By Jeannie Brown
You’ve made it into the gym and you hop on a piece of cardio equipment for a warmup. Do you continue right into your cardio session, or hit the weights and finish the cardio afterwards?
If you’re someone who likes to do their strength training and cardio in the same workout, you may have asked yourself this seemingly simple question.
As it turns out, there is no “one size fits all” answer. But there is some research we can look at to determine the best fit. Here are some guidelines.
What are your goals?
The first question to ask yourself is what do you want to accomplish. Are you looking for strength gains, fat loss, increased endurance, or all of the above with an emphasis on one or the other? Or perhaps you’re someone who simply enjoys doing one more than the other. Your answer should drive your exercise program. The good news is there are studies that can help you decide.
If increased Strength is your main goal:
According to research done by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, exercisers who ran or cycled before doing weights were able to lift less weight and do fewer reps than those who did no cardio before lifting weights. In another study conducted by the American Council on Exercise, participants who did cardio before weight training had an increased heart rate of 12 beats per minute during their weight training session. Reducing your energy stores by doing cardio first can negatively affect your power and strength output because the muscle fibers have already been fatigued which can disrupt your form and reduce your drive. If strength gains are your main concern, these findings present a case for doing your cardio session after weight training.
If Fat Loss or is your main goal:
Although both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (strength training) are critical in losing fat, cardio gives you the most bang for your fat loss buck. A much larger portion of the energy used during a cardio session comes from fat stores as opposed to weight training, which largely relies on accessible carbohydrates for fuel. You torch more calories minute for minute during cardio than weights. Having said that, it’s important to emphasise the role of strength training for fat loss. It takes a far greater amount of calories to maintain muscle than any other type of tissue in the body. The more muscle you have, the more ramped up your metabolism is and the more calories you burn. Cardio alone only addresses part of the fat loss story. If you’re not using a blend of the two, you’re missing half the picture The best approach would most likely be to do a mix of both with an emphasis on the cardio side. As for which to do first, studies have shown that EPOC (excess- post - exercise - consumption) which measures the “afterburn” or calorie consumption after you stop, is greatest when you do cardio before weight training (meaning you’ll burn more calories during the weight training). With that in mind, it may be a good idea to do some of your cardio first and save the rest for after.
If endurance performance or increasing your energy and stamina is your goal, it obviously is better to do your cardio first. It’s smart to strength train also even if your goal includes becoming a better runner, biker or cyclist. Studies have shown that strength training improves endurance athletes’ muscle power, speed, and stability that is otherwise unattainable by endurance training alone. But it may be even better to split strength and cardio sessions into different days. Sports scientists from James Cook University in Australia found that the performance of endurance athletes (runners and cyclists) was reduced for several days after a strength session.
For people seeking overall fitness, the choice is yours. Do you hate doing cardio? Do it first and get it over with. Or maybe you love cardio and aren’t a fan of weights. Do cardio first so the” feel good” hormones get you through the strength part. Lift weights first if that’s your passion.
Any combination you choose should have one theme: Pick something you’ll do on a regular basis. You have to enjoy something to make it your habit. Everyone is unique, with different goals, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. It all comes down to what works the best for you.