I always get asked when is the best time to do cardio and if you should do cardio before or after your workout.
My first response is that your optimum time may not be dictated by what has been scientifically shown to be the most effective, but rather, what your work and family schedule allows you to do. If you fall into that category, then the best time to do it is ‘whenever you can fit it in’!
Over my 40 years of competing and working out, I can tell you that I have trained on a regular basis at any given time within a 24 hour day. Yes, I have trained in the afternoons, evenings (as late as midnight), and mornings (as early as 5AM). All predicated by what was happening in my life.
My philosophy has always been two fold. First, ‘Where there is a will there is a way’ and ‘Every day you get 24 chances to get a one hour workout’. With that philosophy there should be very little excuse not to find the time to train.
Now with that aside,when is the best time to do cardio and if you also weight train, is it better to do it before or after a work out?
The following is my opinion and always remember, the advice I give is based on just being fit and healthy. This is not advice for being a competitive bodybuilder or weightlifter since it brings in a whole lot of other variables that would take a book to explain. As such, this advice should suffice for over 95% of the readers…
Best time for cardio…
There really is no definitive general consensus as to what the best time is for cardio but there are strong opinions as to when you should do a particular type of cardio (HIIT, Low Intensity) and what you should eat prior to performing it.
Whether you are performing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) cardio or low intensity cardio (fat burning zone), you should have some food in your body 45-60 minutes before performing it ESPECIALLY IF DOING IT FIRST THING IN THE MORNING!
This is quite contrary to the notion that doing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will help burn body fat because your glycogen stores are low so you will be burning fat.
Doing cardio doesn’t burn fat while you are performing the exercise but rather one to two hours afterwards. This is why it is good to have something in your system already being digested prior to your cardio so your body doesn’t start feeding off your muscles when you are done!
A banana, or like what I do, a slice of bread with peanut butter, is a good meal starter prior to cardio. Then always remember to have a hearty meal after your training session whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner.
To HIIT or Low Intensity cardio?
It all depends. Low Intensity cardio, hitting your target fat burning heart zone for at least 20 minutes but not more than 45 minutes, increases your metabolism, ie burn fat, for 2 to 3 hours after your session.
HIIT on the other hand, is said to increase your metabolism for up to 24 hours. HITT takes all of five minutes to do along with a 2-3 minute warm up period and 2-3 minute cooling down period for a total of 9-11 minutes.
You can learn about HIIT in detail in this blog post towards the end here.
So most people will say, heck then it is worth doing HIIT all the time then, less time and more effective….Not really. HIIT takes a lot out of you.
On days that you perform legs, I would stay away from HIIT, even if you are doing cardio in the morning and legs later on in the day and ESPECIALLY, if you are going to do both at the same time!
If you are going to do legs and cardio at the same time, I recommend a brief and light 5 minute cardio warmup such as treadmill or bicycle, followed by legs then a Low Intensity cardio work (20 minutes max) if so desired.
If you are going to split your routine up into two parts that day on leg day, I would do legs in the time slot where you feel the strongest, and do cardio in the other time slot but again, a very Low Intensity routine for no more than 20 minutes.
Personally, I like to vary my cardio. While I do perform HIIT most of the time, I still throw in Low Interval cardio on leg day and sometimes the day after leg day depending on how they are feeling.
Cardio before or after weight training?
It all depends on whether you are doing them together or separately that day. From my personal point of view, I like to hit both of them pretty hard but I have found that while I can have one amazing weightlifting session and a great cardio session immediately following that, I could never have an amazing cardio session followed by a great weightlifting session.
I leave my strength at the door when I do cardio first, weightlifting next. Most trainers tend to agree with that as well. So if you are going to perform both at the same time, my strong suggestion would be to perform the weights followed by cardio.
Now if you have the luxury, as I do, to perform cardio and weights at completely different times of the day, you need to pick your weight session in the time slot you feel the strongest during the day.
So for example, my current time slots available for training are early AM, 5:30-6AM and lunch time.
My body feels its strongest later in the day. So as a no brainer, this puts my weightlifting session in the lunch time slot and my cardio in the early morning time slot.
As I said before, I have done every type of training time and combination possible over the past 40 years. This is currently what fits best for me.
You have to find what works best for you since everyone’s body acts differently and everyone has different work and family commitments.
Whatever you do, do not be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you. You might surprise yourself in what you think is best may not be until you give something else a try.
So mix in cardio and lifting at the proper times and sequence to improve your chances of being…Fit Forlife!