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Weight Training Or Cardio: Which One Should Go First?

Weight training and cardio are definitely the foundation of almost all workout programs. Whether you are a beginner or you are an expert already in performing various exercises in the gym, chances are you have a preference on whether you like to hit the cardio machines or the weight room first. Most people would argue that the order of preference greatly depends on your mood or your fitness goals in general. However, there are many articles online that say that you should go with cardio first in order to let those endorphins kick in so that your body would be prepared when performing some weight training. However, is there really a difference between doing one over the other first?

Just like all other debatable and controversial topics in wellness and fitness, your preference on whether you should do weight training or cardio first all boils down to goals. Most, if not all, people in the gym split their workout sessions between cardio and weight training, and the order that you do the exercises can have a significant impact on your results. Scientific studies and sports research has not yet concluded if one is better than the other to do first. However, according to results, your goals are the dependent factor that indicates which one you should do first so it all depends on whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle or improve overall health. Thus, it can be definitely helpful to first assess your goals and then decide which order may be best for you.

With that, keep reading this article in order to help you find out why you may want to do cardio or weights first, and how to tell which best fits your goals.

Decide On Your Goals

It is always a good idea to start with your goals when it comes to deciding whether to do cardio or weights first during your workouts. So it is important to decide whether you want to lose weight or build good muscle tone or maybe you want to improve your endurance or build bigger muscles. With that, your goals are an important factor in your decision on what to choose first. It is also important to note one common misconception that is cardio is the most important exercise for losing weight. However, it must be noted that both cardio and strength training are important for this.

Doing cardio first

One of the most famous benefits of doing cardio is that it has been proven to be effective at burning calories and extra unwanted fat. According to studies, if you perform weight training for 30 minutes versus doing any other cardio activity for the same amount of time, cardio will significantly burn more calories. In terms of fighting off fat, both resistance exercises and anaerobic workouts are crucial. It is important to note that when you gain some muscle mass, it increases your metabolic rate, which in exchange aids you in burning fat faster. According to studies, performing both strength and cardio decreases body fat significantly more than each method alone. In addition to that, research findings also showed that fat mass and waist circumference decrease when you do a combo of the two techniques or just aerobic activity. In other words, weight loss does not occur when lifting alone.

With that in mind, if your goal is to lose some fat or lose some weight, then you may want to start your workouts with cardio at a steady intensity in order to get into the heart rate zone you need for burning fat. Once you have an established and steady heart rate, you can then transition into weight lifting, which according to experts may cause an afterburn, that also aids burning more calories after you are done exercising. So if you want to slim down, you need to kick up your cardio even if that means skipping some weights when you are short on time. It is easy to remember a simple rule that strength training changes your shape and cardio changes your size.

Furthermore, it is also important to note that you do not even really need to work your body intensively in order to reap the benefits of a cardio workout. According to experts, even at a lower intensity, cardiovascular exercise is able to aid you in losing weight because it has the capacity to stay in the fat burning zone/aerobic training zone. However, you should take note that cardio exercises require to be sustained for longer periods of time in order to fully maximize its calorie burning effects.

So if your goal is to lose weight but you decided to lift weights first, especially when you started to lift heavy using your entire body, this will cause your body to get very tired, making it hard for you to proceed to the cardio portion of your workout. This means that you might cut your workout short, and hence will not be able to reap the calorie-burning benefit of cardio exercise. This becomes problematic especially if you want to burn as many calories you can in a set amount of time. With that being said, you should try both starting with cardio and starting with weight lifting to get a sense of what works best for you. If you do not want to start with cardio but you want to still lose fats, you can try performing exercises with light weights first. This can help get your heart rate up and get your body ready for running, biking or another cardio activity.

Lastly, if you are an aspiring athlete or you are one of those people who like to run, bike or swim and want to improve your speed or overall endurance, then choosing cardio first is logical because you are going into those workouts fresh, with your body still capable of performing at its peak. This way you begin with the most vital exercise for your long-term goals and will make progress faster. If it is the better cardio capacity you are after, it is still logical to weight train even if you want to be a better runner or biker. In fact, according to studies, resistance exercises improved endurance athletes’ performance, muscle power and economy. However, you may just need longer and more often cardio moves, in which some of those being stand-alone aerobic sessions, with cross-training days placed in between your week’s schedule.

