Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

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Performance Inspired’s products are for the everyday athlete, the sometimes athlete, and for those who want to improve their fitness and overall health. We have supplements, powders, and snacks, and we strive to offer vital information to help you achieve your fitness goals because we want to help you feel healthy inside and out.

To that end, we listen to your comments and questions, and we strive to help answer them. One that we hear quite often is, “Should I do cardio workouts before or after weights?” That’s a great question and one we will address in this week’s blog.

The Importance of Exercise

We know that exercise is vital for our overall health. And even just 30 minutes a day can improve heart health, help strengthen muscles, and lead to overall better fitness.

But those starting out in the fitness world or those trying to improve their physique are sometimes unsure whether the activities they’re doing are helpful or if these activities are even considered exercise. Often the more information they have, the more questions follow. To start out, let’s look at what the CDC says: “Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving. Each week adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity.”

Moderate to intense aerobic physical activity can include a brisk walk, a jog, riding a bike, swimming a few laps, walking up several flights of stairs at work, or time on the elliptical or treadmill. Muscle training includes lifting weights or using any kind of weight training or resistance machine.

Great! Now that we know which activities we should do and the amount of time we have to spend on them, how do we organize our workouts? Do we do the cardio workouts before or after the weights?

Well, it depends on your goals.

Determining and Reaching Goals

Very few people begin an exercise routine without a clear goal in mind. So whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, improve your heart health, increase stamina, or something else entirely, make sure this routine will help you achieve that goal.

Most likely, you will do a mixture of cardio and weight training. But since the results for each are different, we must understand the right mixture.

A study published in the  Journal of Applied Physiology agrees that it’s important to combine both cardio and weight training in order to maximize the health benefits of a workout. The study states that “researchers found that for adults who are overweight, resistance training can help to increase lean mass. Aerobic training is the ‘optimal mode’ of exercise for reducing fat mass and body mass.”

According to Live Science,

Cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are two very different things. On the one hand, cardio activity, such as walking or running . . . is known for increasing your cardiorespiratory fitness, promoting energy expenditure and fat utilization.

Resistance training, on the other hand, such as lifting your body weight or pumping weights in the gym, is known for increasing strength, muscle mass, endurance, and power. Both have different attributes, and both can be very beneficial for your overall health.

Indeed, both cardio and weight training are vital to maintaining health. And cardio is especially important for heart health. So, especially as you get older, cardio is not something you want to skip, even if your goal is to bulk up your muscles. Your heart muscle needs exercise too!

Combining Cardio and Weights

Keith Baar, PhD, is a member of the American Physiological Society and a professor at the University of California Davis. For many years, he has conducted research on musculoskeletal development and exercise.

Baar teaches that combining cardio and weights is a good idea but stresses that the person must pay attention to his or her age, level of fitness, and the intensity of the training. He states: “For the average person working out less than 6 times per week, with limited high intensity training, [combining cardio and weights] is wonderful for health outcomes such as improved cardiac function. . . . For athletes working out more than nine times a week, the answer is more complex.”

For people in the latter category, he suggests this: “If the goal is to maximally grow both endurance and strength, then we would separate the workouts and do the endurance in the AM and the strength in the PM, usually right before dinner when we will add amino acids into the equation from dinner. . . . Eating dinner soon after strength training can support muscle growth.”

Baar continues: “If your goal is to increase your strength without gaining muscle mass, then you should do weights before cardio. . . . This might limit muscle growth, but will increase endurance signals.”

A review in  Sports Medicine concurs with this, finding that “combining aerobic training and strength training ‘does not compromise muscle hypertrophy and maximal strength development’ for those looking to make gains.” It went on to say that “explosive strength gains (which is the maximal amount of force you can produce in a minimal amount of time) may be ‘attenuated’, especially when both forms of fitness are performed in the same session.”

The article concludes by saying that, if you want to boost your overall level of fitness, it is better to do cardio before weights.

Military.com gives us something else to think about as we decide whether to do cardio or weights first:

The majority of fitness experts will advise you to do the cardio after the weight training, because if you do cardio first, it uses up much of the energy source for your anaerobic work (strength training) and fatigues the muscles before their most strenuous activity. This same view holds that strength training first will deplete the muscles’ stored carbohydrates (glycogen or sugar), and therefore, it will enhance fat burning during the cardio workout because of the lack of available sugar for fuel.

However, it follows this up by saying that no concrete research has proven this and that what you should keep in mind when deciding whether to do cardio or weights first are your fitness goals.

It stresses that if your main goal is to lose fat and increase endurance, you should do cardio first. But if your main goal is to improve muscle strength, then you should do weights first. It concludes by encouraging people to do first whichever exercise will help them achieve their goals so that they do not become tired and quit.

The last thing you want to happen is to tire yourself out halfway through a workout. You will not only feel defeated physically, but you will likely feel mentally defeated as well.

Does it Make a Difference for Women?

Oftentimes research is done on men, so what’s the norm or what’s true for men’s bodies is not necessarily true or optimal for women’s bodies.

That’s why we went to Women’s Health to ask: Which one is better—cardio before or after weights?

Again, the answer depends on your goals.

Women’s Health included a great cheat sheet from the American Council on Exercise. This helps women prioritize what they want for their bodies. According to the ACE, if better endurance is your main goal, do cardio first. If you want to get leaner, lose weight, or improve strength, do weights first. If you simply want to work on upper-body strength, you can do whichever order you prefer. But if you’re working on lower-body strength, do weights first.

Knowing your goals is of vital importance.

In Conclusion

These are all great rules to follow as you hit the gym. Whatever your goal, know how your body will react if you put cardio before your weight training or if you put weight training before cardio.

Remember, what’s important is knowing yourself and your body. We all have an image of what we want to look and feel like. We know what our bodies can take and how we feel if we push ourselves to the limit. We also know the importance of improving our heart health and gaining strength. So don’t skip cardio and don’t skip weight training. Do both together for the maximum health results. Your body and your mind will thank you.

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2 thoughts on “Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weights?”

  1. What about workout videos that include weights & cardio in it does help with trying to lose body fat and losing weight? Or are you just saying straight up lifting weights is better for losing weight and getting lean? I want the quicker results for trying to lose fat

    1. Any workout that incorporates cardio and weights is great; if your main goal is to lose fat, try doing cardio before weights! Best of luck with your fitness journey!

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