Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights: Which Is First?

Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights: Which Is First?

Although many people choose to split up their high-intensity cardio workouts and their strength training ones, alternating days to get the most out of each, others prefer to do both in one visit to the gym. When you do both at once, whether it’s to sneak in a warm-up and workout session around your busy schedule or simply because you prefer to do it that way, which should you do first?

As it turns out, there’s more than one answer to that question. Read on as our experts explain the intricacies of combining both cardio and weight lifting in one session.

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Cardio and Weight Lifting

To get a full workout routine and end up in great shape, you need to combine cardio and weight lifting. Each type of exercise has a specific purpose, and when used together, you’ll meet your weight and musculature goals.

Of course, to understand the importance of both, you first need to differentiate between the two.

What Is Cardio?

The term “cardio” is short for cardiovascular exercise. This type of aerobic exercise works your cardiovascular system, hence its name.

Whether high-intensity, moderate-intensity, steady state, or low-intensity, the idea with cardio is to pump up your heart rate and elevate blood flow in your training session instead of building muscle with heavy weights and strength workouts.

There are many different types of cardio to choose from, ranging from walking or jogging outdoors or on a track to spending time on a treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical machine. Cardio is designed to make your body healthier, increase stamina, and help you meet your weight loss goals when combined with a healthy diet.

Many people choose to do a combination of cardio and weight lifting to capture both benefits. After all, when you lose weight and build muscle simultaneously, your newly enhanced muscles will be more visible, giving you the shape you desire.

Of course, it’s a good idea to add both to your fitness routine, and to do so, you need to understand the basics of weight lifting.

What Is Weight Lifting?

Weightlifting is exactly what it sounds like. This exercise helps you build up your muscles, making them stronger and more prominent, as you progressively lift weights in several different ways.

There are free weights, which consist of kettlebells and dumbbells, and weight bars that you can customize by adding differently-sized weights to either end. On top of that, there are several weight machines that you can choose to use instead.

Each machine is designed to give a certain muscle group a workout, so you’ll have to use many of them to get a full-body workout. Certain exercises, such as chest presses, are tailored to the upper body, and others work the lower body, such as squats.

When combined with cardio, the increased strength that comes with lifting weights can help you look and feel better. Not only will you be able to lift heavier objects, but many of your aches and pains, such as those in your shoulders and back, will go away once your core muscles are stronger and better able to support you.

Should You Do Cardio or Weight Lifting First?

The real question here isn’t whether or not you should do a combination of cardio and lifting weights when you go to the gym, but which you tackle first.

It all depends on what your goals are, but before we get into that, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Cardio Can Tire You – Cardio is designed to give your heart and lungs a good workout. As a result, it can tire you out slightly when done correctly. This means that you may not have the energy afterward for cardio after weightlifting.
  • Weight Lifting Is Safer When You Aren’t Tired – Along those same lines, trying to lift free weights when you’re tired isn’t a good idea. You could end up injuring yourself or not lifting weights as heavy as you planned. Even weight machines may not be a good idea when you’re out of energy.

Understanding Your Goals

Those two warnings may sound like it’s a better idea to do the weight-lifting portion of your routine first, but there’s something else to keep in mind when making that decision: your goals. In some cases, it can actually be beneficial to tackle the cardio portion of your workout first. Here’s how to choose the best option for your needs and goals.

Do You Want to Build Up Your Muscles?

If your main goal is to strengthen your muscles, then ideally, you should do the weightlifting portion of your workout first. This will allow you to lift heavier weights since you won’t be as tired from the cardio portion of your workout.

As a result, you’ll be able to meet all your lifting goals, progressing to heavier weights as time passes. You won’t be forced to shorten your reps or go with lighter weights as you would if you were tired from doing cardio.

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Is Weight Loss Your Goal?

One of the best things about tackling the weightlifting part of your workout first is that it removes any of the carbohydrates your muscles may have stored. Also known as sugar, or by the scientific term, glycogen, this macro is essential for energy.

Your body stores any additional carbs in your liver and belly fat in your abdomen, releasing them as needed to help you keep going. When your muscles are depleted of this energy source, your liver goes into action, processing the stored glycogen and turning it into what you need to continue the cardio portion of your workout.

As a result, your cardio training will be even more effective, helping you lose weight by turning these fat stores into energy. What does this mean?

When your main goal is fat loss or weight management, you should lift weights first to tire out those muscles. This will make the cardio portion of your workout do its job even better than expected. You’ll be able to meet your goals much more easily.

Do You Want More Endurance?

On the other hand, if endurance is your goal, you’ll need to switch things up a bit. This is where you should do your cardio first, followed by weight lifting. While you’ll need to curtail your exercise a bit, choosing lighter weights or fewer reps, you’ll be working on increasing your cardiovascular endurance. Why would you want to do this?

Well, if you want to run a marathon, or a shorter race like a 5K, where endurance is important, then this workout approach may be better for you. By working on this and pushing yourself to lift weights after a heavy cardio session, you’re actually strengthening your cardiovascular system even more than you would be if you switched the exercises around.

Consider EPOC

Another factor to consider is EPOC. Short for Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, EPOC is the state that your body enters after a vigorous round of lifting weights.

By lifting weights before you do cardio, you’re putting your body into this state for the next two days. As your system begins the recovery process, it will begin to burn off excess calories during this time, helping you lose weight and build up muscle. To put it simply, you’ll start seeing those gains (and weight losses) when you put yourself into a state of EPOC.

Mix It Up

With that said, if you don’t have any major goals in mind other than to lose weight, increase your strength, and simply look and feel better, then you can arrange your workouts however you please. You can do your cardio first and weight lifting second one day, then switch the two around the next.

You can even do cardio for only one day and save the weight lifting for your next gym session. However you want to break it up is entirely up to you. The good news is that there’s really no wrong way to structure your workout if you have more general fitness goals.

Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights

When deciding whether you should do cardio before lifting weights or vice versa, it all depends on your goals. If you want to lose weight or gain muscle mass, doing cardio second is a good plan.

However, if endurance is your main goal, then switch that around and do your cardio first. That said, the choice is yours, and as long as you’re working out, you’ll come closer to meeting your fitness goals which is a great feeling.

Have questions about this or anything else? Contact us.


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About Author: Mario Mendias

Mario was a personal trainer for more than 10 years before starting and founding My Fit Foods. Now almost 20 years later he is helping with more than tasty food.
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