Which comes first: weights or cardio? No matter how good you are at understanding exercise science, there are still some situations where it gets debatable. The answer is not so simple; it’s somewhat complicated.

In this article, I’ll explain to you all about this topic in such a manner that it would become simple for you to understand – what to do first cardio or weight?

At the outset, if you belong to the school of the “Never Do Cardio” cult, that’s not the true answer. Extremism is not good “always” and “never” on a fitness topic.

Secondly, in fitness, we can make the situation complex when we take what works for one individual and try that template on us. Many times though the question may sound simple, but in fact, the answer depends on a number of factors.     

The “correct” answer to the question – “what comes first cardio or weight training” – can vary from person to person, but by the end of this article, you will have a better idea about what is right for you.

How to Know Whether You Should Do Cardio or Weights First?

To find out what exercise sequence is right for you, use the goal-based guide below:

If you want to get faster: Do CARDIO first.

In their study, Dr. Lance Dalleck & ACE’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Cedric Bryant observed that exercisers who did strength training first in their workout sessions had a heart rate of 12 beats per minute higher for the exact same workout intensity and duration than those who did cardio first.

However, both the lead researchers, Dr. Lance Dalleck, as well as Dr. Cedric Bryant pointed out that the results of their study should not be taken as a validation of an always cardio-first approach. They explained that “whether cardio or weight training first” should be based on each individual needs, priorities, and goals.

In another study, sports scientists from James Cook University in Australia observed that even a single strength workout session can decrease the performance of endurance athletes – particularly runners & cyclists – for many days after.

In fact, there are other equally well-conducted studies that support the view that it’s better to do strength training first because of the following two major reasons:

(i) The muscle force-generating capacity is reduced if we do cardio first; and

(ii) The use of fat for fuel is slightly more because the body’s carbohydrate stores are depleted first with strength training.

You may now be a little confused. As with most things, trying to make gray areas into black and white rules will not work for answering this question as well. Actually, you need to look a little bit more deeply into the question of whether to do strength or cardio first to get the correct answer. 

To help you figure out the best choice for you, I have tried here to provide the best answer based on the varying individual factors:

If your main goal is to lose weight & get leaner:

Strength First: Resistance/weight training builds muscle, and more muscle means, you burn more calories at rest. “Our resting metabolic rate makes up the majority of our daily caloric energy expenditure. In one study, ten weeks of resistance/weight training enhanced resting metabolic rate by 7 % percent – & reduced fat weight by about 4 pounds. However, don’t skip cardio altogether because the aerobic portion of your workout session will still burn more calories minute for a minute as compared to the strength/weight training portion.

If you want to mainly improve strength that is to become stronger:

Strength First: Though this seems obvious, the science behind it is thought-provoking. Lifting weights involves short bursts of extreme effort & it makes your muscles use an energy source other than oxygen to perform the exercise. Contingent on your fitness level, your muscles (& heart) can tolerate a set amount of anaerobic training before getting fatigued. Thus if your energy stores are depleted during the cardio portion of the workout, you won’t be left with much to build strength. As per one study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, participants who ran or cycled before lifting weights could perform up to 20 % fewer reps of the exercise.

If you want to improve overall fitness with no emphasis on endurance or strength:

Your choice – cardio or strength training first: The best exercise is always that you enjoy doing on a regular basis. One strategy is to do what you enjoy least & get it over with first, so that you can get to the part that you like.  

If your goal is to improve balance. 

Cardio or strength training, whichever you like first. In one study, Dr. Dalleck observed that performing flexibility or neuromuscular exercises at the start of a workout did not improve participants’ balance or agility. He recommended that due to the overall benefits we get from resistance training & aerobic exercise, it would be beneficial to do the flexibility and neuromuscular exercises after strength training/cardio, however, he advised – “It doesn’t mean that you don’t do it.”

Useful Related Post: Best Balance Exercises For Seniors

If you are doing only upper-body strength training on a day:  

Either one first.

If you are doing only lower-body strength training on a day:

STRENGTH first (Do strength alone for serious strength goals.)

Useful Related Post: Why Strength Training For Seniors

About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Renu Bakshi AKA Fitness BuffhqPersonal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, the USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”

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