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Should You Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

– by Emma Mattison, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, CNC, & SFC

 
Should I do cardio first before weights, or should I do weights first before cardio?

Let's see what everyone thinks first! Then read on to see if you're right!


Which do you do first, in one day?

  • Cardio Training first!

  • Strength or Weight Training first!


Here is the summary...


The simple, TRUE answer is... you should do BOTH, but not necessarily on the same day! The BEST option is to spread out your cardio and your resistance training across the week. You want to ideally shoot for 1-4 sessions of cardio, depending on what your goals are, throughout the week, and then you want to shoot for 1-4 sessions of resistance training a week... and you want to balance the two, and not overdo it. THAT is ideal!


However, some exercisers still choose to do both in one day, or maybe they're an athlete and are required to do both cardio and weights in one day to as part of their program.


The best order to do cardio versus strength training depends on your goals!

Read on for a summary of the video below! See what you should be doing for YOUR particular goal!



What are your Health Goals?

 

If you don't like reasoning, reading, or a lot of text, just scroll to the bottom of the page so you can get a super simple chart with the break-down for each goal! Otherwise, read on for each goal.


1) Goal to Improve Endurance OR Goal to Improve Strength

First, very easy concept, if your goal is to increase your endurance research shows to do cardio first. If your goal is to improve your strength research shows to do strength first. In essence, do the one that your goal is first!


The reason these two are in the same paragraph is because they can work against each other, so the logical reasoning is the same! In essence, cardio can negatively impact your strength performance, and strength can negatively impact your cardio performance. Read on for more juicy details if you'd like!


FOR CARDIO/ENDURANCE GOAL

Specifically for endurance, or aerobic, training, there is a special biochemical pathway called "AMPK" (adenosine monophosphate activated protein kinase). AMPK's role is basically to help the body come up with more energy (or, ATP). This is often referred to as a "catabolic" pathway because the body notices it is running lower on energy and says, "Hey! We should stop building things (like muscles) and start breaking things in the body down so we can come up with as much energy as possible!"



Think of this AMPK pathway, activated by endurance training, like your body reaches a point where it needs to start paying a bunch of bills... looks around the house (aka, your body) and says, "That extra motorcycle in the garage has got to go. That's worth money!"


So should you RUN away from cardio? (Excuse the bad pun)... anyways, NO! The balance between the body's ability to break-down and build make us healthy.


FOR STRENGTH/POWER/HYPERTROPHY/VELOCITY GOAL


Same rules apply. This goal relies on a different pathway (often referred to as the mTOR, or mammalian target of rapamycin). This pathway, conversely, is the "anabolic" energy system... aka, the building-phase of your body.



Resistance training, strength training, weights... whatever you want to call it, corresponds to a special release of "growth hormone," and also circulating levels of a buddy of growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Check it out as proof in this research article how resistance training can help with IGF-1 (Borst et al. 2001)! This growth hormone working together with IGF-1 helps us have healthy bone and tissue growth... hence muscle building capabilities with strength training!


However... if you are doing cardio prior to strength, you can hinder your strength gains, as well as GH and IGF-1. Here's the proof!


Regarding your actual performance during resistance training, in a research article where four test groups were made to perform various resistance exercises after specific aerobic exercise requirements, it was found that:


Average power and velocity were significantly reduced for the high pull, squat, and bench press after most AE (aerobic exercise) protocols.

There are other indicators that we will talk about in the next point about why strength training could be best for your goals!


I am saying all this for the general exerciser. However, if your goal is strength training, and you're very serious about putting on muscle or improving your power, velocity, etc., then I strongly recommend giving yourself at least 3-4 hours between your resistance training and your cardio. It is typically best for athletes to have a morning routine and then an evening routine (this gives you enough time to recover, eat, rest, etc.)

2) Weight-Loss (What I Prefer to call Fat-Loss)

Do strength training first! This might come as a shock to most who thought cardio was the thing that was supposed to help with weight loss. Well, while both cardio AND resistance training can help with weight-loss, if you are a conditioned individual who is able to healthily incorporate cardio and resistance training into the same-day routine, then research has proved STRENGTH training first can aid in fat reduction.


Remember that growth hormone, or GH, I mentioned earlier? Well, according to a research article testing resistance training prior to aerobic exercise:


Prior resistance exercise caused increases in blood lactate, plasma norepinephrine, serum growth hormone (GH), insulin, and glycerol concentrations (P < 0.01).

Okay, so what does that mean? Well, one key thing that I will point out is that an increase in GH helps increase what is called "fatty acid lipolysis." This is a fancy name for the body's ability to break down fat cells (i.e. your goal.)


