Answered by Alexander Perkins (follow the author here @alexanderperkins)
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Q. "Is it best to do cardio before or after weight training to lose fat/weight?"
In a short answer: after.
I’m assuming you solely mean fat as few people desire to lose muscle when they’re dropping numbers on the scales. Given such I’ll answer the question accordingly. I think you could argue the point for doing a few minutes of steady state cardio to warm up before weights but generally speaking, save it for when you’ve put the iron down. You want to have as much energy as possible when you start hitting the weights and any cardio preceding it will just reduce your performance.
Why does that matter in terms of burning fat? Two key reasons...
The first is the fact that by increasing your muscle mass, you also increase your basal metabolic rate, thus improving your ability to burn fat. Building/maintaining muscle should be the initial focus of anyone who wants to cut body fat. Your muscles only want to be as big as they have to be. If you start shifting less weight when you’re cutting then you’ll fast track your muscle loss, thus indirectly affecting your ability to burn fat and directly affecting your overall appearance.
The second reason is the increase in oxygen consumption due to exercise; an occurrence known as Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Research has shown a direct correlation between both lean mass and exercise intensity with EPOC . What does that mean? The more lean mass you have and the harder you train, the more energy (and fat) you will be burning in the hours/days following. Depleting glycogen stores and building lactic acid in your muscles (from cardio) prior to lifting weights is highly counterintuitive if you want to make the most of this. This is especially true given the fact that calorie restriction – which I’m assuming you’re applying to some degree – is known to reduce EPOC .
My practical advice would be hitting the weights at a fairly high intensity prior to some HIIT. Or you could even look to combine the two together? Cardio before weights is still ok if that’s what you prefer. However, your best results will most likely come from lifting some relatively heavy weights and following it with intense, short duration cardio. Just remember that whilst that style of training will optimise basal metabolic rate (BMR) and EPOC, it won’t mean a thing to your waistline if you’re still consuming excess calories.
1. Tahara, Y., et al., Fat-free mass and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption in the 40 minutes after short-duration exhaustive exercise in young male Japanese athletes. J Physiol Anthropol, 2008. 27(3): p. 139-43.
2. Fukuba, Y., et al., The effect of dietary restriction and menstrual cycle on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) in young women. Clin Physiol, 2000. 20(2): p. 165-9.