Should You Do Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights?
by Evelyn Valdez·
Strength training and cardio are both great forms of exercise. However, you may prefer one over the other, or you might place a greater focus on one depending on your fitness goals. Whatever the case is, whether you're trying to build muscle or lose weight – both should be a part of your workout routine!
The question is... should you do cardio before or after weights?
Some say cardio is a great warm-up before weight lifting, while others believe weight training should be first because it's what drives the best results. Both are great arguments, but there really is no "perfect way" to order your training. What it comes down to are your fitness goals and personal preferences! Your priorities will determine which works best for you, along with how often you practice both.
Although there is no perfect way to order your training, knowing which one is better to prioritize for your goals can help you figure out which one you should do first. To help, we're going to guide you through the best way to combine cardio and strength training for your goals!
Who should lift weights before cardio?
Those who have specific goals to build strength and/or muscle should prioritize lifting before cardio. Lifting weights is a high-intensity workout that requires a lot of energy, and if you do cardio first, it will use up most of the energy source. This will lead to fatiguing your muscles before their most strenuous work, which will leave massive results on the table.
Research shows this to be true as well! A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared three workout protocols – strength training alone, running followed by strength training, and cycling followed by strength training. The results showed that doing cardio workouts before lifting weights limited the number of reps participants could perform compared to the group who only followed a strength training workout with no cardio beforehand.
However, those who want to lose fat can also benefit from hitting the weights before cardio too! Strength training is a high-intensity workout and burns a lot of calories, during and after your workout. Lifting weights helps to increase lean body mass, and having more lean body mass raises your resting metabolic rate which helps burn calories even at rest!
So, anyone with weight loss goals can also benefit from starting with weights before cardio, but it really comes down to your preferred training style.
What type of cardio should you do?
If your main priority is weight training, stick to low to moderate-intensity cardio. Weight training is an anaerobic exercise which means they are short bursts of high-intensity efforts that are fueled by glucose as opposed to oxygen. Low-intensity cardio is fueled by oxygen consumption which is why it's better paired with this style of training.
HIIT, high-intensity interval training, is okay to do, but you don't want to do more than two sessions a week. This is because strength training is already a high-intensity workout, and doing too much HIIT can be way too taxing on your joints which can eventually lead to an injury. Sticking to low intensity to moderate-intensity cardio will help you burn calories and be easier on your joints.
So, with this type of training program, stick to lifting weights before cardio 3-5 times per week, and do cardio at a low to moderate intensity 3-4 times per week.
Who should do cardio before lifting weights?
Anyone training for endurance, or for example, a race, should start by doing cardio before lifting weights. This is because weightlifting beforehand can actually decrease your endurance. So, to get the most out of your endurance training, focus on your cardiovascular exercise first and finish off with a weight lifting session.
Others who may want to do cardio before lifting are those who are trying to achieve weight loss. However, as mentioned above, lifting weights is very efficient at fat loss, but if your preferred style of training is cardio – then start with cardio! Lifters who are trying to build muscle can also start off by doing some light cardio as a warm-up. In this case, stick to low-intensity cardio, like walking for 10-15 minutes, to help warm up your muscles before hitting the weights.
What type of cardio should you do?
When it comes to endurance training, stick to a moderate to high-intensity cardio workout you enjoy. For example, if you're training for a race, focus on running and sprinting. If you're more into cycling, then primarily focus on cycling! You can also switch things up and include a Stairmaster workout, rowing, or swimming, to challenge your endurance in different ways.
Those who want to focus on cardio for weight loss should also focus on moderate to high-intensity cardio, like running, cycling, and HIIT. HIIT works similarly to weight lifting in that it helps burn calories even after your workout because it helps increase post-exercise oxygen consumption. Except it requires less time! It's an excellent way to burn extra calories on top of your weight training routine.
When it comes to endurance training, stick to high-intensity cardio 1-3 times a week, moderate-intensity cardio 3-4 times a week, and weight raining 2-4 times a week.
Just remember to balance your cardio and weight lifting effectively. High-intensity cardio combined with strength training, puts a lot of stress on your joints and muscles. So, be careful not to over fatigue major muscle groups by hitting the same ones in your cardio and strength training sessions. For example, don't start or finish with a Stairmaster workout if you're working on your lower body. Instead do a light walking session so that your leg muscles aren't overworked. And implement an appropriate workout split to avoid overtraining and an injury!
In summary, those trying to build muscle, strength, or achieve fat loss should prioritize strength training and sprinkle in a few low to moderate intensity cardio exercise a week. Those trying to improve their endurance (or achieve weight loss) should focus on cardio before hitting the weights. And remember to plan your workouts accordingly to avoid any unwanted injuries that can put you out of the gym for weeks or even months!
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