Personal Trainer Joe O’Connor

New Personal Trainer at the Yards, Joe O’Connor, weighs in on how and when you should be doing your cardio!

It’s a question passed down through antiquity; since the times of the gladiatorial battles to the turn of the 20th century strongman popularity. Okay maybe not THAT old, but might as well be; people are always asking when and what kind of cardio should I do?!

As avid weightlifters we know cardio is important for our overall oxygen distribution. As hardcore cardio lovers we know that weightlifting is important in improving muscular strength, but when should we hit the treadmill or jump on the bike? Is before or after weightlifting better? What about morning or night? Fasted? Unfasted? Sprints or steady state? So many options my head’s spinning faster than my spin class.

The answer, my fellow gym goers, lies within your goals *cue heavenly lights from above and powerful voiceover whispering “Goaaals”*

If you’re looking to lose that unwanted belly fat and get that sexy tone in your muscles; studies show that doing cardio post workout is best; and here’s why. Weightlifting, especially lifting heavier, depletes muscle energy stores aka glycogen at a faster rate. By focusing energy on weightlifting you’re more likely to not only see more gains in muscle building but you’ll also be tapping into glycogen when you get on the Stairmaster. When your glycogen levels are lower your body doesn’t have much of a choice but to use that fat you have stored for energy anyway, thus shedding those unwanted pounds.

Now, if your focus is training for that upcoming marathon that you circled on your calendar back on January 1st,  then cardio before weightlifting will suit you better because you want to channel your energy into building stamina for the race.

Okay, but should I do fasted cardio in the morning or eat something beforehand? Again, it depends on your goal. While you sleep your body holds on to the carbs you ate from that acai bowl the day before and begins the process of using fat as fuel; breaking it down more effectively. Now that sounds too good to be true, well because it sort of is. With the breakdown of fat from fasted cardio, also comes the breakdown of amino acids and proteins. So yes, you’ll be burning off that fat, but be warned you may also be burning off the muscle that you want to keep.

Alright, well I’m not a morning person anyway. Do I have to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4 am or can I go about my day and take my nightly spin class? The answer to this is more psychological than physiological. If you prefer morning cardio, then great! Studies show that people who hit cardio in the morning are more apt to make healthy food choices during the day; they also feel much more energized and ready to take on that work presentation that had them worried the night before. Of course, morning cardio might have drawbacks such as a feeling of being rushed before having to get to the office, or you may just not be a morning person and feel more groggy than you would in the evening.

Speaking of evening cardio! Hitting the elliptical after work has its advantages too. Your body is warmed up and studies show that evening gym goers are more relaxed as the afternoon cardio sesh helps you unwind after a long day. Evening cardio has also been shown to curb appetites as you’re less likely to be wanting a tin of salty Pringles while on the rowing machine than if you were sitting on your sectional while on your 4th episode in a row of House of Cards.

Okay, but jogging on a treadmill for 45 min is boring to me, can I sprint? Sprinting and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has shown to be very promising for fat loss, but again it depends on your goals. It really comes down to how you can fit it into your schedule and what you enjoy. If you hate waking up at 6 AM to run, then don’t do that. If you enjoy a high energy spin class at night; then do that. You would rather jog a slow pace around the National Mall? Awesome, do that. Cardio’s important to any training program, so as long as you can get that heart rate up and stay consistent with it your goals will be waiting with open arms right at the end of the track.


By: Joe O’Connor, Personal Trainer at VIDA at the Yards