Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cardio first, or last?

What is the optimal structure for a workout?  My continuous and obvious answer:  any way you will do it.  Consistency is the key to your success.  Keep coming, keep putting the effort forth, and results will be forthcoming.

However, if you have been doing that, is there a way to structure your workout to get even better results? 

Most of the clients that work out with me regularly know that I'm a big fan of mixing it up.  I like to mix up the exercises, but I also like to work in short segments that include cardio in the middle of the weights.  Why?  Ah, first, you get done in a reasonable amount of time.  Secondly, you get a higher intensity workout, burning more fat and calories overall.  Check out the statement below, and let's explore another possibility.

"Efficiency is the key when structuring any workout, so long-duration cardio should not be done in the beginning of the session," says certified strength and conditioning specialist Jim Smith. "The most intensive training should be done first in the workout, when you are at your best."  This is actually consistent with the structuring of high intensity plyometric training, as I learned in my NESTA Speed Agility and Quickness Certification.  Put the hardest most grueling things first, because as you tire, your form can fail, increasing your risk of injury.

It is also true that you burn through the stored sugars, and then 20-30 minutes into your workout, you begin to burn the fat. The source of energy shifts.  I do believe, however, that this will work for you, regardless of which way your structure your workout, because you will shift energy stores at this point regardless of the type of exercise you are doing.

According to Kat, a senior member at ACE (American Council on Exercise):  

"You are going to hear two different opinions on this one. One supports doing cardio after strength training because if you do it first, you may be too fatigued to put your all into the strength workout since you will have used a good deal of carbs to fuel the cardio. Also, because strength training uses carbohydrates as the primary fuel source, you will theoretically burn more fat doing cardio after. The other supports doing it first to truly warm up the body for intense lifting. Personally, I do my cardio after strength training because I find that doing 30-45 minutes of cardio first poops me out for weights. With my clients, I incorporate the two together in a circuit style. We do one or two heavy lifting exercises, then do 2-3 minutes of cardio. This is time efficient and burns a lot of calories in the one hour."

So what's best?  First, any exercise you are willing to stick to.  Second, the circuit style, incorporating short 1-3 minute cardio intervals with the weight lifting, being sure to include a 5-10 minute warm up (to prevent injury), and a 5-10 minute cool down/stretch segment, to lengthen and restore muscles after the hard workout.

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