As a fitness trainer, one of the questions I hear most often is: which should I do first, cardio or strength training? Most fitness professionals seem to have an opinion and there are plenty of studies to support answers on both sides. So what's the truth? Do you get your run in first and then lift weights, or do you get your lifting in and then head over to your favorite cardio machine? Let's look at the arguments on both sides to help you decide which method is best for you.
What do the people say?
Many people prefer to get complete their cardio workout before lifting. Some dislike the cardio portion so it helps to "get it out of the way." Some say it helps to warm their body up more gently than lifting weights. Still others say they become more mentally focused during cardio, which leads to a better strength training session.
What do the expert say?
Experts on this side tell you to pay attention to your goals. If your primary goal is to increase aerobic capacity or lose body fat, then doing cardio first is probably your best option. This is where the bulk of your energy will be placed. If you do weights first, it will zap some of that away leading to a less productive cardio session. The same goes for those trying to train for a 10k, half marathon, bicycle race or other cardio events. Your best bet is to put your energy into the cardio portion of your workout so that the quality of your workout is used to better your performance.
What do the people say?
Just as some feel the cardio warms them up for the weights, others will claim the opposite. Plenty of people feel like the range of motion required for strength training gets their body prepared and pre-stretched for the cardio afterward. Some prefer to get the "lifting" portion of their workout out of the way so they can enjoy the cardio as their "dessert."
What do the experts say?
Experts who prefer to promote weights first say that when you start your workout on the weight floor, the strength training depletes the body of its carbohydrates or sugars so that by the time you get to the treadmill or bike you end up tapping into your fat as fuel to keep your aerobic system going strong. Essentially this means you will burn more calories, especially fat calories, during AND after the workout. It should be noted, however, that the evidence to support this assumption is still unclear.
In addition, these experts will tell you that if your legs are pre-exhausted from running, biking or elliptical machines first, you end up with sloppy form in your squats and lunges. If your goal is to build muscular strength, it is better for you to start with strength training so the best energy is focused on that portion of your workout.
A CASE FOR SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT
If you are still confused as to which order is best for you, don't be discouraged. Clearly, fitness experts have differing opinions on the subject. But be assured that if your goals are general health and fitness, you can mix up the order and still reap all the benefits your body needs. One week put strength training first and the next week focus on cardio first. Another great option if you have the time, is to divide your workouts into one or the other. In other words, Monday is cardio-only, Tuesday is strength-only, etc. This way each portion gets the best you have to offer. A bonus benefit with this option: your workouts are shorter.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The fact that you are even questioning the order of your workout means you are working out. This puts you ahead of most of the population and this is truly what matters. If you are working out consistently, chances are the order of your workout will not make THAT much of a difference. Even the Mayo Clinic remains neutral. According to Edward R. Lasowski, M.D. "whether you do weightlifting before or after an aerobic workout is up to you. Research hasn't definitively shown that one way is better than another." His words are supported by a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that looked into the question of workout order to determine if one or the other led to more fat loss. The study titled, "The Effects of Combined Resistance Training and Endurance Exercise Program in Inactive College Female Subjects: Does Order Matter?" investigated the matter using an 8-week exercise program on inactive college females. Bottom line: order didn't matter! There was significant improvement for everyone in terms of lean body mass, VO2max and strength but the only participants who really saw their body fat go down were those who began to eat better!
So basically we are back to what we know: eat right and exercise - in any order you like best. This is how you get results!