into one long session or having to pace yourself so you have energy left over for one or the other. Seriously, what kind of human mule wouldn’t be ready to collapse after an hour and a half of leg training followed by 45 minutes of cardio?
‘Cons: The main downside of doing your cardio separately from your weight training is that for most people it means more trips to the gym. Even something as trivial as having to take an additional shower needs to be considered, as we are all dealing with just 24 hours in a day to get everything done. One option is to buy your own cardio equipment for use at home, which, depending on how close to commercial-gym quality it is, can run you anywhere from a hundred to a couple of thousand dollars. Another thing to think about is that some of us just aren’t morning people. Though eventually anybody can adapt to early-morning exercise, the first couple of weeks are pure torture for some. A final factor is that some people, due to their schedules, may have to sacrifice an hour or more of their sleep to squeeze morning cardio into their day. The ramifications of that are not to be taken lightly, as we all need our rest, particularly those of us still trying to get bigger and stronger.
Cardio after weight training
‘Pros: The first positive aspect of doing your cardio after your weight training is consolidation and convenience. You’re already at the gym, and if you trained hard enough with the weights, your glycogen should be just about as depleted as it would have been in the morning on an empty stomach. You’re going to soak only one set of clothes with sweat and need to take just one shower. You’re also saving time because you’re doing all your exercise at once.
‘Cons: There are several possible negatives. The first thing you need to think about is catabolism. Unless you train in a fairly abbreviated style, odds are you spend about an hour or more hitting the weights at a shot. To continue with 30 to 60 minutes of cardio can be too much for your body. A lot of lifters have some branched-chain amino acids or a little whey protein right after the weight work and before the cardio to prevent the body from tapping into the muscles for energy.
Another issue is simply the time involved. An hour of weights and up to an hour of cardio add up to a long time at the gym, and few among us have so much spare time. Work and family responsibilities have to take priority over exercise for the majority. Finally, do you have enough energy and endurance to do justice to both weights and cardio in one workout? If you find yourself slogging through cardio after weights, chances are you’d do much better and burn a lot more calories if you split up the two activities.
Now, based on your own particular needs, situation and preference, do your cardio at the time that’s right for you.
Editor’s note: Check out Ron Harris’ Web site, www.ronharrismuscle.com.