One note from the above research article though – the best results were found in the test group that had 20 minutes of rest between their resistance training and their aerobic training. Keep that in mind. The group that had over 120 minutes of rest did not see as significant of results for "fat loss." However, if your goal is strength training, and you're very serious about putting on muscle or improving your power, velocity, etc., then I strongly recommend giving yourself at least 3-4 hours between your resistance training and your cardio. It is typically best for athletes to have a morning routine and then an evening routine (this gives you enough time to recover, eat, rest, etc.)


By the way, check out #3 for a fun fact about the fat around your heart!


3) General Health & Wellness

So maybe weight-loss isn't your health goal; maybe it's just general health and wellness! Well guess what? If you HAVE to do both on the same day... which again is NOT my recommendation... but if you have to do them, then if general health is your goal, you can pick whichever one you want to do first. It doesn't really matter, as long as you don't over-work yourself. Both strength training and cardio have been proven to help with cognitive processes mood and to reduce anxiety and depressive episodes, too. So either one!



Here is a research article supporting the grandiose claim about exercise's effect on your mind (Dimeo et al. 2001).



4) Muscle Building (Split Routine, working in Cardio)

If you're the type of person that has a split routine where you're doing upper body or lower body and you're trying to figure out what order to do your cardio vs. weights – if you're doing upper body and cardio on the same day, then it doesn't matter which one you do first. Not the case for lower body! If you're on a lower body day, you should definitely do the strength training first. Now, that's just because the muscles are going to much more fatigued if you do cardio first, and you don't want to put yourself at risk of injury from improper form compensating for your lower body (and therefore, a great deal of your core stabilizers). Not so much the case for upper body, but you should still be cautious.


5) New Exerciser

If you're a beginner in strength training, my recommendation is always do strength training first, if you're going to choose to do both on the same day... which, if you're a beginner I DO NOT recommend that at all. I recommend splitting it up, of course, but if you must... because obviously everybody has free will and you can do whatever you want... so if you must, I strongly recommend doing strength first. Just because if you do cardio first, it's going to hinder your ability to perform for your strength training. You're going to lose sight of what your form is much more easily; your muscles are going to fatigue easier, thus increasing the risk of injury... which we don't want! So that's my recommendation: if you're a new beginner and new to exercise, and/or you don't understand form, definitely try strength training first so that way you don't hinder your performance in any way.


The Chart

YOUR GOAL

WHICH ONE FIRST

Endurance Improvement/Aerobic Fitness

Cardio

Strength/Power/Velocity/Hypertrophy

Strength

Fat-Loss (Weight-Loss)

Strength

General Health & Wellness

Either

Split-Routine (Muscle Gain)

Either on upper day, Strength on lower day

New Exerciser

You should NOT do both on the same day OR you should start with strength (after a 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up) to focus intentionally on form


 

If you enjoyed this article, please, reach out and let me know! It can become a quite wilderness living in the internet... I want to know what questions people have and if I help answer them 😊 Don't hesitate to reach out, and sign up for the email list on this website!


Also, if you want the juicy citations, skip the part about me-me-me!



 

About the Author

Hi! I'm Emma Mattison. I'm an NASM certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, stretch & flexibility coach, pranayama breathwork guide, holistic nerd, and lover of birds & music! Scientific literature is fun to me, and my goal is to make it understandable and fun for you!


I am driven to share knowledge I find fascinating & transformative with my clients, and the world. Everyone has the power to take their health into their own hands!


My love for fitness and true discovery of health started with helping my best friend – who I can now call my husband! Today, I couldn't do any of this as smoothly and enjoyably as I do now without him! Check out our YouTube, MyZeniverse! He literally edits and films everything. He's editing the next YouTube video next to me right now, as we speak! Check it out, and give it a like if it's helpful! 😊😊



 

Le Citations



Borst SE, De Hoyos DV, Garzarella L, Vincent K, Pollock BH, Lowenthal DT, Pollock ML. Effects of resistance training on insulin-like growth factor-I and IGF binding proteins. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Apr;33(4):648-53. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200104000-00021. PMID: 11283443.


Goto K, Higashiyama M, Ishii N, Takamatsu K. Prior endurance exercise attenuates growth hormone response to subsequent resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005 Jun;94(3):333-8. doi: 10.1007/s00421-004-1296-x. Epub 2005 Feb 16. PMID: 15714290.


Ratamess, Nicholas A.; Kang, Jie; Porfido, Tara M.; Ismaili, Craig P.; Selamie, Soraya N.; Williams, Briana D.; Kuper, Jeremy D.; Bush, Jill A.; Faigenbaum, Avery D.. Acute Resistance Exercise Performance Is Negatively Impacted by Prior Aerobic Endurance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2016 - Volume 30 - Issue 10 - p 2667-2681

doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001548


Dimeo F, Bauer M, Varahram I, et al Benefits from aerobic exercise in patients with major depression: a pilot study British Journal of Sports Medicine 2001;35:114-117. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/35/2/114.full.pdf



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