People Running on a Treadmill

Should You Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

Most people go to the gym to either lift weights, do cardio, or do a combination of both. If you're anything like me, you probably like doing a healthy mix of both.

After all, cardio and weight training have different benefits. Cardio can help your body burn more calories and improve cardiovascular health.

On the other hand, weight training can be great for increasing strength, building muscle, and boosting metabolism.

For those of us who incorporate a little bit of both in each training session ... it's pretty common to wonder: “Should you do cardio before or after weights?”

The answer is, it depends on your goals. But the reason behind the answer may not be what you expect. Keep reading and I'll tell you everything you need to know...

Which One Should I Do First?

So, should you do cardio before or after weights? Well, like I said, it depends on your goals!

You see, there isn’t enough sound science that indicates which order is better. So the reason why I say it depends on your goals is because your body will use a significant amount of energy on whatever you start with.

What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

Think about it like this ... your body can pull from a wide variety of energy sources such as stored fat, glycogen, and muscle tissue to fuel your training. Which nutrients it pulls from depends on a wide variety of factors involving your nutrition and the workout itself.

In addition to that, your muscle tissue can also fatigue by the time you start the next part of your workout. I think we can all relate to that feeling.

Here's an example:

If you run a mile, then follow it up with some squats ... do you really think you'll have the same strength for your squats as you would if you didn't just run a mile?

I'm just trying to make a simple point. My point is, as you break down muscle and use up stored energy ... you'll have less in the tank when it comes time to do the second part of your workout.

So really ... The question of "Should you do cardio before or after weights" ultimately won't matter at a certain point, because either way, you'll be fatigued!

If you do cardio first, your body may not be in the best spot to tackle the stress of lifting weights.

If you start with lifting weights, you may not have enough energy to sustain cardio long enough to reap the full benefits.

For that reason alone, I'm sure you can understand why it's hard to slap a label on which order is "better". You’ll have to decide for yourself based on what you want to achieve and through some trial and error.

The one you start with will likely get the better workout. So, consider giving first spot to the exercises that matter most to your fitness goals.

Why People Quit, and Why You Shouldn't

If you are looking to improve your strength and lean muscle, try starting with weights.

If you are looking to improve your cardiovascular fitness or endurance, do cardio first.

Beyond that, I can't pretend like there are specific benefits to doing one first over the other. That would be misleading.

Doing Cardio Before Weights

Since it all depends on your goals, let’s look at what you get from doing cardio before strength training. Here are some of the key benefits you get from this particular order: 

  • Enhanced endurance and cardiovascular health. Cardio pushes your heart and helps you to build that up before you dive into muscle building. 
  • Improved muscular endurance. You’ve already pushed your muscles, and now you’re going to push them further. That builds high levels of endurance. 
  • Increased flexibility. Your muscles are all warmed up and ready to go. That helps them be as flexible as they’re going to get. 
  • Maximized performance for cardio goals. You’re able to approach cardio at your most rested, which will help you achieve those goals more effectively. 
  • Increased blood flow to muscles. Your blood is pumping after your first workout. That can keep the blood flowing to your muscles. 
  • Reduced risk of injury. You’re warm with your blood flowing through all your muscles. That can help reduce your risk of injury. 
  • Improved focus and energy. Cardio can sharpen your focus, and help you feel ready to take on the world. 

Pretty solid benefits, right? 

That being said, there are some drawbacks too: 

  • Fatigue for strength training. After doing cardio, the reality is you’re probably exhausted. That can mean you end up being fatigued just in time for strength training. 
  • Decreased performance. Your weight lifting performance might drop too because you’re tired.

Doing Weights Before Cardio

Now what happens if you switch the order? Is it better or worse? Again, it’s up to your personal preference. But these are the benefits of this order: 

  • Optimal fuel utilization. You’re able to use your fuel to build up your muscles before pushing them hard. Now you’re not running on the dregs when you go to lift weights. 
  • Fat utilization. It also helps you push your fat burn. You’re working your muscles slowly and then more intensely this way. 
  • Reduced risk of injury. There are also arguments that this approach reduces injuries as well. That’s because you aren’t pushing your exhausted muscles to lift weights. Instead you’re able to keep your highest level of focus while you’re lifting something heavy. 
  • Enhanced muscle growth. If you build muscles and then push your heart, it’s potentially a better combo for muscle growth. 
  • Longer time to exhaustion. Cardio is simply more exhausting. Strength training first extends the time until you’re tired and running on fumes. 

There are some downsides too: 

  • Increased overall heart rate. This order keeps your heart rate higher through your entire workout. When you do cardio first, your heartbeat will drop to a more normal level when you’re lifting. But when you do weights first, you raise it a little and then push it even more. 
  • Lower cardio performance. Just like with cardio first, whatever you do second stands to suffer performance-wise. 

Ultimately, you’ll want to decide which benefits you want and which drawbacks you can live with. For example, if you don’t care as much about your cardio performance, you might choose to lift weights first.

Final Thoughts

So, while this may have not been the answer or explanation you were looking for ... it's the truth.

Maybe, with time, we'll come to find out that there actually is a significant benefit to doing one before the other! But as of right now, the real benefit of doing one before the other strictly comes down to the energy you have available at the beginning of your workout vs the end.

The more effort and energy you put into one form of exercise ... the more of its benefits you'll draw from.

Although, I do have one last piece of advice: Stay consistent. Real results come from consistency and discipline in your actions. Staying on track with your diet and workouts is far more important than whether you do cardio or weights first.

If you feel like you're not seeing the results you're looking for, or need help with anything ... try 1st Phorm! We have supplements and a powerful app that can help you map out your workouts and support it with the right nutrition. Try it today!

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