Which Comes First: The Weights or the Cardio?

As a fitness professional, this is a question I am often asked. It’s a fair question. We all have limited time in a day, and we want to ensure that the time we carve out for exercise is as effective as possible. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as black and white as a one-word response. The truth is, the prioritization of pumping iron vs. pounding the treadmill is entirely dependent on your goals. Allow me to explain. 

Primary goal – Weight loss: If your primary goal is to shed pounds quickly, weights before cardio is the best route to follow. The reason for this is that doing a weight training session, followed by cardio, creates a more elevated heart rate, leading to an overall higher calorie burn. Another reason to put weights at the top of the time priority list is because of energy drops. The longer you work out, the less energy you’ll have. Since it usually requires more ‘get up and go’ to lift than it does to do 20 minutes on the elliptical, it’s best to do weights first. Following this rule will help you avoid that dip in energy which could lead to a shortened workout, or injury due to lack of good form. 

Primary goal – Improve your run time and/or endurance: If you’re already an avid runner, or you’re training for your very first run, timing is everything. You’re always looking to beat your last time and cross that finish line just a little bit faster. If this is your reason for training, then cardio should be your first priority. As mentioned above, the longer you train, the more you will tire. So, if you’re lacing up to get in 15 miles this morning, chances are you’ll never hit that goal if you spend the first 30-45 minutes lifting weights. Don’t get me wrong, even runners need weights to strengthen their glutes, quads and hamstrings. Without weights, most runners are more prone to injury. However, try saving weights for your lighter running days, and do them at the end of your workout. 

Primary goal – You’re leaning out: If you’ve already gotten close to your goal but you’re looking to finally see that six pack or a serious cut in your thigh muscle, you should be doing cardio and weight training on separate days. The reason for this is because cutting takes all your energy – especially if you’re pairing it with a cutting diet. When you lift, you need to lift at full capacity and will likely not have energy left for cardio. When you do cardio, you’ll need to go full speed ahead on that sweat session, leaving you far too tired to weight train. Another reason is recovery. When you’re training at this capacity, your body needs time to recover. Splitting your sessions into weight training Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – and cardio on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays ensures you won’t suffer a total burn out. 

Primary goal – Building muscle: If you’re looking for size than quite frankly, cardio should be your last priority. I’m not saying it’s not beneficial for health reasons, I’m just saying it won’t help you gain any size. If you’re already as lean as you want to be, and you’re more focused now on bulk, cut cardio down to nil or once – maybe twice a week for a quick 12-15-minute sessions. When you’re lifting heavy for size, you’re already scorching calories, so folding in another 30 minutes on the treadmill for calorie burn is actually retroactive. 

So, there’s your answer, in a nutshell! Once you have a goal in mind, you can develop a plan. Need help customizing your workouts in order to reach one of these goals? Click here. 

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