One of the hottest topics amongst people in the gym is “what’s the best time to do cardio.” These are people who actually get into this discussion to get off the treadmill and stay away from the spin bike. This casual discussion more often than not turns into a heated argument.
There are many schools of thought when it comes to the timing of cardio in a workout. While some people might do their cardio as per their convenience, science can help you get more out of your cardio and workout.
The First Question
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to doing cardio in the gym. The first thing to determine is your goal. If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s best for you to do your cardio before lifting weights.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to add muscle mass, you should be doing your cardio after you’re done lifting weights. This will make sure you’re not exhausted before you even lift.
The Science Behind It
What we’ve stated above isn’t some bro science. The results of cardio depend greatly on your ultimate goal and the timing of your cardio session will greatly impact your desired results. It can also help you shorten your 45-minute cardio sessions into 20-minute sessions.
Our body produces an organic molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This molecule is responsible for every rep and set we perform. The sad thing about ATP is, we only have a fixed amount of ATP production in our body.
This is the reason you need to take rest between sets. What you’re actually doing during the rest period is waiting for your ATP reserves to fill up again so you can give it your all in the next set.
Most of the pre-workouts these days have two main ingredients, caffeine, and creatine. A lot has been said about creatine in the past. To clear things up, creatine is one of the most researched supplement on the market.
The main feature of creatine is to help you replenish your ATP reserves faster so you can get more out of your workouts. If you have ever felt exhausted in the middle of your workouts, it is because your ATP reserves have drained.
If you do your cardio sessions at the beginning of your workouts, the chances of your ATP reserves vanishing are very high. Especially if you’re not taking a pre-workout or a standalone creatine supplement to help with your workout.
You don’t want to exhaust your ATP reserves before a brutal leg workout. Taking a creatine supplement and replenishing your ATP levels isn’t as simple as it sounds. Your body breaks down carbohydrates to make this molecule.
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Once this molecule is made, it is then stored in your liver and skeletal muscles – the ones you use to lift. It’s best for you to start lifting weights while your ATP reserves are filled up to the brim because ATP replenishment during your workout isn’t as effective as beginning a workout at your strongest.
If you’re looking to lose weight, you can start your workouts with HIIT cardio session. It’s a session where you keep the intensity of your cardio workout high so you burn the most amount of calories in a short period of time.
The Elephant In The Room – Warming Up
This discussion about ATP might have left you with a question. If you’re not allowed to do cardio before a workout, then how are you supposed to warm up? This is a valid question since most of the injuries in the gym occur because of improper warming up.
Bros get into their workouts thinking they’re too good for the weights and can conquer any weight put in front of them without warming up their muscles. They might get away with it for some time but it takes only one moment to end careers.
If your goal is to gain muscle mass, there are many ways you can warm up your body without stepping on the treadmill. Warming up the muscles you’ll be training is the best way of ensuring you won’t injure yourself and will also help you lubricate your working joints.
These are a few examples of warming up your muscles without doing cardio:
Leg Day Warm-Up
- Two minutes of stretching (do different types of stretches)
- 15 Body weight squats
- 10 single-leg Romanian deadlifts
- 20 toe touches while focusing on your hamstrings
- Two sets of squats with 50% of your working weights
Do two circuits of this routine and you’ll be ready for your leg workout.
Back Day Warm-Up
- 2 sets and 10 reps of pull ups
- 10 bent over barbell rows – just with the barbell
- Light-weight lat pulldown
Since back workouts can be long and brutal, you should warm up properly while keeping the number of warm-up exercises to the minimum.
Arms Day Warm-Up
- Start with doing 10 reps of 50% of your working weights on the dumbbell curls
- 20 reps with 50% of your normal working weights on the triceps cable pushdown
- 15 reps of 50% weights of your working weights on close grip bench press.
Since your arms are smaller muscles than your back or legs, warming up won’t take as long.
Chest Day Warm-Up
- Two minutes of stretching (different variations)
- 20 body weight push ups
- 10 reps of bench press with 50% of your working weights
- Two variations of shoulder warm up exercises
It is very important to warm up your shoulder blades on your chest day.
Shoulder Day Warm-Up
- Start with variations of shoulder blade warm ups
- Do 50% of your working weights on all the exercises you’ll be performing on that day
It’s very important to properly warm up your shoulders to reduce the risk of injury.