Should You Do Cardio Before Or After Weights?

Written by Heather Marr

Image by Jacob Lund / iStock

In an ideal world, we'd all have flexible schedules and available spare time to hit the gym twice a day and perform our cardiovascular training and strength training separately. That is just not the reality for most people, myself included. For those of us who need to combine both types of training during a single session, which type of training should lead the way? That answer is not black and white and depends largely on your goals.

The case for strength training first.

If gaining strength is your goal, you'll want to venture into the weight room before the cardio area. At the start of your training session, you will have more energy, more available glycogen, and more mental stamina than you will at the end of your workout. If you were to perform a leg day, for example, after running 10 kilometers, chances are you'll need to use lower weights, take longer rest periods, and perhaps do a lower training volume overall due to fatigue. That becomes a nonissue when the leg workout is prioritized and completed prior to running. 

If you're heading to the gym with weight loss as a goal, you may want to consider doing your strength training first. When trying to reach your healthy weight, you'll most likely be eating in a deficit in addition to your physical activity. This makes resistance training very important in order to conserve as much lean mass as possible while losing weight. The end goal is to lose fat tissue and preserve muscle mass to keep your metabolism high

The case for doing cardio first. 

If your goal is improving your speed or training for a specific endurance event, then cardio becomes the main attraction when concurrent training is necessary. For example, if you were training for a 10-kilometer race and you performed a leg workout prior to the run, you could expect to see slower speeds and in some cases perhaps be unable to complete the set distance. Not only would this slow down your speed or endurance progress, but if you're fatigued and your form is compromised, that puts you at risk for injury. 

That said, it's important to note that strength training should not be skipped by those looking to improve their cardiovascular performance. Resistance training is an essential accessory as it may reduce injury, improve speeds, and strengthen muscles and joints.

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The verdict.

For those looking to improve their overall wellness, whether you should strength train or do cardiovascular exercise first becomes a matter of choice. You're much more likely to exercise consistently and over the long term if you enjoy what you're doing. If you prefer cycling before hitting the weights—and your body feels good during your workout—then that's the order your concurrent training should take. Even the most perfect training program will not deliver favorable results if it isn't done consistently. The best exercise program is the one that you enjoy and will actually complete time after time.

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