Should I Do Cardio Or Weights First?

You know it for a fact that an all-out fitness routine requires both cardio and weightlifting to make you stronger, fitter, and healthier in bones, muscles, and internal organs. But what you don’t know is how to arrange those activities to prevent them from deteriorating each other’s effect. Choosing between cardio-weights and weights-cardio order comes down to your exercise goals and personal needs: 

You should do weights before cardio to build bulky and strong muscles. But if you’re planning for a triathlon event, you should reverse the sequence. Also, you can lose weight faster when weights come first, while the cardio-first approach needs more time dedication to burn daily calories.

Keep reading to learn when you should prefer weights prior to cardio and vice versa. You’ll also know who’s ideal for each approach and why.

When to Do Weightlifting First

You Want to Build Muscles

The all-or-none law in muscle contraction says, when doing a certain exercise, your muscle fibers either fully respond to the motions or don’t respond to it at all. Based on this principle, slightly emphasizing your muscles cannot add any bulk, and you need to reach a certain threshold to fire up and enlarge them.

So, you need your muscles fresh, strong, and unwearied—something that won’t happen if you do cardio first.

Besides, since weightlifting includes short bursts of intense effort, you need more than plain oxygen to supply the needed energy for it. And if you drain all the energy stores within a cardio session, you’ll lack enough fuel to provide to your muscles.

As a result, they’ll become less strong and unable to perform as many reps or lift as much weight as they used to.

A 2016 Experiment also backs this up, concluding that prior cardio workouts can compromise the performance of resistant exercise by about 20 percent. Another study by the European Journal of Sport Science also adds this impaired effect can be even more significant when performing heavier weights and longer sets.

Therefore, it’s wiser to do weightlifting before cardio if your main goal is to gain bulk and strength.

You Want to Lose Weight

Weight training before aerobic exercise can help lose more fat, and for good reasons.

First, when you start off with heavy weightlifting, your body adopts a more demanding activity and drops your glycogen levels—stored carbohydrates faster. In the lack of this initial fuel, then, it starts reaching out to your fat reserves, leading to reduced waist size and overall weight after regular sessions.

But that’s not all. When you combine this weightlifting with afterward cardio, this weight-loss effect spikes to new highs. That’s because your metabolism function doesn’t end after a certain exercise.

Your body continues consuming more oxygen, fat, and calories to repair the torn muscle fibers. And this procedure resumes for about two days. Here’s where cardio comes into play:

When you run, cycle, or do any other aerobic activity, you encourage the fat-burning process in the recovery period and lose even more visceral fat.

A 2012 study that tested this method on over 1000 participants also found that strength training followed by a cardio session could heighten your energy expenditure in resting muscles—by almost 7 percent. It could also decrease their fat weight by four pounds in a three-month period.

Watch this video to learn how to lose weight with cardio:

When to Do Cardio First

You Want to Improve Your Endurance

When training for an endurance sport such as long-distance running, swimming, cycling, or skiing, you don’t want to build muscles. You strive to increase your endurance and want to give your full potential to the cardio workouts.

But doing weights before endurance activities won’t let that happen.

A 2013 study proved that those who prioritize strength training over running sessions would sabotage their running performance. It drops their running economy and time-to-exhaustion.

On the contrary, if you start with a running session, you’ve got a full-body battery, and you’re more likely to hit your running target—in terms of distance, speed, and duration before fatigue. You’ll even have more mental energy and stamina to handle the pressure.

However, don’t forgo the afterward weight lifting because it reinforces your leg muscles and consequently helps reduce the risk of injury and boost your pace.

You Want to Burn Calories

In cardio workouts, you recruit large muscles of your legs, hips, buttocks, and arms for a prolonged time. And this requires a great deal of oxygen as energy.

In response, your heart starts beating faster, and your lungs sucking air more rapidly to provide the energy. You sweat more, and your body temperature spikes. The result of all these changes is increased metabolism and calorie burning.

So if your only goal is to burn daily calories and not the stored visceral fat, you can do cardio before weightlifting. The only difference is that it takes longer to burn calories than when you do weight-lifting first—according to Mollie Millington, a London-based health and training coach.

Doing strength after cardio also causes an afterburn effect. However, it’s a bit less than when you reverse the sequence.

You Feel You Need a Warm-Up

If you’re new to the world of weightlifting or just old and not as powerful as before, you may feel you cannot start weightlifting right after a resting status. You may need a warm-up, and the easiest way for you is cardio workouts.

In this case, you can do cardio before strength training, even if your primary goal is to gain muscle mass. However, notice not to extend its period to the fatigue point. Also, don’t push it up to high intensity as you don’t aspire to shed fat.

A 20-minutes of slow running is usually enough to elevate your heart rate and make you ready for the upcoming strength session. If possible, favor cycling over running as its low-impact nature creates fewer negative effects on your strength training capacity.

Here’s a good warm-up program to do before strength training:

How to Schedule the Sequence

No matter what sequence you’ve chosen based on your needs (Strength-Cardio or Cardio-strength), a good workout program always needs to be consistent to take effect.

Here are a few tips to consider when scheduling your strength-cardio combination plan.

  • Ideally, break a whole day between your endurance and strength training sessions.
  • If you don’t have that much time to do cardio and strength on alternate days, at least consider an 8-hours recovery period between them.
  • Lift weights 2 to 4 days a week and include aerobic sessions 2 to 3 days a week, as a general rule.
  • If you choose to take weights first, do 20 minutes of cardio per 40 minutes of strength.

FAQs

Is it OK to Do Cardio and Weights on the Same Day?

It’s ok to do cardio and weights on the same day. But if you want to get the most out of them, try to include at least a few hours of recovery between the two workouts. If you don’t have that much time and want to do them back-to-back, take a few days of rest after to have enough time for recovery.

As long as you do this, “there’s no reason you can’t do both in the same workout session,” says Mandeep Ghuman, a Sports Medicine specialist in Northridge, CA.

Is It Better to Do Cardio or Weights First in the Morning?

It’s better to do cardio first in the morning because weight lifting is too strenuous for your body at that time of the day. The very first moments after waking up, when you’ve slept for almost eight hours, your muscles are in a resting state and won’t make it up to their full potential. 

Ideally, do warm-up cardio before pumping any iron. But if you have to do weights before cardio to gain muscles, wait about an hour and do something to fuel your body. And don’t do weights the first thing in the morning.

Is It Bad to Mix Cardio and Weights?

It’s not bad to mix cardio and weights as long as you have a thoughtful schedule based on your fitness goals. Just know which one should come first when you should do each, and how much time you should put into each. They’ll work in cooperation to make you healthier, stronger, and more in shape.

Conclusion

Doing either cardio or weightlifting first is one of the most frequent debates between trainers. But stop asking from or wrangling with others: the order of cardio and weight lifting workouts may differ from person to person.

If you’re an endurance seeker or triathlon trainer, do cardio before weightlifting to give your 100 percent effort to the activity, increase your cardio ability, and win the competitions.

But if bodybuilding is your initial goal, it’s important to do the weightlifting first so your muscles don’t get tired priorly and can fire up.

As for weight loss, both approaches can work, but the strength-first method sheds calories faster. Besides, it targets your reserved fats rather than just daily calories.

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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