Weights Before Cardio or Vise Versa?

This is a question that we are asked quite a bit. “Should I do my cardio first, or hit the weights?” The answer is somewhat ambiguous, as it depends on your goals. So…we always discuss it.

Firstly, we need to define what is meant by the term “cardio”, because you should be participating in a light cardiovascular warm up prior to executing your resistance training routine. Appropriate warm up consists of three to five minutes of light cardiovascular activity, which will help get your heart pumping, pushing fluid to your extremities and in turn simultaneously preparing your body for optimum performance and injury prevention. However, do not go much longer than a few minutes, as you will begin to waste precious energy!

For most individuals (i.e. those interested in improving overall fitness, preventing injury, maintaining joint strength, improving body composition, and the like) the weights should come first. We have a limited supply of energy to commit to each workout, and thus as you progress through your routine you have less and less energy to spend. Lifting with less energy means less repetitions and sets performed, which translates to less results. The consequences for your cardiovascular routine are not nearly as dire. While running with less energy means you may not be able to go quite as fast, you will still be able push yourself to a level of exertion relative to that which is possible at the beginning of your workout. An equivalent level of exertion means an equivalent heart rate, which means…equivalent results.

From the standpoint of injury risk, the weights win out as well. Technique is critical in the weight room, and our ability to maintain correct form decreases as we become increasingly exhausted. Attempting to lift with reduced energy impacts our ability to maintain appropriate form and tempo which increases the likelihood of an injury occurring.

The only real exception to this rule is if your primary goal is to improve your cardiovascular fitness (e.g. you are in the final training phase for a marathon). If that is the case, working on your cardio after you have already spent some of your energy in the weight room can impact your ability to train at the level that you must in order to make the anatomical adaptations requisite of your culminating training event.

All of that said, ideally you should separate your resistance and cardiovascular training! Separating your cardiovascular and resistance training workouts (e.g. performing them on alternating days, or perhaps one in the morning and one the other in the evening) will give you time to rest, recover, and replenish your body (via rehydration and eating healthfully), and in turn receive the most from your workouts. So if you have the time, split up your training! If not, do what is best for you based upon your individual goals.

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