Should Weights Or Cardio Come First?

Should Weights Or Cardio Come First?


If you are looking to maximize your exercise results when it comes to weight lifting and cardio, you will eventually run into the common debate—do you do weights or cardio first?


Well, depending on what results you are looking for, that will help you determine which type of exercise should come first. So, if you are looking for lifting gains, opt for weights first then cardio, or vice versa if your main concern is improving your cardiovascular performance.


But let’s dive into why you should choose one type of exercise or the other first and how to incorporate your secondary exercises.

Put Weights First For Quality Lifting

Many weightlifters instinctually put lifting before cardio—and you know what, they are right to do that. Looking to replicate a prior study’s results, researchers had a group of young, healthy male participants engage in four different aerobic endurance exercises prior to lifting to see the impact on the quality of their lifting.


First, to get a baseline for the participants’ weightlifting capacity, the researchers had the men lift to their max capacity. Next, after waiting 24 hours post-lifting, the participants went through the aerobic exercises.


After completing these exercises, the participants were set to lift again. Their abilities were significantly reduced, showing strain in their VO2 max, heart rate, and weightlifting capacity.  


What was especially interesting about this study was the concluding discussion. In the researchers’ practical application notes, they discussed that doing cardio before weightlifting can impact the quality of your lifts as soon as 2 minutes after you finish your cardio up to 8 hours after your aerobic workout.


So, if you want to have a solid weightlifting session and still want to do cardio beforehand, you may need to plan to have over 8 hours between your cardio and weightlifting.

What Cardio Should You Do After Weightlifting

To help support your cardiovascular system and maintain your endurance, it is important to add some cardio after your weightlifting. Treadmill Reviews—industry leader in treadmill and fitness equipment reviews—often endorses HIIT after a weightlifting session.


“By doing a 15-20 minute HIIT session on a treadmill or stationary bike, you can capitalize on your weightlifting session and continue to build muscle while ramping up your heart rate. No one wants to get winded going upstairs, and adding some tough cardio after lifting will help you build up your stamina.”


You may not want to do HIIT on a treadmill or stationary bike if you had a tough legs day, so you can stick to an easy pace, which just requires you to push only at 55% to 65% of your max race pace.   

Opt For Cardio First When Speed Training

If your fitness goals are more concerned with excelling as an endurance athlete, then cardio should be what comes first. This study takes place prior to the research I mentioned above, but it notes similar effects, from the perspective of a runner being impaired by weightlifting prior to running.


With a group of healthy male runners, the researchers tested the running economy and energy expenditure of the participants by having them simply run. The next day, the participants were put through a series of strength training exercises.


Then, six hours later, the study participants repeated their running performance from the day before. The participants had lower running economy and reported feeling far more exhausted by the running performance tests.


From either side of these studies, it is clear that the secondary activity is impaired thanks to exhaustion induced by the activity beforehand. So, if your main focus is cardio, do that first, and vice versa if you are most interested in strength training.

How To Maximize Your Weightlifting After Cardio

However, the above study doesn’t mean you should cut out weightlifting in favor of improving your cardio speed and endurance. While lifting prior to aerobic workouts can result in lower quality workout sessions, adding a couple of weightlifting days can improve your cardio performance in the long run.


Another group of researchers worked with a cohort of elite cyclists. Over time, the cyclists who followed the researchers’ concurrent endurance and strength training plan managed to improve their overall endurance and speed, which was demonstrated in a 45-minute timed trial.


If you are considering adding weightlifting to improve your cardio workouts, including 2-3 days a week can make for excellent cross-training, especially if you lift heavy. You can develop your auxiliary muscles to better support the rest of your body and prevent common injuries many endurance athletes suffer. 


Also, to help maximize your weightlifting, be sure that you are following a clean bulking diet. The emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods, balanced protein, fats, and carbs can work just as well for cardio as well as for weightlifting.


By fine-tuning your workouts and exercising in the right order, you should start to see your desired exercise results. Just don’t be afraid to change things up as your workout goals change, and you rather build up your cardio or create more muscle definition.


Written By: Kevin Jones 

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