August 27, 2023

The Great Debate: Should You Do Cardio or Weights First?

1. Is It Better to Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

It depends. Because your energy is limited the workout that will make the most impact on your primary fitness goal should come first. Why? With more energy in the tank you’ll put up your best performance whether that means better form more reps a faster pace or more distance covered.

Here’s how to break it down:

  • If you want to build endurance do cardio before weights.
  • If you want to lose weight do cardio after weights.
  • If you want to get stronger do cardio after weights.
  • If you want to build general fitness do cardio after weights.

Why the emphasis on strength training? Doing cardio first can compromise your energy levels and performance during a strength workout. Lifting heavy loads requires your body to perform at a high level tamper with performance and you increase your risk of injury. By lifting first you ensure you have all of the mental and physical energy to execute each rep safely and effectively.

2. When to Do Cardio Before Weights

To warm up

It’s essential to increase blood flow and range of motion in your muscles before you work out whether that workout is strength training or cardio. Ideally your warmup should include light cardio and dynamic stretches and exercises that mimic the range of motion you plan to use during your workout.

Whether you hop on a cardio machine jump rope or stick to bodyweight exercises like mountain climbers and jumping jacks aim to slowly increase your heart rate over the course of five to ten minutes. Just keep it low-intensity. Going ham on cardio during your warm-up can zap your energy and performance before the rest of your workout.

To increase endurance

If you’re training for a big endurance event such as a triathlon or marathon you’ll want to put cardio front and center. If you’re doubling up on sessions, do cardio first to improve cardiovascular endurance then polish off your workout with some lightweight high-rep strength exercises to increase muscular endurance.

If you have a satellite strength-related goal such as increasing your deadlift PR or nailing your Turkish get-up form save it for a low-intensity cardio day. Lifting heavy before a cardio workout can reduce your economy and performance during your cardio sesh. And stacking heavy strength work after high-intensity cardio increases your chances of loading already fatigued muscles which can reduce your movement quality and increase your risk of injury. If you have to double up try to separate intense cardio and strength training by at least six hours.

3. When to Do Weights Before Cardio

To build muscle

Do cardio after weights if you’re looking to build strength. Why? Lifting is hard. In order to build muscle you should be lifting somewhere between 65 to 85 percent or more of your one rep max. You’ll need all the physical and mental energy you can muster to move those heavy loads with proper form.

The science agrees. When researchers compared strength training alone with running or cycling followed by strength training they found that doing cardio before a weight lifting session reduced the amount of reps participants were able to eke out during their strength workout. It also reduced peak performance and velocity.

To lose weight

When it comes to weight loss cardio gets all the attention. It burns more calories than strength training and if you had to pick between the two it’s more effective at reducing total body mass than strength training. Plot twist: Do weights first.

Cardio is great for burning calories and losing weight but if you’re in a caloric deficit it can also eat up lean muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have the higher your resting metabolic rate or the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day at rest. In other words: Muscle keeps your metabolism humming so you want to keep it around.