Which Should You Do First: Cardio or Strength Training?

When you only have an hour to fit in your workout, it's hard to know what to prioritize. Treadmill or weights? Burpees or squats? Here's what the research says to do first based on your personal goals.

So you made it to the gym after a grueling traffic jam after work, only to realize you have dinner plans quickly approaching…

You spot a treadmill wide open to the right and that vacant squat rack is simultaneously calling your name. You have to act fast, so which should you choose first?

Weight training might be the best route to get the most bang for workout buck according to research.

Don’t Wait for the Weights…

A study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research investigated the effect of aerobic exercise on strength endurance performance. Ten physically active men were placed in one of three groups: 1) control group comprising of sets of max reps of strength exercises, 2) intermittent running, and 3) cycling, with groups two and three tackling the strength exercises following their cardio bout.

Ultimately, researchers found aerobic exercise bout before strength exercise impairs the subsequent strength endurance performance. In addition, the magnitude of the interference effect was higher after cycling.

Supplementary data also published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research examined resistance exercise performance after aerobic endurance activity. And similar to the other data, the average power and velocity of strength training exercises reduced following cardio.

…But Race Towards Your Personal Goals

While both cardio and resistance training are essential in a balanced exercise regimen, personal goals further dictate which you should go for first. So if your primary goal is to:

Run A Race:

Especially if aiming to build endurance for an upcoming race, perhaps tiring the legs with squats before a long run is not the most rational approach.

Likewise, though, weight training can supplementary improve running performance and the reason why cross-training days are incorporated into most training schedules.

Lose Weight:

When it comes to answering “Cardio or weights first for weight loss?” health experts encourage a combination of both cardio and weight training, though choosing between the two mostly comes down to your personal health goals.

Want to drop the number on the scale quickly? You should probably lace up your running shoes. Desiring greater fat loss over a longer duration? Get those weights ready!

Nonetheless, health experts encourage at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, along with the incorporation of strength training at least twice a week with recovery days in between.

Simply Be More Active:

Fitness is not a “one-size-fits-all” and is meant to be enjoyed. So whether it be signing up for a cycling class or lifting weights, have fun experimenting with a variety of exercises.

Ultimately, if crunched for time at the gym and you simply just want to be move active, do what you enjoy the most!

(Because really, the best exercise regimen is the one you will actually do…)

And Adapt as Needed

So you tackled that half-marathon and already itching for your next fitness obstacle… It is important to realize goals can change, so adapt your workout regimen as needed and desired.

Also do not feel discouraged to ask for professional assistance to help you meet your personal goals in a safe and effective manner.

Have fun challenging yourself and take your fitness goals to the next level!