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    Should You Do Cardio or Weights First? Here’s What a CPT Says – Fitnessnacks

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    No, running — even slow long-distance running — is not going to automatically eat away at your strength and ability to build muscle. The fears just aren’t backed up by science. Because yes, indeed, you can be ripped, strong, and have a great engine. You’ve just got to train the right way (and recover well enough, of course).

    Jake performing cardio exercise and Cooper lifting weights.Jake performing cardio exercise and Cooper lifting weights.

    Whether you should do cardio or weights first depends on why you’re asking the question. If you’re a strength athlete who wants to breathe just a bit better up that flight of stairs, your answer will be different than that of an endurance athlete who wants to build stronger, bigger calves. Whatever your answer, read on: I’ll give you the pros and cons of weights before cardio and cardio before weights.

    What Is Strength Training?

    As the name suggests, strength training is a type of exercise that helps you increase physical and mental strength. You can also do it to build muscle (and retain it). It is typically anaerobic exercise, which the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines as short-duration, highly intense physical activity fueled by stored energy (ATP) in your contracting muscles. (1)

    [Read More: Different Types of Strength Training (+ How to Get Started)]

    Here are a few examples of strength training exercises:

    • Bodyweight Resistance Exercises: These are strength exercises that you perform using only your body weight as resistance, including squats, lunges, hinges, step-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, rows, planks, and other core exercises.
    • Weighted Resistance Exercises: You can do the same bodyweight exercises but add an external load with resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, cable machines, and other weight machines. More examples include compound movements like the deadlift, bench press, overhead press, row, lat pulldown, and single-joint exercises like biceps curls, triceps extensions, and more.
    • Weight Training: Yes, “weighted resistance exercise” is technically weight training, and vice versa. But for any newbies out there, it’s worth noting that “weight training” often also refers to specific strength sports. In addition to other forms of resistance training, it includes various styles of barbell workout including weightlifting and powerlifting.

    What Is Cardio?

    Cardiovascular exercise is primarily aerobic instead of anaerobic. The ACSM defines aerobic exercise as any physical activity that uses large muscle groups that raise your heart rate and breathing, which you perform rhythmically and continuously. For energy, it uses oxygen that you inhale while you exercise. Cardio exercise improves your heart health and builds endurance.  (1)

    [It’s the chicken or the egg, but with gains.re: The Best Cardio Workouts at Home to Boost Your Fitness Without a Treadmill]

    Here are a few categories of cardio exercise:

    • Steady-State Endurance Exercises: A steady-state cardio workout is usually low-intensity or moderate-intensity. It’s a physical activity you can do where you sustain the same heart rate for at least 30 minutes or longer, especially in endurance training. Examples include walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing, or any cardio machine you can stay on for long enough.
    • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Exercises: A true HIIT workout crosses over into anaerobic exercise. However, you can do something less intense and follow the same formula — short bursts of effort followed by brief rest periods. You spike your heart rate and let it come back down. You can do HIIT or other interval training on any cardio machine or with exercises like jumping rope and burpees.
    • Crossover Exercises: Some exercises are cardio but also anaerobic, like sprinting. CrossFit involves challenging strength exercises, but for many reps, so it crosses into cardio territory. Doing five sets of heavy deadlifts is strength training, but countless reps of barbell cleans in your CrossFit WOD are a little of each.

    Benefits of Weights Before Cardio

    Hit the weights or hit the treadmill first? Here are three cases where you may want to lift weights first in your training session.

    You’ll Have More Energy for Strength Performance

    You arrive at the gym freshly recovered, with enough sleep, nutrients, and maybe pre-workout to fuel your session. Whichever type of exercise you start with is the one you’ll have the most energy for, leaving you more tired for the second part of your training session. (2)

    The reason? The acute fatigue hypothesis. Performing cardio before weight training can prematurely fatigue your muscles, so you can’t exert as much effort or intensity during resistance training. (3)

    Suppose your main goals involve increasing strength, lifting heavier, improving athletic performance, or training power and explosiveness. In that case, you’ll want to have the most energy and focus available for resistance training first. You may get better muscle activation, have better form, and lower your risk of injury (especially for newbies).

    It May Be Better for Hypertrophy

    The same idea applies if your goal is hypertrophy (or building muscle). You’ll want your muscles to be fresh to focus on those slower, eccentric muscle-building reps. Going for a long run before hitting leg day will leave you pre-fatigued, and you may not be able to complete all your planned reps at a high quality.

    It May Help With Fat Loss

    When your goal is fat loss, the fitness zeitgeist may tell you to prioritize cardio. But resistance training is also essential to help build and retain muscle. If you’re in a calorie deficit, keeping protein high and doing resistance training helps your body burn fat instead of muscle.

