Cardio or Weights: Which Comes First?

What should come first in your workout, cardio training or strength training?

When simple questions continue to puzzle us, it is often because the “simple” question has a nuanced answer that is dependent upon numerous factors. And we run into trouble whenever we take what works for an individual and try to make that the template for all of humanity to follow.

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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. This same view holds that strength training first will deplete the muscles’ stored carbohydrates (glycogen or sugar), and therefore, will enhance fat burning during the cardio workout due to the lack of available sugar for fuel. However, there is no credible, concrete research that proves this, and what it should really come down to is your fitness goals.

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Sometimes it makes more sense to start with cardio and other times you’re better off hitting the weights first, when you’re well-rested and fresh.

Here are several scenarios that can help you determine how to sequence your exercise:

  • Strength train first if: You engage in cardio exercise four to five days a week and also lift weights on two of those days. Beginning with strength training (after a warm up) and finishing with a moderate cardio workout will help you make the most of your limited strength training sessions. The two workout days when you skip the weights can be saved for high-intensity cardio workouts.
  • Do cardio first if: You have a relatively easy strength training session planned. No matter how hard you push during your cardio, you probably won’t significantly compromise your lower-intensity lifting.
  • Do cardio, then strength train, then cardio again if: You like to switch up your routine and cardio is your primary focus. Start your workout with 20 minutes of cardio, then strength train, then finish with 20 more minutes of cardio.
  • Strength train, then do cardio, then strength train again if: Improving total body muscle fitness is your major goal. Start with lower body strength exercises, then do 30 minutes of cardio and finish off with your upper body strength routine.

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