Trainer reveals why cardio isn’t an effective warm-up before lifting weights

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Whether you love or hate doing cardio, there is no doubt it has incredible benefits for our overall health and fitness levels.

But if you’ve started shifting your focus to strength training and using weights, that 20-30 minute warm-up on the treadmill before your squat session isn’t actually doing you any good.

Qualified Personal trainer and mentor for gym newbies Emily Robinson regularly shares fitness advice on her Instagram account and recently revealed that doing cardio before weights is “not an effective warm-up.”

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trainer emily robinson
Qualified Personal trainer and mentor for gym newbies Emily Robinson regularly shares fitness advice online. (Instagram)

Instead, Robinson says it’s important to focus on warming up the muscle groups you are actually going to use during your strength training session. 

“Try one of these instead,” she shared in the caption of a video posted to her account.

“A couple of warm-up sets on the first exercise for every muscle group you are training (50-65 per cent of the weight you will use for your working sets).

“Dynamic stretching – a movement based type of stretching that brings the muscle through a full range of motion.

“If you are unsure of dynamic stretches for the muscle groups you are training, simply go to YouTube and enter ‘dynamic stretches X muscle group’ and the internet will bless you.”

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Another reason all has to do with you overall energy.

Like Robinson, the majority of fitness experts will advise you to do the cardio after the weight training, because if you do cardio first, it uses up much of the energy source for your anaerobic work (strength training) and fatigues the muscles before their most strenuous activity.

Chest press with free weights
You’ll get better results leaving your cardio until after your weight session. (iStock)

“[Then] our lift isn’t going to be as effective as it would have been if you had full energy stores available,” she added.

“You want to leave the most energy in the tank for strength training because it will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to getting good results regardless if your goal is to lose fat or gain muscle.”

And the science backs this up.

When researchers compared three different workout protocols (strength training alone, running followed by strength, and cycling followed by strength) they found that running or cycling pre-strength workout limited the number of weight lifting reps participants could perform, compared to strength training without cardio beforehand. The results were published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR).

Another study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that muscle power decreased when lifting weights after running on a treadmill, while heart rate and the rate of perceived exertion, or how hard the workout felt, increased.

And research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that doing cardio after weight training burned more fat during the first 15 minutes of that cardio workout versus starting with cardio and then lifting.

Woman on treadmill
Studies have shown reduced performance during strength training after doing cardio. (iStock)

Of course, if you love doing cardio first, maybe because it pumps you up, then go for it, just maybe make it a shorter session.

This advice is also very dependant on your individual fitness goal.

As reported by Women’s Health the American Council on Exercise recommends the following:

  1. If your goal is better endurance, do cardio before weights.
  2. If your goal is burning fat and losing weight, do cardio after weights.
  3. If you want to get stronger, do cardio after weights.
  4. On upper-body strength training days, you can do either first.
  5. On lower-body strength training days, do cardio after weights.
  6. If your goal is just general fitness, do either first, but maybe start with the one you like less.

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