    [Read More: How to Burn Fat for Weight Loss and More Definition]

    One study suggests that doing resistance training before cardio enhances fat-burning during cardio. This may also be because resistance training causes EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which is when your body continues burning calories after your workout. Doing cardio after resistance training could enhance your calorie-burning potential. (4)

    Drawbacks of Weights Before Cardio

    There is one primary drawback to doing weights before cardio — and that’s if cardio is your priority.

    You’ll Have Less Energy for Endurance Training

    If you flip it the other way, the same holds true. If endurance training is your priority, you won’t want to start your cardio session pre-fatigued from weight training.

    [Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Endurance Training for Strength Athletes]

    Research suggests that strength training before endurance work can shorten your time to exhaustion — particularly after eccentric resistance training for hypertrophy and plyometrics. Your muscles may need up to 48 hours to recover from eccentric training, hindering your ability to do high-intensity endurance exercise for longer. (5)

    It’s Less Effective for Running Training

    If you’re a runner training for a long-distance event, your training plan is likely packed with longer runs, shorter HIIT workouts, sprinting, and speed work. Balancing running and strength training is key; you still want to keep your muscles strong, which can also improve running performance.

    [Read More: How To Build Stamina for Running: Tips + Benefits]

    Whether you’re trying to shave time off your 5K or build your endurance for a marathon, you won’t want to start your running workouts after tiring your muscles in weight training.

    Benefits of Cardio Before Weights

    Starting with cardio means you have more energy for cardio and one other potential benefit.

    You’ll Have More Energy for Endurance Exercise

    Since you’ll have the most energy at the top of your session, doing cardio before weights means you may perform better in your cardio session, which is important if your primary sport is endurance-based.

    Cycling First May Be Okay

    If your sport is cycling but you are also doing resistance training for hypertrophy, some research suggests performing cycling first may not interfere with muscle growth. Most of the research on the drawbacks of cardio first suggests that running before strength training can interfere with muscle gain, but possibly not cycling. (6)

    You May Have Better Heart Rate Control

    One reason you include a few minutes of light cardio in your dynamic warm-up before resistance training is to raise your heart rate, which should correspond with the level of intensity you’re working at.

    An ACE Fitness study measured the heart rate response in people doing cardio before weights and weights before cardio. Both cardio sessions were done at the same intensity, but doing cardio after weights elicited a higher heart response (12 beats per minute), although the researchers suggest it should have been roughly the same. (7)

    The study concludes that doing resistance training first may raise your heart rate too much. It may be better for some people to do cardio first because your heart rate can better correspond to how hard you’re working. Cardio after resistance training might keep your heart rate too high, even if you’re trying to do low or moderate-intensity cardio. (7)

    Drawbacks of Cardio Before Weights

    Cardio before weights isn’t your best bet if you have any type of goal related to strength training. Here’s why.

    It May Interfere With Strength Gains

    The “interference effect” is the possibility that concurrent training — doing a high volume of aerobic endurance exercise while trying to get stronger — can interfere with strength gains. Doing cardio before weights may heighten the potential for interference, particularly in lower-body muscle groups. (8)

    One study found that doing cardio 10 minutes before resistance training significantly hindered lower body strength and endurance in the leg press and squat, but the bench press was unaffected. However, another study found that when doing strength training after cardio, participants performed fewer reps in the squat, bench press, push press, and deadlift. (3)

    A person performing the barbell bench press exercise.A person performing the barbell bench press exercise.

    [Read More: The Best Barbell Exercises For Mass, Strength, and Power]

    Performing endurance training after weight training may help prevent interference with strength gains. (9)

    May Interfere With Power Performance

    Performing cardio before strength training when your goal is power may also interfere with your gains. In one study, participants did a 45-minute run before a power-focused strength workout. Power and velocity were reduced in the squat, bench press, and high pull. (3)

    When it comes to power, separating your cardio and strength training sessions by at least three hours may prevent interference. (10)

    May Interfere With Hypertrophy

    How you perform in a hypertrophy-focused session matters, but another factor may cause cardio first to interfere with muscle gain. Resistance training causes growth hormone (GH) secretion, which may affect muscle growth. One study found that, after performing endurance exercise for 60 minutes, resistance training released less GH. (4) 

    The study concludes that weight training after cardio may interfere with anabolic activity in your muscles after resistance training. (4)

    Who Should Do Weights First

    Deciding which to hit first? The following groups may benefit from weight training before cardio.

    • Strength and Power Athletes: If your goal is getting stronger or training power, do that before cardio when you are least fatigued.
    • Bodybuilders: For gaining muscle, weight training first is better for the same reason — you’ll have more energy and be able to put in higher-quality work. Some evidence also suggests cardio before weights can lower GH release. (4)
    • CrossFitters: CrossFitters may fall into either category, depending on their daily goals (or WOD). 
    • Weight Loss Goals: Weights before cardio may be better for building and retaining muscle while losing body fat.
    • For Overall Fitness: Both types of exercise, in any order, offer health benefits for your heart and muscles. If strength training is more challenging for you, you’ll likely want to do it first.

