Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weights? | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

It’s a pretty simple question: should I do cardio before or after weights?  The answer isn’t so simple though.  In fact, there are a few different variables that effect whether it makes more sense to do cardio before weights or cardio after weight training.  One of the biggest factors is your overall fitness goals.  Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain strength, or are focused on conditioning and overall health determines the intensity of your workout routine which can in turn determine whether it makes sense to do cardio before or after weight training.

Cardio vs. Weight Training

In addition to fitness goals, the important variables to consider when deciding the order of cardio vs. weight training include:

  1. Intensity of each component: are you performing a simple aerobics routine of steady state cardio or high intensity interval training (HIIT)?  Do you perform low rep, heavy lifting or high rep training to failure?
  2. Duration of each component: is cardio a marathon or short but intense session?
  3. Conditioning: how do your muscles feel after cardio vs. weights?  What fatigues you more?
  4. Motivation/mindset: do you prefer to get one form of exercise done first?  Are you more focused earlier in your workout or later?

Cardio Before Weights

Doing cardio before weight training was proven to be beneficial in a small study of ten men done by Brigham Young University.  The findings are as follows:

  1. EPOC (the caloric after burn effect) was highest when cardio was done before weight training.
  2. Cardio after weight training was more physiologically difficult than cardio before weight training.
  3. The overall recommendation was to perform “aerobic exercise before resistance exercise when combining them into one exercise session.”

Far be it from me to believe a study of ten men constitutes a truth though.  I would certainly agree that doing cardio before weights has some benefits, but I think the findings on fat burning may be questionable.

Cardio After Weights

Doing cardio after weight training has always seemed more practical to me.  I like to make sure I have a high energy level so that I can lift heavy weights.  In addition, heavy weight training requires coordination and focus.  I tend to use cardio as my leg workout, but imagine trying to perform a set of heavy squats after a 45 minute cardio session.  That being said, the inverse is also true in that trying to run after doing heavy squats isn’t the easiest thing in the world either.

Recommendations Based on Fitness Goals

While I believe in doing cardio after weights or even splitting cardio and weight training into separate workouts, here are my recommendations for exercise order based on common fitness goals:

  1. Increase muscle: cardio after weights; use high energy levels to maximize weight training workouts
  2. Increase cardiovascular endurance: cardio before weights; use high energy levels to maximize HIIT or marathon workouts
  3. Burn fat: it depends!  Many beginners benefit from doing cardio before weight training because they can burn more calories by performing a longer cardio routine relative to a weight training routine which tends to fatigue them faster.  However more advanced exercisers can get a nice release of HGH and fatty acids by performing resistance training and follow that up with cardio to burn the fatty acids in the bloodstream.
  4. Improve health: order has no impact when it comes to improving overall health

Cardio Before or After Weights

The bottom line is that there is no clear answer to the question: should I do cardio before or after weights?  Cardio after weight training is more beneficial for increasing muscle size and strength, but cardio before weights can help improve cardiovascular endurance.  Use your own unique goals and experiences to determine what feels best for your body.  If you’re looking for a great cardio routine, I would highly recommend Visual Impact Cardio.

23 Responses to “Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weights?”

  • Tom:

    This age old debate will never be resolved. I agree with you that there are pros and cons for each school of thought, but it really depends on the person and what they are trying to achieve. I hate trying to lift when I am fatigued and tired, so I usually prefer to run after lifting, but I can see why others might like to lift after cardio.

  • I could never fathom doing weights after smashing myself with cardio first.
    I’d feel hard-pressed to exert enough force on heavier lifts!

    That being said, if you were using a light-weight rep scheme in the 12 rep area, this might not be an issue.

  • I’ve done it both ways, and found it doesn’t really matter for me, personally. The bigger determinant was rest time in between sets, depending on my rep scheme. Low-rep, high weight required a bit more rest time than usual, but I could still hit my lifts. Higher-rep, lower weight stuff was about the same.

    I’m a big fan of “do what works for you.” You’re right. There’s no “right” answer for everyone.

    -Drew

  • I agree with you I think after is better for the most part. However as long as people are doing both cardio and lifting weights I dont care as much as long as they are moving

  • Tom,
    I’m in the same boat as you…hard to imagine getting a good weight training workout in after a HIIT workout.

    Clint,
    I think training style definitely comes into play. If your goal is to fatigue your muscles anyway, it might make sense to do cardio before weights.

    Drew,
    I know from your reading your blog that you don’t believe in absolutes. To each their own!

    Louis,
    Good point about just moving or doing something. The more intense, the better in my opinion.

    Dave

  • I’m with you on heavy weights to release HGH & reduce blood sugar and then burn stored body fat with cardio.

    Some believe that if you use resistance training to reduce muscle glycogen in a targeted area, you can then go to cardio and your body will move into fat burning in that area sooner. Any thoughts on spot training?

  • The only time that I do cardio first is if I run in the morning and lift weights in the afternoon. I can see how you can get used to doing it first, but my mindset is that I usually push to the limits with my cardio until my legs start to burn.

    I dont think I’d be able to lift afterwards.

  • Hi Dave

    Doing cardio after weights has always seemed the more natural choice for me for both fat loss and conditioning. The thought of doing my weights dripping in sweat everywhere has always put me off plus I feel I get the best from both workouts doing them this way. The only time I deviate is if I do circuits where cardio is part of the routine. eg
    deadlift
    incline press
    lunges
    Seated rows
    5 mins running hard.
    repeat for 3-5 circuits

    I do these when I only have 20-30 mins spare and want to get a complete workout.

    cheers

    H

  • Yeah I guess see what works!
    I mean, I’m not interested in any conditioning at the moment and I have dropped cardio right out of my workout to see what happens … I’m letting diet ansd weights do the rest .. I ‘m actually getting very lean by just doing those two.
    But cardio I like to do on separate days from weights since I don’t usually have any energy left for a cardio session.
    Interesting topic
    Raymond

  • Darren,
    I’m not big into spot training. I certainly don’t think you can spot reduce abs…maybe you can train each set of muscles in a unique way that varies how they look, but that’s as far as I’d go. I’d argue some of the best bodies are formed by using compound exercises though as they create a natural balance (in addition to increasing functional strength).

