It’s an age-old question. No, not which came first the chicken or the egg. Rather, which should you do first, cardio or strength? Many people ask. Most fitness professionals seem to have an opinion. And surely there are plenty of studies to support answers on both sides. So what’s the truth? Do you get your run or bike ride in first and then lift weights, or do you get your lifting in and then head over to your favorite cardio machine? Let’s look at the arguments on both sides to help you decide will work best for you.
A Case For Putting Cardio First
What Do People Say?
Many people prefer to get their cardio in before their lifting. Some dislike the cardio portion so it helps to “get it out of the way”. Some say it helps to warm their body up more gently than lifting weights. Still others say they become more mentally focused during cardio, which leads to a better strength training session.
What Do The Experts Say?
Experts on this side tell you to pay attention to your goals. If your primary goal is to increase aerobic capacity or lose body fat, then doing cardio first is probably your best option. This is where the bulk of your energy will be placed, whereas doing weights first will zap some of that away leading to a less productive cardio session. The same goes for those trying to train for a 10k, half marathon, bicycle race or other cardio events. Your best bet is to put your energy into the cardio portion of your workout so that the quality of your workout is used to better your performance.
Do cardio first if your goal is to:
- Increase aerobic capacity
- Lose body fat
- Train for a 10k or half marathon
- Prepare for a bike race
- Train for other cardio events
Related: Functional Fitness 101 Workout
A Case For Putting Weights Before Cardio
What Do The People Say?
Just as some feel cardio warms them up for weights, others will claim the opposite. Plenty of people feel like the strength training and the range of motion involved gets their body prepared and pre-stretched for the cardio afterward. Some prefer to get the “lifting” portion of their workout out of the way so they can enjoy the cardio as their “dessert.”
What Do The Experts Say?
Experts who promote weights first say that when you start your workout on the weight floor, the strength training depletes the body of its carbohydrates or sugars so that by the time you get to the treadmill or bike you end up tapping into your fat as fuel to keep your aerobic system going strong. Essentially this means you will burn more calories, especially fat calories, during AND after the workout. It should be noted, however, that the evidence of this being a fact is still unclear.
In addition, those weighing in on weights first tell you that if your legs are pre-exhausted from running, biking or elliptical machines first you end up with sloppy form in your squats and lunges. If your goal is to build muscular strength it is better for you to start with strength training so the best energy is focused on that portion of your workout.
Do strength training first if your goal is to:
- Build muscular strength.
- Potentially burn more fat calories; jury is still out.
A Case For Something Totally Different
If you are still confused as to which order would work better for you, be assured that if your goals are general health and fitness, you can mix it up and still reap all the benefits your body needs. One week put the strength first and the next week focus on cardio first. Another great option, if you have the time, is to divide your workouts into one or the other. In other words, Monday is cardio-only, Tuesday is strength-only, etc. This way each portion gets the best you have to offer. A bonus benefit with this option: your workouts are shorter.
The Bottom Line
The fact that you are even questioning the order of your workout means you are working out. This puts you ahead of most of the population and this is truly what matters. If you are working out consistently, chances are the order of your workout will not make THAT much of a difference. Even the Mayo Clinic remains neutral. According to Edward R. Lasowski, M.D. “Whether you do weightlifting before or after an aerobic workout is up to you. Research hasn’t definitively shown that one way is better than another.” His words are supported by a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which looked into the question of workout order to determine if one or the other led to more fat loss. The study titled, The Effects of Combined Resistance Training and Endurance Exercise Program in Inactive College Female Subjects: Does Order Matter?” investigated the matter using an 8-week exercise program on inactive college females. Feel free to click on the study for more details, but let me “bottom line it” for you: order didn’t matter! There was significant improvement for everyone in terms of lean body mass, VO2max and strength but the only participants who really saw their body fat go down were those who began to eat better!
If you aren’t sure which to do first or don’t have a preference, I’d also suggest HIIT training, since HIIT can combine cardio and strength into one workout. Not only does HIIT help you get your cardio and strength in at the same time, but it’s also one of the quickest ways to burn fat.