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 best to do strength training first and then do your cardio crush.
So how can you decide, once and for all, whether it’s better to do cardio before or after your workout?
Short answer: It depends on your fitness goals. Read on to find the best workout order for your get-fit plan.
Is it better to do cardio before or after a strength workout?
Just as there isn’t one answer to “what’s the best workout,” there isn’t a clear answer that applies to everyone as to whether to do cardio before or after a strength-training workout.
Both cardio-first and strength-first approaches can provide health benefits — just slightly different benefits.
So while there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there is a strategy that will work best you.
Whether your main fitness goal is to shed pounds, build muscle, or help your heart, here’s how to decide whether to do cardio before or after your strength workout.
Benefits of doing cardio first
If you choose to start with a 30-minute run or workout on the rowing machine, you’ll be able to take advantage of these cardio-first benefits.
1. Vigorous 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 until after a tough strength-training workout.
One study found that a single resistance-training session before cardio endurance training can affect muscle soreness, running speed, and glycogen levels (a quick source of fuel for your body during a workout).
2. Improved endurance
If increasing endurance is one of your main fitness goals, doing cardio first will help build good cardiovascular health and improve your workout duration.
A study in Journal of Human Kinetics found that participants’ endurance performance decreased when strength-training exercises were completed first.
If cardio is your main focus—for example, you want to improve your heart health or train for a triathlon—do it first before you tire.
The benefits of strength training are number one
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 to make strength training (with adequate protein consumption) your first priority.
“If you want to build muscle strictly, you’ll want to lift as much weight as possible during a workout,” says Lynn Montoya, an ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach.
Doing cardio first can deplete glycogen stores, says Montoya, which can cause muscle fatigue and decrease your muscle strength.
Translation: less strength to lift heavy.
Even if you don’t want to build Hulk-sized muscles, strength training should be your first priority — go figure — to increase your muscle strength and power faster than doing cardio first.
A 2015 study found that performing aerobic exercise (a form of cardio) before lifting weights resulted in fewer full repetitions.
And a 2016 study found that when cardio was performed before resistance training, participants demonstrated a decrease in muscle strength and an increase in perceived exertion.
2. More effective weight loss (probably)
There is no cut-and-dry evidence that cardio-before-strength or strength-before-cardio will help you shed more pounds.
But “power first” may have a slight edge.
A 2015 study compared the fat-loss effects of an 8-week trial of each training regimen in a group of 30 obese men.
The results? The strength training task at first was slightly more effective, with significant reductions in body mass, body fat and body mass index (BMI) in both groups.
Which should you do first – cardio or strength?
Bottom line: Both cardio and strength training can burn calories, improve your overall health, and help you lose weight.
So whether you choose to do cardio before or after strength, you’re still going to get a great workout.
It’s true that doing cardio first can tire your muscles, and doing strength first can affect your endurance.
But unless you’re training for a very specific goal, your training regimen shouldn’t ultimately make or break your results.
“For the general population who are just trying to get fitter, more conditioned or improve body composition, it really doesn’t matter whether you do cardio or strength training first,” says Kurt A. Escobar, PhD, an assistant. Professor of Exercise Physiology at California State University, Long Beach and an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. “It just depends on the choice.”
An easy way to navigate the cardio-or-strength-first debate? Complete cardio and strength training on separate days.
While this may mean working more total days, you’ll be able to give 100% to each workout without tired muscles, decreased endurance, or one workout (even in a small way) sabotaging another.
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Warm-ups
Whether you choose cardio first or strength first, it’s important to start your workout with an active warm-up — such as an easy jog or a few minutes of dynamic stretching.
This can warm up your body and your muscles, says NASM-certified personal trainer Adam Padgett.
And research suggests a short warm-up — about 5 to 15 minutes — can get your heart pumping and reduce the risk of injury.