The answer to this common query depends on what your ultimate fitness and health goals are.
The gym has become the core of our fitness regimes and where people go to lose weight, improve endurance, enhance strength and learn new methods to achieve their health and athletic goals. While some of us know exactly what to do to reach these goals, many of us have questions and one of the most common is the cardio before or after weights conundrum. Then there are those who work out according to habit, e.g. hit the treadmill then weights or vice versa, without giving much thought to the science behind the sequence.
The order in which you exercise is based on what your long-term fitness goals are from losing weight and becoming lean and mean, to enhancing strength, cardio fitness and muscle mass.
Weight loss: If this is the goal, weight training should be done first. Studies have shown that more calories are lost during the initial part of a cardio workout after a session of strength training.
Increase strength: Again, weight training should come first followed by a cardio session. The reason for this is simple – to become stronger, lifting is essential and requires a lot of energy and concentration. Doing this first ensures that you are mentally ready and physically able to commit to the weights. If you run, cycle or do any form of cardio before, your ability to do as many reps at the weight required to increase strength diminishes due to fatigue and decreased muscle power.
Maintaining and improving cardiovascular fitness: Cardio first - hitting the rowing machine / treadmill / stair climber / elliptical machine first is an effectual way of working up a sweat and warming up muscles for the rest of your exercise session be it light weight training or a cardio-fitness based class.
Training for a race: if you’re training for a run or obstacle race, then cardio should be the priority as achieving enhanced endurance is the main aim. Lifting weights or strength training before a race decreases endurance and therefore negatively affects cardio fitness.
General fitness: The consensus here is that starting with either works depending on your preference; although it is strongly suggested doing the one you don’t like first as doing something you dislike when fatigued makes it much worse.
If you’re working on improving lower body strength training, start with strength training first. If you would like to focus on upper body strength training, start with either - the choice is yours.
Another factor to consider when deciding fitness goals is time. Most of us lead busy lives juggling work and family while trying to keep fitness levels up and even training for a race. The regime we follow has to factor this is, e.g. if you’re training for a 5km run, you should be training four to six days a week for eight weeks for optimum results. The same goes for weight loss – you need to have at least three 30-minute intense cardio workouts and two strengthening / weight sessions weekly to lose a kilo. With this in mind, be sure to plan your workouts accordingly.
Therefore, the simplest answer when it comes to whether cardio comes before or after weight training is based entirely on the individual’s goals, needs and abilities.