Should I Lift Weights Before or After Cardio?

Lauren Bedosky
by Lauren Bedosky
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Should I Lift Weights Before or After Cardio?

Many recreational exercisers and athletes choose to tackle cardio and resistance exercise during the same training session or within hours of one another (also known as concurrent training). If this is you, you may be wondering, “Which should I do first?” And, “Will doing one before the other sabotage my progress?”

The answer to both questions is: It depends on your goals.

A CASE FOR CARDIO BEFORE WEIGHTS

If you’re training for an endurance event or your goal is to simply boost cardiovascular endurance, get your run, ride or swim done before you hit the weights.

If you do strength training first, you’ll limit the amount of energy you have available for your cardio session, says Jacque Crockford, MS, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Lifting weights can stress the body in ways that could potentially hinder endurance progress.

For example, a review in Sports Medicine reveals that a single resistance training bout can alter athletes’ running gait, increase muscle soreness and deplete glycogen levels (our bodies’ storage of quick-acting carbs) for several hours. And research from ACE shows that lifting weights first can increase heart rate by 12 beats per minute during a cardio workout, which makes the run or ride feel more intense, causing you to feel tired sooner.

A CASE FOR WEIGHTS BEFORE CARDIO

Meanwhile, if your goal is to increase muscular strength and power, lift before doing any cardio.

“If you perform cardiovascular training first, you won’t have as much available energy during the second half [of your workout], which is where you’d want to see your performance increase,” Crockford says.

For example, one study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that when a group of healthy men performed cardio before their strength workout, they experienced a decrease in muscular power, an increase in perceived exertion and a heart rate up to 5.5% higher than the control group, especially after a HIIT workout. Similarly, another study found men who ran or cycled prior to lifting weights were able to complete fewer strength reps than those who did no cardio beforehand.

WHY NOT DO BOTH AT ONCE?

An effective and efficient way to squeeze both strength and cardio exercise into a single workout is to simply combine them — but only if your goal is weight loss. According to Crockford, utilizing both exercise modes within a single workout maximizes your energy expenditure (read: more calories burned), which is the ultimate goal when exercising for weight loss.

To understand why this method is best for increasing energy expenditure, think back to the ACE study mentioned above. If you recall, researchers found that lifting weights first can elevate your heart rate by up to 12 beats per minute during your cardio session. As a result of this elevated heart rate, an otherwise moderate-intensity run or ride feels more intense. Then, when you switch back to resistance training, your fatigued muscles have to work even harder to complete the set. And so on.

Try super-setting strength and cardio exercises, like alternating sets of squats with intervals on the treadmill.

TRAINING FOR MULTIPLE GOALS

Unless you’re dead-set on only improving cardiovascular endurance, losing weight or gaining muscular strength, chances are you have multiple fitness goals you’re working on at any given time. For example, many people want to improve endurance, strength, fat loss, flexibility and power — simultaneously.

If this is you, and you’re training 3–5 times per week, decide which goal you want to focus on before starting that day’s training session, Crockford says.

A sample weekly workout schedule for someone with multiple goals might look something like this: Strength followed by cardio on Monday, a metabolic session for weight loss on Wednesday, and an endurance-focused workout on Friday.


READ MORE > HIGH REPS OR LOW REPS FOR FAT LOSS?


SOME FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

Concurrent training can be intense, and if you do too much too much soon, you may experience muscle soreness post-workout that lasts longer than the typical 24–72 hours. If so, dial back the intensity of your next training session, and aim to increase your weekly workout volume by no more than 5–10%, Crockford says.

Finally, remember hydration, nutrition and sleep play a key role in the recovery process. If you’re excessively sore or feeling run-down following a workout, it could be that you didn’t get enough sleep, water and/or nutrients for adequate recovery. So, play detective and experiment until you find a regimen that works for you.

About the Author

Lauren Bedosky
Lauren Bedosky

Lauren is a freelance fitness writer who specializes in covering running and strength training topics. She writes for a variety of national publications, including Men’s HealthRunner’s WorldSHAPE and Women’s Running. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, with her husband and their three dogs.