Doing Weights First

If your primary goal in going to the gym is to improve your strength, be able to lift heavy things or build more muscle, then lifting weights first is a smart choice. It is only logical not to tire out or use up all your energy in your body by doing cardio first. The less tired you are, the more repetitions you will be able to perform using the correct form and proper form which are vital for performing strength and weight training exercises safely and effectively.

In addition to that, as stated above, performing weight training first may also be helpful for fat loss when it is paired with cardio exercises. In theory, the aerobic mode of the body is activated by doing weights first, hence by the time you get to performing cardio exercises such as running, you will already be in an aerobic/fat burning state. Thus, you can maintain that aerobic state longer while running in order to utilize fat as an energy source. However, as stated above, this is best when you are lifting lighter weights that do not significantly fatigue your entire body.

In addition to that, studies have found out that people did lesser weight lifting reps if they had just finished doing cardio exercises such as running or cycling. Moreover, researchers have found out that performing weight training with no cardio beforehand resulted in more reps. A recent study has studied subjects who performed varied sessions of treadmill running, the number of reps they did during strength and weight training reduced, as did muscle power. During the strength training sessions that followed aerobic exercise, especially after a HIIT running workout, the subject’s heart rate and rate of perceived exertion also increased. This proves the former study stated.

Experts have observed that most people who exercise in the gym feel stronger when they engage in weight training first. In fact, several scientific studies also demonstrate that aerobic training can negatively affect strength development when performed prior to lifting. This can be linked to the physiological changes in the muscles that aid your movement. When you utilize those fibers to fatigue before you do resistance exercises, your form and drive will likely suffer, and that can have a noticeable impact. So if you want the muscle building benefits of strength training, it is logical to begin with weight training exercises. With that, it is important to remember that you should lift before your cardio workouts, because you will have the most power and the most strength to lift heavier loads, which in turn will make you stronger.

Lastly, It is important to note that research suggests taking enough recovery time between strength sessions in order for you not to mess with your endurance benefits. The physiological stress from resistance training, according to studies, can significantly fatigue muscles and potentially slow down the benefits of running or cycling sessions. Similarly, research shows that strength training before cardio increased heart rate by approximately 10 to 12 beats per minute, which can increase your rate of perceived exertion. This makes your workout feel more vigorous and causes you to feel tired, faster. An important thing to keep note of if your goal is to go for a longer run or ride.

Finding Balance Between The Two

Even though science is pretty inconclusive about if one if doing cardio or weights first is best, one thing that is very clear is that doing both is beneficial. Hece, finding balance between doing cardio exercises and weight training is definitely a key in order to reap the full benefits of your exercise program, especially that studies have proven that performing a combination of the two is best for overall health, increasing muscle, and reducing body fat.

Of course every individual has different ideas for what they want to get out of their gym time. So plan yours according to your goals. If you are still unsure of what to perform or if you want to perform both cardio and weight training at their maximum effort, it is usually suggested to schedule these two types of workouts on different days, permitting your body to recover in between. In this way, you do not have to worry about one affecting the other. If you prefer to do both at once, it is usually suggested to observe and assess what feels and works best for you.

At the end of the day, do what works for your body. More importantly, what is important in whatever you choose first is that you do what you love, because only then you can realize that exercise can be fun. So if you are in the groove during your warm up on the treadmill and having fun, do not stop just to do some weight training exercises. Keep going until you are ready to change your type of exercise.

1. Ayuda, T. Shape. 2020. Should You Do Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights?. Retrieved from: https://www.shape.com/fitness/tips/cardio-before-or-after-weights. Retrieved on 30 September 2020.
2. Bodybuilding. 2019. Should Cardio Come Before Or After A Workout?. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/should-cardio-come-before-or-after-a-workout.html. Retrieved on 30 September 2020.
3. Creveling, M. Dailyburn. 2018. Is It Better to Do Cardio or Strength Training First?. Retrieved from: https://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/cardio-after-lifting-strength-training/. Retrieved on 30 September 2020.
4. Natmessnig, H. Runtastic. 2019. Should You Do Cardio Or Weights First: How To Train For Your Goal. Retrieved from: https://www.runtastic.com/blog/en/strength-before-endurance-whats-the-right-order/. Retrieved on 30 September 2020.

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