Cardio Placement

From Michael Mastrucci (@themacrodiabetic)

Even if your goal is gaining strength and muscle, cardio still has its place and time to be implemented. Remember, being able to push yourself in the gym doesn’t just require muscle control, progressive overload, rest, and adequate nutrition, but good cardiovascular health/lung capacity as well!

Though there’s no doubt that cardio burns more calories than weight lifting overall, WHERE you place your cardio is important. You see, lifting weights sends a specific signal to your body that it needs to grow/get stronger and cardio sends a DIFFERENT signal that your body needs to be more agile and lighter.

This isn’t to say that every time you go for a walk/do a HIIT session your body is going to immediately start trying to get rid of muscle, but doing extensive cardio can send conflicting signals to what your body should prioritize.

That’s why it’s often recommended to place cardio at the opposite end of your day than lifting or on a separate day altogether. However, some people’s schedules (mine included) doesn’t allow for it. So how can we implement cardio without it being “too much” if we need to combine both in the same session?

Assuming strength gain is the goal, cardio AFTER weights is more ideal. Implementing cardio as SUPPLEMENTARY allows your body to favor wanting to grow rather than being more efficient at cardiovascular activity, while still allowing you to get cardiovascular benefits or increase your TDEE. While there’s likely a “sweet spot” for how much and how long your sessions need to be (highly individual), always keeping in mind “the less cardio the better” is the idea. Use it as an extra tool WHEN NEEDED instead of prioritizing it over heavy lifting!

The other side to cardio placement is how it can effect NEAT.

First off, NEAT is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: or the energy burned through activity that isn’t planned exercise. This could be bouncing your leg when you sit, tapping your fingers, typing on a keyboard, etc.

Second, whether you realize it or not, placing long bouts of cardio around training can affect your NEAT the rest of the day. Since the body is constantly trying to achieve a state of homeostasis, it can combat this by causing you to actually move less throughout your day (especially if in a deficit)!

Even if you were to set an alarm to move every hour or so, while you may actually get up and go and do so, you’d likely feel a little more drained or fatigued (again a calorie deficit can cause this anyways).

Additionally, it’s likely more advantageous from a health standpoint to not try and be active ONLY around/during your training sessions. More specifically, it’s a good thing to save some energy to get periodic movement throughout the day to help keep oxygen and blood circulating!

Again, cardio is a fantastic tool for overall health and ASSISTING in burning extra energy that diet and weight lifting do not. However, it’s not even a requirement to lose fat and, unless you’re specifically training for cardiovascular purposes, is better left as a last resort or only implemented when needed.

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