    Alejandro,
    I agree. After an intense cardio session, it’s difficult to imagine having the focus and energy to lift.

    Howard,
    Excellent point about incorporating cardio into circuits. Then it doesn’t really matter because the whole routine is designed to get your heart racing.

    Raymond,
    I think it’s good to drop cardio every once in a while. I like to do it when I’m trying to burn more fat. I had my month of light cardio in September so now I’m back to using cardio to burn more fat. Done properly, diet and weight training may be all your need.

    Dave

  • Great article,

    I have alwaysed liked doing cardio before any weight lifting. I find it gets me warmed up and pumped for the workout routine.

    Bryan C

  • Bryan,
    Cardio before weights can certainly provide a great warm up for your muscles. Glad to hear you’ve had success with this method.
    Dave

  • Dave I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it depends on your goals.

    I also think you have to look at the big picture. Is any here a fitness model or pro bodybuilder. If not then it does not make all that much difference. You want to be fit and healthy. Have fun with your workouts, try new things. So long as your are active the small details do not matter.

    jason

  • This is definitely a question that gets a different answer depending on who you ask. I think what you outlined is dead-on, at least from my own experience. I like to switch it up and do cardio on alternate days depending on my current training plan.

  • Jason,
    You bring up an excellent point. While some may aspire to look like fitness models and bodybuilders, the important thing is to use working out to stay fit and healthy. By having fun, you’re sure to meet this long term goal.

    David,
    I think switching things up with cardio is important as well. I vary everything from the time of day to going a couple weeks without it to all out intense workouts.

    Dave

  • Great post Dave!

    I’ve always done my cardio right after my weight training set. However I wasn’t concerned about losing weight then but more about gaining muscle strength and getting leaner. Nowadays after years away from physical activity my focus has now shifted to losing weight, therefore my priority is now to do cardio first hand.

    As you said Dave, it really depends on our goals and what we’re trying to achieve.

  • Patrick
    Thanks for the perspective. To me, your method makes a lot of sense. Prioritize weight loss or muscle gain and focus first on the activity most appropriate to achieve those goals.
    Dave

  • Matt:

    As most of you guys are saying it all depends on your goals. I think that a gentle 5 min warm up actually allows me to lift more for longer, maybe this is psychological but maybe its all about getting that blood pumping to all the muscles. Too intense a warm up however seems to tire you out muscle wise even if you feel fine to lift what you normally lift without a warm up especially when lifting quite heavy.
    We all work differently so i suppose diff things work for diff people. I do not see the problem in doing a few high intesity intervals post weights unless you are strength training then this seems opposing goals. Thanks for the info though peeps :)

  • Matt,
    I agree that a simple warmup to get the blood flowing is a good way to go. I also agree that intense cardio can make strength training more challenging.
    Dave

  • Rick:

    This is an older thread, but one I had not read. I wanted to throw my ‘two cents’ at this as well. A lot of the replies have already said it, but it’s really what works for the individual. Sometimes I think we (by we, I mean people who have been training for many years) get too technical and look too much at the very specific details, when the reality is some of those details don’t really matter. I have people ask me all the time – “What’s the best workout?” Of course that is a loaded question, and one that needs about 30 more questions to go along with it (I’ll spare everyone my personal 30, but you know what I mean). So I typically keep my answer very simple – The best workout – is the one you’ll do! Then my next question is usually, what is your goal(s)?

    My point is cardio before, after, split, separate days, none of that matters if you don’t do it. Some people don’t have the time to do both in one day (my ideal would be to split them, hard lift in the morning and HIIT late afternoon early evening, but there’s no way that happens, at least not very often, way too much on my calendar for that) other’s don’t have the energy. It’s whatever works for the individual.

    My personal routine consists of running stairs and then lifting 4 to 5 days a week. My stair routine is running and sprinting, typically for 24 to 27 minutes (depending on what songs I run to that day – 72 steps up, 72 down about 20 to 22 times per ‘session’. (When I’m traveling I will walk off between 70 to 80 steps, each stairwell is a bit different) then I walk to the other side of the building to the gym and lift. About 90% of my lifting is dumbbells, and usually pretty heavy (at least for me). I focus on compound joint lifts. I’ve done it both ways, but I personally feel much better lifting after. I’m all warmed up (that’s a bit of an understatement) and the blood is flowing. I find that I have much more energy and can actually lift more when I do it after my cardio.

    Again, I think it’s really all personal preference and what you are use to, what works for you. Like I said earlier – “the best workout is the one you do…”

  • Rick,
    Great point! Some people aren’t morning people; others are. That’s another reason morning cardio works better for some than others. If we were all living in a bubble with unlimited time, I’m sure we could find an ideal way to do everything but there are too many other factors that complicate life. Just be consistent with a routine you can enjoy!
    Dave

  • Vik:

    Hi,
    I used to do cardio after, but now prefer before. Doing cardio before has impact on weightlifting, but psychologically I can’t do cardio after any more as weightlifting signals me that I am done with my workout. So personal preference I think.
    Vik

  • Vik,
    Interesting that you made the switch. As long as you’re getting an intense workout in, then keep it up.
    Dave

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