Cardio before weights, or weights before cardio?
Everyone seems to have a different answer: your friend swears by doing her cardio workout before hitting the free weights.
Your brother says it’s better to do strength training first and then smash your cardio.
So how do you decide once and for all whether it’s better to do cardio before or after your workout?
The short answer: it depends on your fitness goals. Read on to find the best workout order for your fitness plans.
Is it better to do cardio before or after strength training?
Just as there is no single answer to “what is the best workout to do”, the question of whether to do cardio before or after strength training does not have a clear cut answer. applies to everyone.
The cardio-first and strength-first methods can offer healthy benefits — just slightly different benefits.
So, while there is no single answer, there is a strategy that will work best for you.
Whether your main fitness goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or help your heart, here’s how to decide whether to do cardio before or after your strength workout.
The Benefits of Doing Cardio First
If you prefer to start with a 30-minute run or workout on the rowing machine, you can reap those cardio-first benefits.
1. Stronger Cardio
No surprise here: When you start your cardio with fresh legs, your cardio workout will feel easier, and you’ll likely go faster and longer than if you waited after a tough strength workout.
A study found just one resistance training session before cardio endurance training can impact muscle soreness, running gait, and glycogen levels (a quick source of fuel for your body during a workout).
2. Better stamina
If increasing endurance is one of your primary fitness goals, doing cardio first will help improve your cardiovascular health and improve workout duration.
A study in the physical activity diary found that participants’ endurance performance decreased when resistance exercises were completed first.
If cardio is your primary goal — say, you want to improve your heart health or train for a triathlon — do that first, before you get tired.
The benefits of strength training first
If you prefer squats and dumbbell presses, starting with strength training has its own advantages.
1. Faster gains and improved strength
If your goal is to build muscle mass, you’ll want strength training (along with adequate protein intake) to be your first priority.
“If you want to strictly build muscle, you’ll want to lift as much weight as possible during a workout,” says Lynn MontoyaACE certified personal trainer and health coach.
Doing cardio first can deplete glycogen stores, Montoya says, which can lead to muscle fatigue and decrease your muscle power.
Translation: less energy to lift heavy.
Even if you’re not looking to build Hulk-sized muscles, making strength training your first priority will — go figure — increase your muscle strength and power faster than doing cardio first.
A 2015 study found that doing aerobic exercise (a form of cardio) before lifting weights resulted in fewer reps being completed.
And a 2016 study found that when cardio was done before resistance training, participants showed a decrease in muscle power and an increase in perceived exertion.
2. More effective weight loss (maybe)
There’s no compelling evidence that cardio before strength or strength before cardio will help you shed more pounds.
But “strength first” may have a slight advantage.
A 2015 study compared the fat loss effects of an 8-week trial of each training order in a group of 30 obese men.
The results? Although strength training was initially slightly more effective, both groups had significant decreases in body mass, body fat, and body mass index (BMI).
What should you do first – Cardio or Strength?
Bottom Line: Cardio and strength training can burn calories, improve your overall health, and help you lose weight.
So whether you prefer doing cardio before or after strength, you’ll still get a great workout.
It’s true that doing cardio first can tire your muscles, and doing strength first can affect your endurance later on.
But unless you’re training for a super-specific goal, your workout order ultimately shouldn’t make or break your results.
“For the general population who are just trying to get fitter, more conditioned, or improve their body composition, it doesn’t matter if you do cardio or strength training first,” says Kurt A. Escobar, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Exercise Physiology at California State University, Long Beach and NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. “It comes down to preference.”
An easy way to navigate the cardio or strength first debate? Do cardio and strength training on separate days.
While that might mean more training days in total, you’ll also be able to give your 100% in every workout without worrying about muscle fatigue, diminished endurance, or sabotaging a workout (even at small scale) by the other.
Why you shouldn’t skip your warm-up
Whether you choose to do cardio first or strength first, it’s important to start your workout with an active warm-up, such as a light jog or a few minutes of dynamic stretching.
It can warm up your body and muscles, says Adam Padget, a NASM-certified personal trainer.
And research suggests a brief warm-up – around 5 to 15 minutes – can stimulate your heart and reduce the risk of injury.