Cardio or Strength: Which Comes First?

Cardio or Strength: Which Comes First?You have your exercise plan for the day ready to go.  You’re going to a 45 minute spin class and then hitting the weights for a 20 minute workout.  The only problem is that after you’ve finished spin class you’re exhausted.  You start doing your strength routine but you’re lacking energy and your form is off.  You ask yourself, “Should I have done this before cardio?”

If you’ve done some research on this subject you’ve probably seen differing advice.  Some people say always do strength first, others say focus on cardio, and then there are those who say it doesn’t matter.  So what do you do?

In reality, all of those options are correct but you need to figure out which option is right for you.  It’s all dependent upon your goals.  Do you want to lose weight?  Are you just trying to get active?  Are you training for a particular event?  Your answer to these questions will help you determine the order that’s best for you to accomplish your goal.

Lose Weight

If you want to lose weight, your best bet is to do strength training prior to a lower-intensity cardio workout.  Another good option is to do a HIIT workout combining strength and cardio in one session.  Here’s to multitasking!

Get Active

If your main goal is to get moving more, you can do strength or cardio first.  When you start your workout, you first use anaerobic energy which doesn’t require additional oxygen and is great for the quick energy bursts needed in strength training; however, it’s not the end of the world if you use this energy during cardio.  You may just feel more sluggish while strength training.  The takeaway is that if you’re main goal is to get more active, the order isn’t as important as just getting moving.

Train for an Event

If you’re looking to train for a race or other type of event, you need to focus on that first.  If you’re running, focus on cardio first; if you’re lifting, focus on strength first.  Add in the strength or cardio after your main task is completed or do it on a different day.

In the end, you need to do what works best for you.  If you need an absolute answer, unless you’re training for a specific event, you should do strength before cardio.  If you don’t have time to fit both into your workout and you prefer cardio, then do that.  Just make sure that you make time to strength train another day.  The key is to incorporate both types of exercise into your routine so you see the results you want.

By Cori Breedlove for ATI Physical Therapy