Cardio or Strength Training First?

I’ve had many clients ask what should be done first during a workout, cardio or strength training?

There is a common misconception that strength training before cardio increases the amount of fat used during cardio, helping to burn more fat.  There is no research that proves that this is true though. 

Remember that it is exercise intensity that determines which substrate is used: fat or carbohydrates.  During higher intensity exercise, carbohydrates are being burned.  During lower intensity exercise, more fat is burned (NOTE: this does not give you an excuse to have low intensity workouts…See “4 Benefits of Interval Training” post).

What’s most important to you? Are you wanting to lose weight? Build endurance?  Build strength?

Whichever activity is more important to your goals, that’s the type of exercise you should start with.  This way you are able exert more of your energy during that workout, getting the most out of the workout. 

For example, if you’re trying to make strength gains it wouldn’t make sense to exert all of your energy into a 20 minute sprint interval workout.  This would just leave you feeling fatigued by the time you hit the weights.  Conversly, if you are an endurance athlete (runner, swimmer, or cyclist) and strength training is used to improve your performance and prevent injury, do your cardio before strength training.  This way you are able to get the most out of your run, bike or swim.  In addition, you’ll be preventing yourself from possible injury due to fatigue.  You would be more prone to injury trying to run at your normal pace or faster if you are already fatigued from a strength training workout. 

If you don’t have time to do both in one day, that’s perfectly fine too.  You have to do what works for you and what fits into your schedule. 

Therefore, to recap, decide which activity is more important to your goals: cardio or strength training?  Then do that one first.  This way you will be getting the most out of your workouts and preventing yourself from possible injury as well.

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