Exercise Cardio or Strength Training: Which Comes First?

This morning I saw an article titled, “Why You Should Always Do Cardio First”, and it made my blood boil. Any trainer who promotes an ALL OR NOTHING type of mentality is feeding their readers and clients a recipe for failure. Fitness professionals should learn to eliminate words like ALWAYS and NEVER should be eliminated from our vocabulary. What works for some, may not work for others.

Cardio or Strength Training: Which Comes First?

This is not a new debate. I know I’ve had this conversation several times throughout that past 9 years, and to get right to the point – there is no right or wrong answer. It depends on 2 things: the individual and his or her goals.

There are studies that show that strength training first is preferred due to several things:

  • Muscle force-generating capacity is reduced due to fatigue is cardio is performed first.
  • Muscles increase in size more steadily due to muscle growth proteins are increased after weight training, but are stopped by other proteins that increase when cardio is performed.
  • You will have more energy for weight training which means you are likely to have better form and thereby will have less risk of injury and will maximize the benefits of the weight training, still leaving energy for a short amount of steady state cardio afterward.
  • Potentially extends EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) – the length of time your body will burn fat. Some studies show this can take place with cardio first as well.

Then there are studies which state cardio first is most beneficial:

  • You may have less energy (due to likely reaching your lactic acid threshold) to perform your weight lifting workout, which means a not as efficient performance.
  • You will have more energy for the cardio session, which means you can go longer, building endurance which is best if you are training for a road race or a triathlon.
  • Your perceived effort for the strength training session will be increased, thereby increasing the intensity for the latter.

So, what’s the final decision?

Well, that depends on your goals.

Do cardio first if:

  • You want to increase your cardio endurance
  • You are combining it with an upper body or core strength workout

Do strength training first if:

  • You want to expedite weight loss
  • You want to improve strength
  • Combined with lower body strength workout

If you are just looking for general fitness, you can do either first. A moderate to high intensity interval workout that mixes both cardio and strength moves is great for overall fitness. This provides the best EPOC – causing your body to burn extra fat for up to 48 hours after your workout.

However, is highly recommended for ultimate performance and strength that you find alternate days to do your cardio and weight training workouts. This allows your body to fully focus on the job it is being asked to do and will provide proper recovery time between workouts.

Unless you are training for a race or bodybuilding event, then it doesn’t matter more than your personal goals. My recommendation is to do the workout you like LEAST first. This way you can look forward to doing the workout you want to do last and end on a high note.

So, tell me which you prefer to do, cardio or strength first?

That’s all for now. Thanks for checking in.

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