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17 responses to “Should I Lift Weights Before or After Cardio?”

  1. I really appreciate your post because it is a very common issue and many people are really confused about it. But after reading your post they can easily decide what to do. I also want to add some lines that, most of the fitness experts suggest to do cardio after the weight training. The main reason behind not doing cardio first is that it uses the energy source required for strengthening (anaerobic) exercise and fatigues the muscles before strengthening exercise.

  2. bardofoc says:

    I’ve seen this question addressed multiple times on health and fitness forums I’ve visited, and the best advice I’ve received is that it DOESN’T MATTER! Do whatever feels right for you, just as long as you get the job done.

  3. Marijke Fulton says:

    I’ve always wondered which to do first; mainly, I choose strength training before cardio, since I assume most people dislike having someone super sweaty use a machine right before them (even after wiping it down). It makes sense now that when I do strength training first I feel sluggish three-quarters of the way through cardio! I usually keep going, but I guess like all things, it’s a process. I do wonder, though, if the study you mention would yield different results if the participants were women, since similarly athletic women typically have a faster recovery period. Still, I’m glad to know that as far as my goals go, I’m doing the right thing. And you’re absolutely right! You should always find a routine which works for you, and not just go along with whatever for the sake of it. Thanks for your insight!

  4. Bill Cooper says:

    my own personal preference is to run (or whatever cardio you want to do) Mon, Wed and Sat (long run) —- I lift on Tue, Thu and Sun
    but like Nike says, JUST DO IT!

  5. Mary says:

    What is a metabolic session? I need to loose my weight.

  6. What about a daily schedule like this…?
    5:00am 30 min Yoga followed by a 30-45 min running session.
    7:00pm lift for 45 min
    Or would it be better to alternate the lifting and running after yoga?

    • Christine says:

      That does sound like an awful lot for one day. Can you really have energy for the 5am workout if you’re lifting the night before? And vice versa? My advice would be to do either an AM or PM workout. And I’d also prefer not to do yoga immediately before any kind of strength training as you are stretching out the muscles you’re about to put under tension, which can result in injury. Just food for thought 🙂

  7. Jolie Grant says:

    You should always feed your muscles within 30-45 minutes after a strength work out. I would do cardio first to ensure you properly fuel and repair your muscles. Just an opinion, I’m no expert.

  8. Justice League says:

    when i go to the gym i do both but i prefer the cardio first cause i’m not a fan of the treadmill and stairmaster. I get it out of the way first!

  9. Tabitha says:

    My goal is to loose weight but also tone my body. I have been working out 5 times a week I do 20 min elliptical 40-45 min weights and then another 20 treadmill? Am i over kill here?

  10. Carole Lee Martineau says:

    In my opinion if you are doing both in the same workout it is beneficial to do weights AFTER cardio as your muscles will be warmed up for the weight portion.

  11. Jim Wissmann says:

    As an older guy I find that alternating short bouts of cardio first then some weights, throughout a 90 minute workout serves me well. Some days I can “kick it up a notch” and others I battle to “git’er done.” Getting the right amount of sleep daily is a key to my success. I battle with diet and I can feel a difference when I eat too much. That being said it’s a battle, but worth it!

  12. Kevin says:

    Great Article

  13. jack says:

    Dangerous advice. Always do weight training first. If you do weight training when you are gassed from cardio you are going to hurt yourself.

  14. Stacie Sandall says:

    I have no clue what I am truly doing to my body. Every other day I do three high-resistance miles on the elliptical with on-board HIIT intervals in less than 30 mins, and alternating days two miles in 20 minutes or less THEN lat pulldowns, assisted dips, delt flys, chest press and hammy curls. I prefer cardio first because my body gets way too tired after lifting to perform successfully during cardio. I don’t want top get bulky. I want to reduce fat, build endurance and sleek down.

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