Should You Do Cardio or Weightlifting First?


Like many people, you’re probably faced with this constant dilemma when you walk into the gym: Should you do cardio or lift weights first? The short answer is that it depends a lot on your goals.

“For example, if you’re training for a marathon or any long-distance run, I’d prioritize your run before strength training so you can focus on that and not distract from your tired legs,” says ACE and says Betina Gozo, NASM-certified Apple Fitness+ trainer. On the other hand, if your goal is to build stronger glutes, you might want to hit the squat rack before the treadmill. “Strength training requires more muscle recruitment, so you’re going to want to conserve all that energy,”

Even if you don’t have a super specific goal and want to train for better overall fitness, it’s important to combine cardio and strength wisely so you don’t overwork the same muscle groups. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, focusing on the same muscle groups during back-to-back cardio and strength training sessions doesn’t adequately recover. Additionally, it can lead to fatigue and poor performance, which increases the risk of injury. Therefore, when debating whether to do cardio or weights first, it’s important to carefully consider the type of exercise you’re doing.

Here, top trainers and exercise science experts break down when you should be doing cardio before lifting weights, and when the opposite is more beneficial.

When to Lift Weights Before Cardio

If you have a specific strength goal—say, you want to put PRs on your deadlifts or perfect your turkey getup—you definitely want the weight room to be your first stop. (

Here’s why: Your muscles are like a rubber band—they need to be tight enough to constrain whatever they’re wrapped around, explains Gerren Liles, ACE-certified Hyperwear athlete and Equinox master trainer. “If you take a rubber band and pull it repeatedly, it becomes too loose to hold the object together. Your muscles work the same way,” Liles said. “Repetitive movements in aerobic exercise reduce the ability of the muscles to contract effectively, and if you then do pure strength training and lifting weights for maximum effort, you’re at a disadvantage.”

Science backs the pre-aerobic weightlifting program. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recruited 11 fit and healthy men and examined their strength performance 10 minutes after a vigorous aerobic endurance workout. They were tasked with running on a treadmill for 20 to 45 minutes at moderate, very hard, or maximum intensity, followed by resistance exercises such as high pulls, squats, bench press, deadlifts, and presses. These strength exercises were performed in 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps at 80 to 1 percent of a 70-rep maximum, with three-minute rest intervals between sets.

The results showed that their performance in strength exercises was significantly affected after the aerobic exercise. In particular, participants performed fewer reps in squats and performed lower strength in high pulls, squats, and bench presses after completing most of their aerobic workouts.

Additionally, a study published in the European Journal of Sports Science in March 2016 had 1 recreational fitness male complete four different training regimens: strength training, strength training followed by endurance training, endurance training followed by strength training, and no training. The results suggest that endurance training prior to strength training leads to impaired strength training performance, especially when lifting weights. The study also showed that <>-rep maximal performance was much better during strength training alone and pre-endurance strength training than the reverse sequence.

Doing cardio after strength training may also have an added benefit, according to   Pete McCall, CSCS, host of the podcast All About Fitness. Muscle cells store something called glycogen, which fuels muscle contraction, McCall explained. Glycogen is made from carbohydrates that your body breaks down for fuel. When your body converts glycogen into energy, it becomes adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP. A byproduct of this process can be recycled back into ATP and used as energy, McCall explained. Interestingly, your body uses glycogen as fuel during high-intensity exercise like weightlifting and produces these byproducts that can actually be used as fuel for lower-intensity activities like steady-state cardio, he says. cool, right?

When to Do Cardio Before Lifting Weights

As mentioned earlier, if you’re training for a big endurance event like a triathlon or marathon, you usually want to dedicate your energy to cardio and focus on them before lifting weights.

Even if you don’t focus on a specific goal of your cardio, in some cases it may be beneficial to squeeze in some cardio before strength training — namely, as a warm-up. “Performing aerobic exercise prior to strength training can be an effective strategy for ensuring the body is properly warmed up and ready for the challenges of strength training,” McCall says. “Prior to any strenuous effort or activity, do some light, steady-state aerobic exercise — about 10 minutes — to prepare the body for exercise or performance,” says Eric R., associate professor of health sciences at Chapman University in Orange, California. Dr. Sternlicht said.

