Common Weight-Lifting and Cardio Questions Answered

Figuring out how to meet your fitness goals can be confusing, given all the opinions out there. Here I’ve answered some common questions about getting to your goals.

Strength Training



Can I lift weights and do cardio on  the same day? Which should I do first?

If possible, do cardio and weight lifting on separate days so that you have enough energy for each workout. If you can’t, try doing them at opposite ends of the day to ensure that you have the needed energy reserves.

If you’re exercising for weight loss and muscle gain, experts recommend that you lift weights before cardio. You’ll use your glycogen stores first and then tap into other energy stores (such as fat) by the time you get to aerobic exercise. You may need an energy drink after your weights workout to help replace those glycogen stores or you may not have the energy for cardio.

Should I do full-body workouts or target different muscles each session?

A full-body workout can consist only of functional, multi-joint exercises (such as squat-to-press) or it can simply mean training all muscle groups in one session (such as legs, chest, etc.). Beginners do best with full-body workouts twice a week, moving to three times a week as they progress. You’ll burn more calories and have moderate muscle growth.

Intermediate to advanced lifters can use split routines, which train specific muscle groups (such as back and chest) each session. In general, this approach takes more time and allows you to focus on specific areas for muscle growth. I use a split routine because I love weight lifting and targeting specific areas, and I enjoy spending lots of time in the gym.

How do I know I won’t get bulky?

Not to beat a dead horse, but this is still a common question among women. Look, I’m not going to try to convince you that women won’t get big muscles. Of course they can, but you will not see women bulking up like bodybuilders (unless they are using steroids). And you’ll only build size if you train a certain way. There’s a science to attaining goals through weight lifting.

When lifting weights, your goals are usually one or more of the following, each having a different training method:

  • Build size
  • Build strength
  • Build endurance

Cardio Training

Should I do cardio before breakfast?

A recent study found that exercising before breakfast can prevent insulin resistance (leading to diabetes) in people eating high-fat diets as well as prevent weight gain. Since exercising after a 10-12-hour fast has these benefits, do work out before breakfast if you’re trying to lose weight. (See more about the research.)

How often should I do cardio if I’m trying to build muscle?

Most of us know that at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, 5 days a week is recommended for general fitness. But if you’re trying to build muscle, you simply can’t be doing intense cardio every day – you’ll be using up energy stores needed to build muscle.

If you need to lose weight, concentrate on diet, cardio, and weights, but don’t expect to build size during this time. When you get closer to your target weight, decrease the cardio and increase the weight lifting volume.

If you’re not trying to lose weight, stick to 20-minute cardio sessions four times a week or two to three 30-minute sessions. And use power walks or other light aerobic exercise to stay active on your rest days.

How do I break through a weight loss plateau?

If you’ve stopped losing weight, keep in mind that the first pounds come off relatively easily due to water loss and your body responding to new stimulus. So check these possible factors:

  • Many times I discover that the person hasn’t been consistent with working out and diet. This is issue number one.
  • Your metabolism can become unbalanced when you’re restricting calories too severely or if you’re gaining/losing weight frequently.
  • You may not be pushing yourself enough or changing your workouts regularly enough. If you do the same cardio week after week, your body will work more efficiently and burn fewer calories. Use intervals to confuse your body into working harder and vary the type of cardio you do (treadmill, cycling, elliptical, stair stepper, running, etc.). The same is true of weight lifting: You need to continuously challenge your body in new ways to see changes.

Have more questions? Hit me up on email, Facebook, or Twitter. I love chatting and will help however I can.

20 thoughts on “Common Weight-Lifting and Cardio Questions Answered

  1. Great post! I wanted to know some of this stuff, too. I usually do weights and cardio on the same day. I never have an issue with not having enough energy.


  2. Thanks for this. I’ve been doing everything backwards..

    And I might have a small problem with consistency. At least for the past few months.

    I’ll keep reading and you keep writing and I’ll get back on track and send you big fat kisses.. 🙂


  3. Thanks for this! I will definitely be bookmarking it for future reference. The before-breakfast workout is particularly interesting – I always wondered if I’d be shooting myself in the foot by running on empty, or kick-starting the metabolism.


  4. As always, you’ve provided a ton of fabulous, factual training info that’s a great intro for beginners as well as a great reminder for more experienced lifters.

    I especially appreciate your explanation of how too much cardio can limit muscular growth. I use moderate cardio as a brief general warmup (five to 10 minutes) but put off any additional aerobic work for the end of the session or another day.


    • Mary, quite frankly, you should be a professional comment writer lol. You are my lovely counterpart who I trust 110%! I do the same, a light cardio warm up. I have a hard time getting to cardio… weights take all my energy so it’s a good thing I burn a lot of calories with not only weights but my crazy metabolism.


    • Aerobic exercise, to be obtuse :). The key is getting your heart rate up high enough. If you can do that with weights via circuit training, then it still counts. Heart rate… that’s the key to burning calories!


    • Diet ;). Cardio will indeed burn lots of calories and if you want to lose weight, you should do cardio. Weight lifting also burns calories, but with weights, you’ll find a better calorie burn doing circuits. Remember, the less rest you take between sets, the more calories are burned. It’s all a matter of getting your heart rate up enough. Also remember that lean muscle mass increases your metabolism, thereby burning more calories at rest.


  5. Hi Suzanne
    That bit about exercising before breakfast is great because I can see it working (no pun intended, honest!) on several levels:
    You start the day really well
    Presumably you’ve got your metabolism going
    You feel like you earned brekkie
    You can be a virtuous pain in the… to everyone you come across for the rest of the day – at least while it’s a novelty to you
    Before you know where you are it’s a daily habit
    Cool! 🙂


  6. Hi Suzanne. Good post! I’ve been working out with a trainer twice a week now for the past three weeks and he’s made a lot of changes in my routine that you mention above. One thing he advises is that I need to eat something before our intensive weight training session and then eat something else (a clean, healthy protein like egg whites or greek yogurt) again about three hours later. Any thoughts on that point? BTW, I love your new photo on Twitter. You look lovely!


    • Thanks Shira! Always puts a smile on my face to see you. About the eating around workouts… I think three hours is too long to wait to eat after an intense workout. I always eat complex carbs about an hour before my workout. Afterwards, at the gym, I immediately fuel up with a protein shake and fruit. Shortly after that I eat a meal. With weight lifting you can wait up to two hours to refuel, but I prefer to fuel up immediately to replace glycogen stores. Plus I’m naturally hungry after a workout and it’s a meal time anyway.


  7. Glad to reinforce that I’m doing most everything the right way. It just feels natural to do weights first then cardio, work out on an empty stomach in the morning, etc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s