Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Cardio before weights? Or resistance training (weights) before cardio?

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People often ask me, “Is it best to do my cardio before weight training, or vice versa?”
The article below takes a stab at the answer, but I have a lot more to say about it (don’t I always?)
In essence, the following article cites two studies that have the common conclusion that it really doesn’t matter. My answer is a bit more involved, although I agree with the basic premise.

You should always do some type of warm-up, ideally a cardio or dynamic active stretching routine before you begin weight training. This will increase blood flow and muscle oxygenation, enhance flexibility, and in general, prepare your body for more strenuous activity. The warmup does not have to be a full cardio or stretching routine – usually 5 minutes of cycling, elliptical, treadmill or any kind of walking will do. A short dynamic stretching routine consisting of front and back thigh and calf stretches are also a good idea, along with some back and arm rotations.
If you choose to do a full cardio routine, (a minimum of 20 minutes), be sure to include intervals to maximize your workout and make sure to push your heart rate into a target zone. If you give it your all, you won’t have your optimum energy available for a great weight-lifting session.

This brings us to the next point. You must determine your goal to decide whether your emphasis will be on your cardio or strength training workout. There are some people who want “definition” and want to look ripped. As we get older, this becomes more of a challenge because the tone of our skin naturally changes (and I don’t have to say in which direction!). We are fighting the natural loss of muscle that occurs at a yearly rate beginning at the tender age of 35 !. However, toned muscles are indeed possible, if you lift your maximum amount of weight in shorter sets. For example, you may bicep curl 15 pounds a total of 4-6 repetitions, instead of 8 pounds of 12-15 repetitions. If you can continue to lift after 15 reps with good form, you are likely ready for the next level of weights. If your goal is to train for a half or full marathon, burn the highest amount of calories in the shortest amount of time, and not feel winded when you go up stairs, your goal may be more oriented toward cardio work. However, weight training works with cardio exercises to increase metabolic rate, so it’s a myth that cardio remains the only choice for caloric burn.

The most current trend is to alternate intense cardio bursts with strenuous body weight training intervals. This is called high intensity interval training or HIIT. For example, you may do the following sequence: 2 minutes of running or jumping, then 2 minutes of pushups, then 2 minutes of jump roping, then 2 minutes of crunches,etc – you get the idea. This cardio blast type of regimen accomplishes both weight training and cardio goals in one workout. The Tabata workout has gained some traction recently- it’s very intense, but can be done in 4 minutes- 4 intense intervals of 20 seconds all-out work, then 10 seconds rest- here’s a few examples
One caveat – warm up at a slow to moderate pace before trying to shoot your heart rate up to its maximum level.
Also, be careful with some of the high impact exercises and be mindful which ones are right for you.

You’ve heard me say that both cardio and strength training are necessary to maintain your optimal fitness level. Your heart, lungs, and whole circulatory system reap substantial benefits from cardio work. Your muscles, joints and bones obtain major benefits from resistance training. Your metabolism and just about all your other essential organs- brain, kidneys, liver, skin (yes, skin is an organ and is the largest one in the body) derive life enhancing advantages from both cardio and resistance training, which is why it may be a good idea to do cardio 2-3 days a week, and resistance training 2 – 3 alternate days of the week. In this way, you can put your maximum effort into each workout, instead of saving your best energy for one or the other. I have people who can run very fast on the elliptical, but cannot lift too much weight. I have others who can lift very heavy weights, but can’t sustain more than a few minutes on the elliptical or bike. My job is to ensure that each person covers the range of fitness- each is working toward having increased cardiovascular ability along with strength, endurance and flexibility.

In terms of the sequence of cardio and weight training, once again, I return to the question of “how intense is each for you?” If you feel you compromise your strength training regime when you really put in your best effort on the treadmill, then again, think about doing each on a different day. If you feel you can get a substantial heart-pumping workout in, and still have good stamina left for a strenuous session of weight training, go for it.
You must listen to your body, and heed its advice. When I get a lot of sleep, eat well, and pace myself, I can go for a great bike ride, and still do some weights, if time allows. Make sure you’re paying attention to those lifestyle habits that can make or break your workout routine:

1. Sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night on a regular basis
2. Eating a healthy diet consistently- for most of us- it’s 1500-2200 calories, depending on your level of physical activity – focus on complex carbs like fruits and vegetables, lean protein like fish, legumes and poultry and lean cuts of grass-fed beef
3. Managing stress levels through meditation, recreation and social interactions

Take away from this post?

  • Warm up with at least 5 mins of cardio, no matter what
  • Doing both cardio and strength training is essential for ideal fitness
  • Alternating days of cardio and strength training is the best option
  • Doesn’t matter too much which comes first, although I have a slight preference for cardio if it doesn’t compromise your resistance training regimen
  • Take good care of your body and pay attention to your body’s messages

There you have it! How does your current regimen compare ?

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