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What Should I Do First – Cardio or Weights?

How to Get Better Sleep: Ask the Sleep Doctor
One of the most common questions that people ask about their workout is whether they should do cardio before weights (strength training) or the other way around.

Many people struggle with this question every time they go to the gym. Unfortunately, even many experts are divided on the issue.

Experts are Divided

Many experts advise you to do cardio after weight training. The reasoning behind this strategy is that starting with cardio saps too much energy for anaerobic work or strength training and exhausts the muscles before even completing the most strenuous activity.

But, many other experts posit that putting strength training first in your regimen exhausts the muscles too much and depletes stored carbohydrates. It’s believed this process will reinforce fat burning during cardio because of the lack of sugar for fuel. Unfortunately, there is no credible data to support this claim.

It’s About Your Goals

Whatever you believe, choosing which workout to do first should depend on your fitness goals.

If you desire to increase your aerobic endurance or lose body fat, you should likely start with cardio first. If you want to enhance muscle strength, you should focus on weight training first. Frontloading your workout with the exercise that aligns with your goals the most will help you best achieve your goals.

If you don’t have a particular focus and want to improve overall, a different approach may be best – you should do the workout you enjoy the most, last. The reason for this is you will be tired after doing either exercise. If you save your least favorite for later, you will be less driven to complete the workout. But, if you give yourself something to look forward to, you will be more likely to see your workout through and complete your training.

It’s essential to note you should be careful not to overuse any muscle groups between switching from cardio to weights.

Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin:

Weights, Then Cardio

When you have a specified strength goal, the weight room should be where you start.

Your muscles are sort of like a rubber band. They need to be taut enough to restrict what they wrap around. If you repeatedly pull the rubber band, you will make it too loose to hold anything together. Your muscles work similarly.

This issue will leave you at a disadvantage if you do strength training after wearing these muscles out, making your muscles unable to effectively contract for maximum benefit. Muscles are often said to have an “all-or-none” principle when it comes to muscle contraction – they either do or they don’t. Weakening your muscles with aerobic exercise first leaves less energy for lifting weights after the fact.

A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, shows that weightlifting endurance and performance became compromised after aerobic workouts. During the trial, participants were able to perform fewer reps and became exhausted sooner and reported weights simply “feeling” heavier, indicating that their perceived effort increased significantly enough to affect their motivation and completion.

In a 2016 study, The European Journal of Sport Science studied 30 men in 4 different training routines.

These four routines included:

  • strength and then endurance training
  • strength training
  • no training
  • endurance and then strength training

The results indicated that endurance exercise when done before strength training resulted in impaired strength training performance. The study also revealed that one performance-maximized repetition was more beneficial during strength training by itself and during strength training before endurance training than the other way around.

Weight Loss

When it comes to losing weight, you can work with any routine. But, surprisingly to some, you will benefit the most from strength training. People often think cardio is more important in these cases since it burns more calories. But strength training will help your long-term goals by increasing muscle mass and density and consuming more fat in the process.

Strength training increases and maintains lean body mass—the higher your muscle mass, the higher your metabolic rate. It would help if you didn’t skip cardio, of course, but strength training is your best friend for losing stubborn belly fat.

When it comes to losing weight, keeping active outside the gym will also be beneficial.

Cardio, Then Weights

If training for a major endurance event, such as a marathon, you should first focus on cardio. Even if you aren’t focused on a significant event, you might focus on conquering a specific ability or technique, or simply improving your endurance.

Using cardio as a warm-up when you’re not focusing on endurance can also be beneficial. If this is the case, however, learning a specific technique can be useful for your goals. It would help if you kept the intensity low to keep you from using too much energy that could be used for strength training and instead use it as a primer to get your heart rate into the ideal range for muscle growth or fat burning.

Overall Take

Overall, consistency is critical. Instead of worrying about which exercise to do first, you should instead focus on maintaining a consistent routine. Choosing your practice depends entirely on you. Whatever suits your lifestyle, your desires and even what you like doing the most–all play a crucial role in keeping a consistent routine.

Get your goals on track, and design your workout to meet these goals. If you stick to it for an extended period, you will start to see results.

Let Us Help

To understand what type of exercise plan works best for your body and the goals you’re trying to reach, you may need a seasoned professional to help. At Benessair Health, we have an entire team of personal trainers, dieticians, physical therapists and board-certified specialized physicians who are dedicated to helping you become the healthiest, most energetic and confident version of yourself for an entire lifetime.

Visit us today to find out how we can support your journey to wellness and let us develop a program just for you.

Benessair Wellness Medical Center