Cardio Or Weights First

Should You Do Cardio Or Weights First?

While some experts feel that cardio should precede 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, today, fitness experts recommend 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. 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 training?

The primary objective of 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. 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, and other forms of bodyweight exercises.

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 pushups 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, though. 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. While 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 ten to fifteen minutes before strength training enhances performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also confirms the same in a study. It found doing 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 at 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. A study in Australia by James Cook University showed that when athletes’ strength training is done first, their endurance and performance levels are decreased dramatically. The effect could stay for days.

When to undertake strength training first?

If you are targeting fat or weight loss, strength training is the first one to start with. Likewise, lifting weight should be your priority, followed by cardio if it is about making 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?

Research says that an average adult should perform 2.30 hours of cardio (moderately intense) or 1.15 hours of cardio (highly intense) in a week. The rule of the thumb is – for low-intensity cardio, the frequency should be high; for high intensity, the frequency should be less. Strength Training, on the other hand, should be done two to three days a week.


The students’ performance and lean body mass increased dramatically over an eight-week program in which they had to conduct endurance training before resistance or resistance before endurance. It was irrespective of the exercise order. The report proved two things – concurrent or cross-training helps. Moreover, the order does not matter as long as honest attempts are made to exercise.

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