Cardio or Strength First?

 October 12, 2020|  Lauren

How do you tackle cardio and resistance exercise? During the same training session or within hours of one another? If so, how do you decide which you should I do first?

The answer is that it depends on your goals.

Cardio before weights

If you’re training for an endurance event or your goal is to simply boost your cardiovascular endurance, get your run, ride or swim done before you hit the weights.

If you do strength training first, you’ll limit the amount of energy you have available for your cardio session. Plus, lifting weights can stress the body in ways that could potentially hinder endurance progress.

In fact, a single resistance training session can alter your running gait, increase muscle soreness and deplete glycogen levels (our bodies’ storage of quick-acting carbs) for several hours. And research from ACE shows that lifting weights before hitting the cardio can increase heart rate by 12 beats per minute during a workout, which makes the run or ride feel more intense, leaving you feeling tired sooner.

Weights before cardio

If your goal is to increase muscular strength and power, lift before doing any cardio. By hitting the cardio first you won’t have as much available energy during the second half of your workout, which is where you’d want to see your performance increase.

For example, one study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that when a group of healthy men performed cardio before their strength workout, they experienced a decrease in muscular power, an increase in perceived exertion and a heart rate up to 5.5% higher than the control group, especially after a HIIT workout. Similarly, another study found men who ran or cycled prior to lifting weights were able to complete fewer strength reps than those who did no cardio beforehand.

Why not do both at once?

An effective and efficient way to squeeze both strength and cardio exercise into a single workout is to simply combine them; keep in mind that this will work best if your goal is weight loss. By utilizing both types of exercise within a single workout maximizes your energy expenditure meaning more calories burned, which is the ultimate goal when exercising for weight loss.

Try super-setting strength and cardio exercises, like alternating sets of squats with intervals on the treadmill and unless you’re dead-set on only improving cardiovascular endurance, losing weight or gaining muscular strength, chances are you have multiple fitness goals you’re working on at any given time. For example, many people want to improve endurance, strength, fat loss, flexibility and power — simultaneously.

If that’s the case and you’re training 3–5 times per week, decide which goal you want to focus on before starting that day’s training session and plan accordingly.

Concurrent training can be intense, and if you do too much too much soon, you may experience muscle soreness post-workout that lasts longer than the typical 24–72 hours. If so, dial back the intensity of your next training session, and aim to increase your weekly workout volume by no more than 5–10%.

Finally, remember hydration, nutrition and sleep play a key role in the recovery process. If you’re excessively sore or feeling run-down following a workout, it could be that you didn’t get enough sleep, water and/or nutrients for adequate recovery. Why not speak to one of our nutrition experts and make sure you’re nutrition is doing all it can to support your workout.

 October 12, 2020 | Lauren

About the Author

Lauren Jacobsen is the Director of Nutrition for Kcal Brands and the Head of Fuel Up. Lauren has over 15 years of experience in nutrition and supplementation focused on physique athlete development. Lauren is also a former IFBB competitive figure athlete, and long time contributor to fitness magazines worldwide.

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