Most experts recommend at least a 5-min cardio warmup before lifting. But whether to do a full cardio sesh before or after weights depends on your goals.
Which comes first, the cardio or the weights? TBH, neither route has been proven to be definitively better than the other. They both come with unique benefits.
According to fitness expert Jonathon Ross of A.C.E. Fitness, if your goal is:
- to lose weight, do strength first
- to improve strength, do strength first
- to gain endurance, do cardio first
The thinking behind these strategies is:
- strength training first builds lean muscle mass that continues to burn cals, even at rest
- doing strength first ensures you don’t burn up energy needed to max out muscle gains
- doing cardio first may improve max oxygen uptake (VO2 max), a key metric of endurance
Pros recommend always doing at least a 5-min cardio sesh before weights.
But doing a full cardio sesh before weights also may come with the following benefits:
- Warms it up. Doing cardio first boosts blood flow, warming up the muscles and reducing injury risk.
- Aids endurance. Training for that marathon? If you’re prioritizing endurance, kicking off your workout with cardio will help max wins.
- Weight loss. Although most pros say to do cardio first to shed pounds, another study suggests that cardio is more legit for weight loss than strength training overall. But a combo of both cardio and strength seems best for keeping weight off.
Why pump iron before you cardio? (Just don’t forget that warm-up!)
Here’s what the research says:
- More gains, less pain. A 2017 ACE-commissioned study suggests that doing cardio after strength led to a heart rate 12 beats per minute higher for the same workout intensity and duration. So, theoretically, if you wanted to bulk up, doing strength first would potentially mean you could use the same time and energy for greater gains.
- More energy for fat burn and muscle gain. According to an older study, doing strength before cardio boosts lipid levels during exercise compared to just cardio alone. Increased free fatty acids and glycerol stores mean more fat is available to use as fuel, greater fat burn, and greater muscle performance.
For optimal health benefits, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults do:
- At least 150–300 mins of moderate-intensity or 150 mins vigorous physical activity/week
- At least two days of strength training for all major muscle groups/week
If you’re meeting at least guidelines, congrats – you’re among the estimated 1 in 5 people who does.
To make the most of your weekly fitness routine, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- HIIT the gym. Consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which maximizes both cardio + strength gains in less time.
- Amp up the challenge. Increase weight, reps, and cardio expenditure gradually over time to continually max gains.
- Rest up to level up. Do short sets with long recovery periods (2-5 mins) for increased strength. Wanna bulk up? Shorter rest periods (20 secs-1 min) between sets maxes muscle.
- Track your wins. You don’t need a fancy fitness tracker (although those are pretty great, too). A fitness diary or app can help you track and customize your routine.
- Work with a pro. Coming up with a perf fitness routine on your own takes some trial and error. A personal trainer can do a lot to help you fig out *exactly* what works for you. No one nearby? Book someone online.
In general, studies indicate that prioritizing strength training is optimal for achieving muscle growth and fat loss. Meanwhile, beginning with cardio is effective for enhancing endurance gains.