If you have specific strength-related goals, such as deadlifting a certain amount of weight or learning a specific technique (such as Olympic weightlifting or kettlebell moves), keeping the intensity low is key. You should steer clear of HIIT and opt for steady-state cardio instead, McCall says, to limit the risk of fatigue interfering with your strength workouts.

A 2013 study published in the ” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research ” agreed, finding that when exercisers performed a 15-minute low-intensity warm-up, they were able to lift more weight during the Max 1 test on a leg press machine. more weight than those who don’t warm up, only warm up for 5 minutes or do moderate-intensity warm-ups of any length.

However, if you’re just strength training for general fitness, you can work harder with pre-lifting cardio. “If someone is strength training for general fitness—meaning no specific goals—15 to 25 minute steady state or aerobic intervals or <> to <> minute short HIIT sessions before strength training are OK,” McCall said.

What if your goal is to lose weight?

When it comes to losing weight, it doesn’t really matter whether you do cardio or lift weights first — but in general importance, strength trumps cardio, says Strenlicht. Most people focus on doing more cardio when trying to lose weight because it burns more calories, but strength training two to three days a week is far better, he says.

Why? Strength training can help you gain or maintain lean body mass, which will burn more calories in the long run. ICYDK, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate (the minimum amount of calories your body needs to perform normal bodily functions), Sternlicht explains. When you weight train with shorter rest intervals, you create greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is the calories you burn long after your workout. That’s because it’s more demanding on anaerobic (oxygen-free) energy pathways during exercise, which increases the need for oxygen after a workout. So the more intense your lifts, the less rest you have between sets, and the more EPOC you’ll generate.

That said, you shouldn’t skip cardio entirely. “Ultimately, you’re using more energy and burning more calories when you’re doing aerobic training because you’re always moving, whereas with strength training you’re probably using two-thirds of the time for recovery, so adding some Aerobic exercise can increase your overall calorie burn,” says Sternlichter.

For this reason, it’s best to do mixed-strength cardio rather than steady-state cardio, says Gozo. “Every week, I recommend doing two full-body strength workouts with more reps and lighter weights, with some interval training in between (such as an Orangetheory or Barry’s Bootcamp class), plus two to three high-intensity workouts,” she says.

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s also important to increase your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) — that is, any exercise or physical activity you do outside of the gym, says Sternlicht. “Walking more, parking your car further from the entrance, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are all examples of NEAT that will increase your calorie burn,” he says. (

How to Effectively Combine Cardio and Strength Exercise

Whether you do cardio or weights first, you’re doing a workout that combines strength and cardio in one session, parallel training. And, for the general public interested in using exercise to maintain a healthy weight, doing both aerobic and strength exercises in the same workout can effectively burn energy and build muscle without any real risk, McCall said.

In fact, a March 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recruited 30 inactive female college students to an eight-week exercise program that included endurance training either before resistance training or during endurance Do resistance training before training. The endurance portion consisted of 3 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, and the resistance portion consisted of 8 sets of 12 to <> reps of five to six different strength exercises. The researchers found significant improvements in performance, strength, and lean body mass regardless of the sequence of exercise (that is, whether you did cardio or weightlifting first).

According to Sternlicht, there’s no one magic formula when it comes to designing parallel workouts. “You have to do whatever works for your lifestyle and schedule,” he said. Whatever you choose, it’s a good idea to mix it up every once in a while. Changing your workout—whether you start with cardio and strength throughout the week or stick with it for a few weeks before changing—can help challenge your body in new ways, says McCall. That way you don’t hit a fitness platform.

And make sure you don’t overwork one muscle group. For example, consider pairing an upper-body workout with HIIT cardio, and do lower-intensity steady-state cardio on days when you do lower-body strength work, says McCall. “Because the leg muscles will be working during strength training, you don’t want to kill them with intense cardio.

When wondering whether it’s better to do cardio first or lift weights first, the bottom line is this: You want to prioritize your workouts based on your goals. If you’re focused on lifting a certain amount of weight or mastering a new kettlebell movement, you should definitely hit the weight room first and supplement it with some steady-state cardio on the treadmill, rower, or bike. On the other hand, if endurance is your goal, you should save energy to go further and combine endurance-building workouts with low-weight, high-volume strength training. If your goal is to lose weight, you want to do a combination of strength and cardio—with a special emphasis on strength.

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