    Who Should Do Cardio First

    These populations may get better results from doing cardio first.

    • Endurance Athletes: When endurance is your goal, do cardio first to maximize your energy supply.
    • Runners: To get better and faster at running, do your running first. If your program allows it, do strength training on a separate day.
    • CrossFitters: CrossFitters can switch between categories, depending on their goal. If you’re doing a major endurance challenge, you’ll want to do that first.
    • For Overall Fitness: The order doesn’t make a difference regarding overall fitness and health benefits. If you want to get your cardio over with, you can do it before weights.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is it better to do cardio first or after weights?

    It depends on your goal. Do cardio first if your goal is related to endurance or running performance. If it’s strength, power, or hypertrophy, do weights first. If it’s overall fitness, either one works.

    Should I do cardio or weights first to lose belly fat? 

    Doing cardio or weights first won’t specifically target belly fat. However, if your goal is fat loss and you’re in a calorie deficit, doing weights first may be best to help build and retain muscle while losing body fat.

    Is 20 minutes of cardio enough after lifting weights?

    If it’s for overall health, sure. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week (or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity cardio). So, 20 minutes of cardio after lifting weights goes toward your weekly goal, and you can split it up however you like. (11)

    If you’re doing cardio to train for an endurance sport, 20 minutes may or may not be enough on any given day. It depends on your workout program.

    What happens if you only lift weights and no cardio?

    Cardio exercise improves cardiovascular health and builds endurance. Lifting weights is still better than no exercise at all, but it may not have the same heart health and endurance benefits as cardio. Doing steady-state cardio also gets you more movement in your day outside of your lifting sessions.

    How long should I wait to do cardio after lifting weights?

    It depends on what type of cardio you’re doing. If it’s a quick HIIT session, you can do it right after lifting weights. If it’s a longer endurance workout like a run, you may want to wait up to three hours and eat first.

    Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

    References

    1. Patel H, Alkhawam H, Madanieh R, Shah N, Kosmas CE, Vittorio TJ. Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system. World J Cardiol. 2017 Feb 26;9(2):134-138. 
    2. Inoue DS, Panissa VL, Monteiro PA, Gerosa-Neto J, Rossi FE, Antunes BM, Franchini E, Cholewa JM, Gobbo LA, Lira FS. Immunometabolic Responses to Concurrent Training: The Effects of Exercise Order in Recreational Weightlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1960-7. 
    3. 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 30(10):p 2667-2681, October 2016.
    4. GOTO, KAZUSHIGE1; ISHII, NAOKATA1; SUGIHARA, SHUHEI2; YOSHIOKA, TOSHITSUGU2; TAKAMATSU, KAORU2. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Lipolysis during Subsequent Submaximal Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 39(2):p 308-315, February 2007. 
    5. Conceição M, Cadore EL, González-Izal M, Izquierdo M, Liedtke GV, Wilhelm EN, Pinto RS, Goltz FR, Schneider CD, Ferrari R, Bottaro M, Kruel LF. Strength training prior to endurance exercise: impact on the neuromuscular system, endurance performance and cardiorespiratory responses. J Hum Kinet. 2014 Dec 30;44:171-81. 
    6. Lundberg TR, Feuerbacher JF, Sünkeler M, Schumann M. The Effects of Concurrent Aerobic and Strength Training on Muscle Fiber Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2022 Oct;52(10):2391-2403. 
    7. Green, D. J. (2014, October 1). ACE – ProSourceTM: October 2014 – ACE Research Study: Sequencing Exercise for Optimum Results. https://www.acefitness.org/continuing-education/prosource/october-2014/5020/ace-research-study-sequencing-exercise-for-optimum-results/
    8. Wilson JM, Marin PJ, Rhea MR, Wilson SM, Loenneke JP, Anderson JC. Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):2293-307.
    9. Sabag A, Najafi A, Michael S, Esgin T, Halaki M, Hackett D. The compatibility of concurrent high intensity interval training and resistance training for muscular strength and hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2018 Nov;36(21):2472-2483. 
    10. Lee, C., Ballantyne, J. K., Chagolla, J., Hopkins, W. G., Fyfe, J. J., Phillips, S. M., Bishop, D. J., & Bartlett, J. D. (2020). Order of same-day concurrent training influences some indices of power development, but not strength, lean mass, or aerobic fitness in healthy, moderately-active men after 9 weeks of training. PLOS ONE, 15(5), e0233134.
    11. Piercy, K. L., & Troiano, R. P. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans From the US Department of Health and Human Services. AHA Journal, 11(11).



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