Should You Do Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights?
Whether you’re new to fitness, an old pro, or somewhere in between, this question might be on your mind: What should I do first, cardio or weights? Like anything with fitness, health, and your personal wellness, the answer isn’t as simple as saying one or the other. It all starts with your own fitness goals. Before deciding whether to hit the weight bench or go out for a jog first, answer this question: What do I want to accomplish? Then you can decide whether it makes sense to lift weights or do cardio first.
How can I set fitness goals?
Goal setting to see fitness results is like setting goals for anything else. You want to make sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and can be completed within a certain time frame. These are also known as SMART goals.
For example, if your goal is to lift heavier weights, that is not very specific – even if it is realistic. If your goal is to be able to increase your weight from 5-pound dumbbells to 10-pound dumbbells during a workout, that meets all of the SMART criteria once you set a deadline to achieve it. Once you have your goal set, you can determine when to do strength training first and when to do cardio first. If your goals are rooted in one or the other, start there.
When to strength train before cardio
If you have a specific strength or weight-lifting goal, it makes complete sense to hit the weights first. Running a couple miles first won’t necessarily benefit your goal to do more bicep curls. However, there is other evidence that suggests it makes sense to complete your strength training first.
Runners – especially distance runners – will know this feeling all too well. You’ve completed your long run or you’re in the middle of one and it feels like you’re about to lose control of the muscles in your legs. They’re cramping up and they’re twitching – and this is because your muscles have lost glycogen, a substance made out of carbohydrates that fuels muscle contractions.
Glycogen also creates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy that fuels every process in your body. Without glycogen, your body can’t create energy as efficiently. And when you’re strength training, the by-products of ATP created in your body can be used as fuel for your cardio workout.
Some scientific studies also suggest that weights-before-cardio is the way to go. However, if your goal is to run your first marathon, it doesn’t quite make sense to prioritize weight training. You need to consistently train for long-distance endurance. Strength training does help performance in endurance sports, but it won’t make up for a lack of cardio training. And if you need a place to start your strength training that will improve your cardiovascular performance, start with your core.
When to do cardio before lifting weights
If you’re training for any kind of endurance event, whether it is a full marathon, an Ironman, or your first 5K, it makes more sense to focus on cardio first. Don’t skip your final 20-mile training run for the weight bench – you need to mentally know you can finish the race. Your body also needs to get those miles in for conditioning.
Another big perk to putting cardiovascular activity first is that it helps your body warm up for the rest of your training. For example, a brisk ten-minute walk or another steady cardio activity gets your muscles ready for the challenges of weight training. The key is to keep your cardio exercise low-impact if you’re combining it with strength training on the same day – especially if your goals are strength-related.
If you aren’t working toward a specific goal and are just looking for a full-body workout…
What if my goal is weight loss?
Most people who want to lose weight focus on cardio because it generally burns more calories. However, strength training is what gives the weight loss upper hand to people looking to shed a few pounds. If you’ve heard that muscle weighs more than fat, this has something to do with it. Strength training helps you gain lean body mass, shed stubborn fat, and maintain muscle you already have. And the more muscle you have, the more efficiently your body burns calories while in motion and at rest.
That doesn’t mean you should skip cardio for fat loss though. Increasing your movement is essential to losing weight, and even small actions can count toward your calorie burn. That includes taking the stairs when you can, parking the car farther away from the door, walking the dog a few times per day, a few jumps on a rebounder, or walking in place during a movie. There is no shortage of creative ways to get more cardio into your life!
Combining strength training and cardio training
If you want to create a workout routine that combines the benefits of cardiovascular activity and strength training, you can create workouts that incorporate both. Depending on the type of lifestyle you have, this may be the most efficient way to achieve the best of both worlds. The best part is there’s no right or wrong way to do this. Need an idea to get started? Try this fast, 15-minute core workout.
Studies show that combining strength and cardio training together might even be better than one or the other. For example in 2019, PLOS One (Public Library of Science) published a study that found in just eight weeks of combining strength and cardio training, the benefits exceeded those of each type alone.
The bottom line
Overall, when it comes to working out, there is not one choice that is better than the other. It all depends on what your goals are. If you want to improve your form at the weight bench, focus on strength training. If you want to increase your endurance, spend some time consistently working out on a bike, the treadmill, or running outdoors. However, don’t forget that strength training does help your entire body become more efficient at any activity it is performing – and that includes calorie burning for weight loss. And the true key to working out is finding something that you love, that aligns with your personal goals.
What are YOU doing at the gym? Strength training, cardio training, or both? Tag us on Instagram with #thankyouteami and let us know. Then be sure to check out our other lifestyle blogs for more healthy ideas.
Adi Arezzini | @adiarezzini
Co-Founder + CEO, Teami Blends
Certified Holistic Nutrition Coach
Get the Nutrition You Need with Teami
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