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Cardio or Weights First

11th September, 2023

Should You Do Cardio Or Weights First?

While some experts feel that cardio should precede weight or strength or resistance training, others believe it is the other way around. Sadly, there are not enough scientific studies in this realm that can be taken as a reference for a decisive answer.

Since the debate is unlimited, it is best to listen to people who have spent years in the industry. So, which should be done first – cardio or strength training? Traditionally, fitting the two into one workout session was not advised. It was either cardio or strength. But, with a shift in tone, fitness experts started recommending combining the two in a single session for maximum health benefits.

Before picking between the two, it is important to understand what cardio and strength training are all about.

What is cardio?

Cardio or cardiovascular exercises help in improving the performance and the efficiency of the heart. Since doing cardio exercises need extra oxygen that people usually breathe, this workout helps improve lung capacity. Combining this with a healthy heart-friendly diet can significantly strengthen and improve your heart rate.

Besides, cardio exercises are good for burning calories that in turn help in weight loss. Some of the cardio activities are:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Skipping
  • Dancing
  • Hiking

What is strength/weight training?

The primary objective of weight or strength or resistance training is to tone and strengthen the muscles. The workout helps build muscle tissues, improve bone density, ligaments and tendons, and overall joint health. It is suggested to pair this up with a muscle-gain meal plan.

When done continuously, strength training improves blood pressure, glucose storage, and metabolism of the body. Some of the key strength training activities are:

  • Weightlifting
  • Power yoga to lose weight
  • Pilates
  • Lunges and pushups

Biological processes during cardio and strength training

Strength training is fueled by short bursts of energy or anaerobic energy from the glycogen stored in the muscles. It does not require more oxygen. Through a process called glycolysis, the glycogen is broken down into energy or ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).

The procedure also produces by-products that add back to the ATP to increase energy levels. This is the energy that the body uses during strength training, like push-ups and weightlifting. Interestingly, science points out that the by-products created during glycolysis can act as fuel in performing low-intensity cardio activities, enhancing the fat-burning process. Thus, many experts suggest strength training before cardio.

There is another side to the coin. Cardiovascular exercises require aerobic energy or more oxygen than a person respires typically. During glycolysis, another by-product produced is the lactic acid that tends to make the muscles tired and drained as the strength training completes. Thus, it leaves the body with very little energy to carry out cardio exercises. When you do cardio first, it acts as a warm-up for the body. The body is effectively warmed up and prepared to undertake the high-intensity strength training session.

Most fitness experts agree that doing light cardio activities for 10-15 minutes before strength training enhances performance. Low-intensity warm-up cardio for fifteen minutes helps exercisers. As a result, they could lift more weight than individuals who did not do the warm-up exercise.


Cardio or Strength First?

As for which workout to do first, the answer lies in first understanding your goals. Most fitness experts will first ask you what you wish to achieve during the training. Depending on your overall fitness goals, you will be advised accordingly.

When to undertake cardio first?

If you are looking at running a marathon or improving your running, you should start your workout session with cardio exercises. Some people wish to build their endurance levels. For such people, cardio is the right option to start the session.

When athletes' strength training is done first, their endurance and performance levels are decreased dramatically. The effect could stay for days.

When to undertake weight or strength training first?

If you are targeting fat, then follow a weight-loss meal plan and club it with strength training. In this case, start with the weight or strength training first. Here, lifting weights should be your priority, and follow it up with doing cardio if you want to make your muscles and joints strong.

If you are keen to perfect the deadlifting technique or a kettlebell move, go for strength training. In case you wish to improve your body balance or flexibility, you can start with either.

Similarly, if your aim is overall fitness, you can start your session with either form of exercise. Here too, experts say that you should typically start with exercises that are your favorite. It keeps you motivated to complete both sessions.

Another noteworthy point is about weight loss. Both resistance and cardio training help burn fat. Therefore, either of the two actions can be carried out first. Cross-training is beneficial in this scenario since cardio burns calories quicker.

Strength training increases lean body mass, especially when done with high weights at short rest periods. The body creates more EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, in this situation. EPOC is the number of calories burned during an exercise.

What should be the frequency of cardio and strength training in a week?

Ideally, an adult should perform 2.30 hours of cardio (moderately intense) or 1.15 hours of cardio (highly intense) in a week.

The rule of thumb is – for low-intensity cardio, the frequency should be high; for high-intensity, the frequency should be less. Weight-based training, on the other hand, should be done two to three days a week.


The order in which you perform your cardio and weight-based exercises will be governed by what you want to achieve. There is no one unified answer to this and it varies from person to person and their individualistic fitness goals.

However, no matter how much you exercise, if you don't follow it with a healthy meal plan, then you won't see any positive effects. So, give enough attention to what you are consuming as well.

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