Cardio or Strength Training – Which Goes First?

Hey Angels, it’s Ally!

Imagine this…

You get to the gym after a long day, ready to walk in and have the workout of your life.

But the moment you step foot in the door, you realize the place is chock-full of people!

You see one treadmill that’s free, and just enough weights floating around for you to start your workout with strength training.

Which one would you choose?

As a matter of fact, which one do you most often choose?

Researchers have been asking this question for a while now, hoping to get a definitive result on what works best – starting your workout with cardio, or starting it with weights. The lack of concrete conclusions split experts’ opinion on the issue and leave a lot of people following a specific method without thinking about their specific goal and end-result.

The majority of fitness aficionados will tell you to do cardio after strength training because starting with cardio means depleting your body of the necessary energy sources it needs for a productive session with the weights.

This points to the view that doing strength training first will deplete the stores of carbohydrates in your muscles and improve the rate at which you burn fat during cardio.

What this mainstream advice doesn’t talk about is the fact that people in the gym have different goals attached to their routine – be it getting faster, losing weight, getting a leaner physique, improving strength, etc.

We know how vital physiology is, and the way you sequence your workout plays a great deal to determine what result you’re going to get.

You should always structure your exercise routine around your priorities!

To give you an idea of what to do then, I’ve created a little guide that will help you determine what the right order of working out is, tailored to your fitness goal.

If you want to lose weight; strength training first!

We recently talked about resistance training as a method of losing weight, and the facts still stand. Weightlifting builds muscle, and the more metabolic tissue you have, the more calories your body burns (even when it’s resting.)

Research done by the Western State Colorado University took a look at the optimal order of exercises in a workout. After a month of training in different exercise orders, the researchers found that lifting weights produced a higher heart rate among participants. Naturally, this means burning more calories!

In another study, ten weeks of strength training lead to a 7% increase in resting metabolic rate. Since this is the rate at which your body burns calories while at rest, it makes sense that this would help burn more fat – and it did, reducing fat in participants by around four pounds on average.

This increase in metabolic lean muscle mass helps burn fat way more effectively.

By doing cardio after weights in this scenario, you’ll be helping your body torch calories minute-by-minute, and for hours after you’re done at the gym!

If you want to get stronger; strength training first!

You might be going ‘duh,’ but let’s elaborate!

The science behind it is curious. Both lifting heavy weights and sprinting intense intervals involve explosive bursts of high effort. No matter where you’re at in your fitness journey, your muscles can only tolerate a certain amount of anaerobic training until you reach fatigue.

If you’ve exhausted all of your muscles’ energy resources while doing cardio, chances are you won’t have enough energy to perform these explosive short bursts when you finally reach the squat rack.

Take a look at this study – it concluded that exercisers who performed cardio before weight training performed worse than the opposite – up to 20% fewer repetitions and weight on strength exercises.

If you want to look lean and athletic; separate days!

That’s right. For those of you who want to be rocking great abs or looking amazing on the bikini competition stage, separate days is the way to go.

While your goal is being both athletic and lean, you can’t be going half and half on every exercise.

Split your focus between your individual workouts, giving one day to strength training, and one day to aerobic exercise.

By splitting your regime, you allow yourself to give your 101% in the gym every day without sacrificing your cardio or your weightlifting efforts.

And by pushing yourself through a heavy workout one day, then doing interval cardio on the second, you give your body more time to recover, allowing it to reach peak performance every day.

But in the rare occasion where you don’t have a choice but to mix and match, do weights first, then cardio.

If you want to run faster or prepare for a marathon; cardio first!

If you’re preparing for a marathon, love to cycle long distances, or just want to focus on endurance, do cardio first. Studies show that people who did cardio after weightlifting had a heart rate of 12 beats per minute higher than the people who worked the same exercises at the same intensity level but did cardio first.

Essentially making the workout seem harder than it is!

In this study, sports scientists from the James Cook University in Australia even reported that strength training first might reduce the performance of athletes who train for endurance, up to a couple of days after the workout!

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study that came to the brilliant conclusion that people should order their workouts with their fitness goal in mind (how shocking) – among all participants, the muscle that they worked out first saw the most benefit. So if you cycle or run often, always do cardio first if your goal is to excel in speed and endurance.

If you want to improve fitness and be healthier; either way works!

If you’re training to be healthy and mobile, all you need to be doing is finding ways to make your training sustainable. Do exercises you like doing, and if you feel like you need to do an exercise you don’t particularly adore, do it first and move on to the parts of your workout you enjoy doing.

The best exercise is always the one that you’ll enjoy doing.

In a recent study, researchers found that performing neuromuscular and flexibility exercises when you start your workout doesn’t really improve your agility or balance.

Sure, it does make sense constantly push your flexibility limits, but the study concluded that it’s not 100% necessary.

There’s a lot of freedom in your regime when your goal isn’t solely focused on lifting the heaviest weights or losing the most weight. When you’re balanced in your exercise – having a few cardio and strength sessions every week – the order in which you do things won’t make a dramatic difference on your result.

So if you’d rather hit the weights before you go to yoga class, you’re entirely welcome to do so.

So where does that leave us

Out there, there are a ton of different people setting a ton of different goals.

I know people who have been going to the gym for years and are only now beginning to see their abs and cuts. If you’re good at going to the bench press and pumping out a few hundred pounds, that’s awesome. But if you love strength training and you’re going all-out every day, chances are you aren’t going to have the necessary energy for a great cardio session.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people who get on the treadmill as soon as they step in the gym, and don’t step off until they fall off. These are the same people who want to tone up their arms and gain some size, but are often neglecting strength training as a whole because of the fear of “getting big.”

The bottom line is, you won’t wake up one morning with hulk-sized arms, just like you won’t wake up one day with abs of steel.

Create a balance in your exercise order that aims to fulfill your goal.

You’re the only person who can give you advice, but what I can do is set all the information in front of you so you can make the right decision for yourself!

So stop listening to the mainstream, pick a goal, and structure your regime around it…

You’ll be shocked at the results that you’ll start cultivating.