Should I Be Doing Cardio Before Weights? An Expert Weighs In

Are you confused about whether to hit the weights or the treadmill at the gym? When doing a combination of weight-lifting and cardio, here is expert advice on the best way to combine the two for maximum benefits.

By URLife Team
13 Sep 2022

Like most first-time gym goers, you might have faced this dilemma when entering the gym: what should I do first, cardio or weights? Or should I even do cardio and strength training on the same day?


The answers to these questions will depend on your physical condition and goals. Your priorities will define the order of your workouts and how frequently you should be doing them. You may prefer one sort of exercise over the other without really knowing what is really beneficial for you. When discussing strength training and cardio, both have different objectives and results, so let’s dissect what they can do for you.


Cardiovascular exercise, cardio for short, is an aerobic physical activity that raises your heart rate and causes your blood to pump faster. Jumping rope, running, walking, and swimming are a few examples. While the intensity and movements of these activities vary, they all cause your heart rate to rise, blood circulation to improve, muscles to contract, and body to move rhythmically during the activity. The primary working muscle fibres used predominantly during cardiovascular activity are slow twitch muscle fibres.


Anaerobic cardio exercises (HIIT) are another option. What your body does when it lacks oxygen for anaerobic exercise makes this different from aerobic exercise. Like weightlifting, anaerobic cardio relies on the breakdown of glycogen (stored carbs) to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency of your cells, without using oxygen. On the other hand, aerobic running uses oxygen and the breakdown of fat and glycogen as fuel to meet energy needs.


Related Story: This or That: Is HIIT The Cardio Workout for You or LISS?


Cardio Before Weights: The Benefits

If you are training for a big endurance event or are looking for an activity that utilises your energy as quickly as possible, then cardio is the ideal option for you.


If you are an athlete who plays a sport like long-distance running, football, cricket, or any other activity that calls for muscular endurance, combining cardio endurance with muscular endurance in one session may help you perform at your best. Your energy levels are almost completely exhausted when you go from cardio to weightlifting. However, if you keep pushing and perform certain sports-specific exercises with high repetitions, you will also improve your muscle endurance.


Cardio is also a fantastic way to burn calories, strengthen your heart, and support any weight loss efforts. Its advantages include improved mental health and cognitive performance, along with maintaining physical strength. You won’t need someone to watch over you while doing cardio as these are simple and safe exercises to do yourself.


Here are some resources to look into when getting into cardio exercises:


A Home Cardio Workout That’s Safe for Your Knees

8 Benefits of Cycling for a Healthy Mind and Body

Turn Your Daily Walk Into a Workout With These 5 Hacks

How to Start Running - A Plan For Beginners

Warming Up for Exercise


It’s important to warm up your muscles before working out, whether you’re doing strength training or cardio. Aside from stretching, foam rolling and dynamic routines, the best approach to warm up is to do some light cardio like walking on a treadmill, elliptical, rowing, or cycling. These gentle aerobic exercises will gradually raise your heart rate and improve blood flow to your muscles and joints, warming them up and getting them ready for more strenuous activities, assisting you in improving performance and lowering the chance of injury.


A cardio warm-up should last between 5-10 minutes. Remember that doing too much cardio as a warm-up can reduce your energy levels for the rest of your workout. Regardless of your primary goal in fitness or what the main workout is, incorporating a cardio warm-up as soon as you start your session should be ingrained in your routine as it helps in performing better and reduces the risk of injury, and helps you to transit from a sedentary to active state easier.


The Advantages of Weight Lifting Before Cardio

Whether you’re weight training, strength training, or resistance training, they all involve working against resistance for muscle gain and increased strength. This resistance can be free weights, machines, or body weight, for example. Resistance training acts as a stressor to your muscles, forcing them to adapt and get stronger, bigger, and less prone to injury through a process known as hypertrophy.


Weight training is anaerobic exercise. Each muscle contraction has to generate enough force to move the weight. It relies on fast twitch muscle fibres, powered by ATP produced by burning your stored muscle and liver glycogen reserves. These quick bursts of activity are difficult to maintain for long because of the energy system they draw on. As a result, you can typically only lift weights for a limited number of reps.


Lifting weights is difficult, and you need all the physical and mental energy you can muster to move weights with proper form and technique to prevent injury. If you want to increase your strength, muscle mass, and weight, or if you are a strength athlete trying to break a personal record or want to master a lifting technique, it’s ideal to opt for weight lifting first. And because lifting weights primarily demands using your stored glycogen as fuel, if you arrive exhausted after a strenuous aerobic workout, you won’t be able to give the session your all. According to research, individuals performed significantly worse when strength moves were performed just after moderate-to-intense aerobic activity.


If you are entering a session sweating and out of breath, you will be unable to perform well and have a high risk of injury due to fatigue. However, if you prioritise weight lifting over cardio, you may be able to concentrate more mental energy on lifting those weights correctly.


Related Story: Beginner’s Full Body Barbell Workout


Achieving Fat Loss: Weight Lifting vs. Cardio

Weight lifting should always come first if your main goal is weight loss. The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism will work to burn excess fat. It means you can burn more calories while not working out. It can make it easier to create an energy deficit in your diet and lose weight over time.


After a workout, your body continues to burn additional calories for up to 48 hours. It is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC occurs because your body needs the energy to repair your muscles after challenging them. It occurs at a much higher rate after intense weight training than after low-intensity steady state (LISS) cardiovascular training; that’s why it’s important to put as much energy into your lifting sessions.


If you do steady-state cardio before you lift, you won’t have the energy to work as hard as you can. A less productive weight training session can impact EPOC.


Related Story: Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss: Which Is Right for You


THE BOTTOM LINE: What good is a sports car that cannot race? It’s just a good-looking object that doesn’t deliver good performance.


The same goes for our bodies as well. A good diet can help you lose weight, and a strict weight training routine can give you a great-looking physique, but they don’t necessarily translate into a healthier you. Instead, achieve your fitness goals in a way that not only improves the way you look but also enhances your performance and quality of life.


Weight training and cardio should both make it into your workout routine even if you don’t have a super specific goal and want to train for better overall fitness. It’s important to combine cardio and weight training wisely and design a workout routine so you can get to them both in a single session.


About the Author: Krishna Sadvale

A Hyderabad-based freelance celebrity lifestyle & wellness coach who has trained prominent celebrities from Tollywood like Allu Arjun, Navdeep, Dimple Hayathi, Priyanka Jawalkar, Rahul Sipligunj and many more. As an active part of the fitness and wellness industry for over 7 years, he is a certified personal trainer and specialist in rehabilitation. He also holds a diploma in nutrition.












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