Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weight Training?

Sports & Activity

Cardio needs to come before weight training in certain circumstances, but keep in mind that cardio is an umbrella term. Here’s what you need to know.

Last updated: June 30, 2022
6 min read
Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weight Training?

If your workout routine includes cardio and weight training, you’ve probably found yourself wondering which is best to do first, cardio or weights? Combining cardio (in other words, heart-strengthening exercise) with weight training (or muscle-strengthening exercise) makes for an optimal cross-training workout routine.

But which exercise should ideally come first? Should you even do cardio and strength training on the same day? You can, in fact, combine cardio and strength training into one workout — there are even benefits of doing so. But the order of cardio and weight training, as well as the intensity of each, depends on your goals.

What is Cardio?

To clarify what we mean by cardio, let’s introduce a few key definitions. Cardiovascular exercise, or “cardio” for short, is aerobic physical activity. Any physical activity that increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping can be considered cardio.

For example, water aerobics, jumping rope, dancing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sprints, trail running, walking and football are all examples of cardio.

While these activities differ drastically in their intensity and movements, one thing is the same — your heart rate elevates, blood circulation increases, muscles contract and your body moves rhythmically.

Some types of cardio training can be anaerobic, too. The difference between this and aerobic exercise is the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic cardio, like HIIT sprints, rely on breaking down glycogen (stored carbohydrates) to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate — the energy currency of your cells!) without oxygen. Whereas aerobic running breaks down fat and glycogen for fuel, with the help of oxygen to meet energy demands.

What is Weight Training?

Resistance training, weight training or strength training all involve working against a resistance for muscle gain and increased strength. This resistance can be free weights or machines, for example. Resistance training acts as a stressor to your muscles, forcing them to adapt and get stronger and less prone to injury. When your muscles get stronger they also get bigger, in a process known as hypertrophy.

In weight training, you are performing anaerobic exercise. Each muscle contraction has to generate enough force to move the weight. It relies on fast-twitch muscle fibers, powered by ATP. These quick bursts of activity are difficult to maintain for long periods of time because of the energy system they draw on. As a result, you can typically only lift weights for a given number of reps — usually somewhere between six to 15.

When to Do Cardio Before Weights

  1. 1.To Warm-Up

    It’s essential to warm-up your muscles before you begin a workout – whether that workout is strength training or cardio training. The most common and effective way to warm-up is to perform some light cardio.

    Here are some types of cardio to include before lifting weights:

    • Jump rope
    • Treadmill jogging
    • Incline treadmill walking
    • Jumping jacks
    • Mountain climbers
    • Dynamic stretch like overhead arm circles

    These light cardio exercises will slowly increase your heart rate and increase the blood flow to muscle tissue to warm them up and prepare them for more intense activity.

    A cardio warm-up should last between five and 10 minutes. Keep in mind that doing too much cardio as a warm-up can reduce your energy levels for the rest of your workout.

    Regardless of your main goal in fitness, or what the main workout is, incorporating a cardio warm-up as soon as you start your session should be ingrained in your routine.

  2. 2.To Increase Muscular Endurance

    When you do cardio before weights, you are using your energy to sustain aerobic exercise for longer periods of time. This is the key to improving cardiovascular endurance. Once your cardio session is over, and you switch to weights, your energy levels are nearly depleted. However, if you push on and do some light weight, high rep exercises, you are increasing muscular endurance.

    For sports that require endurance, like long-distance running, working on cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance in one workout may help you achieve optimal physical performance.

    It’s not necessary to lift heavy weights if your goal is endurance. That’s because lighter weights allow you to do more reps, which forces your muscles to adapt to sustained contractions, just as they would in endurance exercise. In fact, higher reps develop your slow-twitch muscle fibers and improve resistance fatigue. This has direct performance enhancing benefits for endurance sports.

  3. 3.For Weight Loss

    If fat loss is your main focus, you can do cardio before weight training. Lifting weights can help promote weight loss. For example, the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism. This means you burn more calories while at rest. This can make it easier to create an energy deficit in your diet and lose weight over time.

    Cardio can also boost weight loss efforts. That’s because when you do aerobic exercise, you are working in the ‘fat burning zone.’ That’s a heart rate zone of around 70 percent of your heart rate max (HRM). To determine your HRM, do 220 minus your age.

    Working out in the fat burning zone does what you think it would: burns fat. This energy output relies predominantly on breaking down fat stores to use for fuel. You get added benefits if you perform this type of cardio on an empty stomach, known as fasted cardio.

    A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that skipping breakfast and doing cardio led to a 20 percent increase in the amount of calories from fat burned during the session.

    Plus, cardio like HIIT is one of the best ways to burn fat, above any other type of exercise. Because it’s performed anaerobically, it creates an excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This elevates your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours post-workout.

    HIIT is only performed for five to 10 minutes. That’s because it’s high-intensity, and can’t be continued for much beyond 10 minutes. While that may seem short, it’s effective, due to EPOC. Because it’s so quick, it’s easy to do before lifting weights. The short burst of energy won’t fatigue you too much, so you can still put your all into your weight lifting workout to get the best of both.

What Type of Cardio to Do Before Weights

  1. 1.Low-Impact

    Starting your workout with some low-impact cardio can prepare your body for higher-impact weight lifting. Examples of this include:

    • Cycling
    • Swimming
    • Elliptical training
    • Rowing
    • Yoga
    • Walking
  2. 2.Low-Intensity

    If your weight training routine is high-intensity, prepare your body by starting with some low-intensity steady-state cardio. This can be viewed as an extended warm-up, which is recommended for people with sedentary lifestyles, beginners, or those recovering from an injury. This might include any cardio exercise performed at 50 to 60 percent of your HRM.

  3. 3.Your Favorite

    Here’s the thing: You can do cardio and weights back-to-back. It mainly depends on your goals, and your favorite activity.

    If you love your Zumba dance class and want to use it as motivation to get through your weights workout, do it after. If you love running and are counting down the minutes to get going, do cardio first and weights after. If you’ve done a heavy leg day and need something to help you cool-down, follow it up with some lower-intensity cardio.

    What matters is that you’re moving, and you’re using your energy to do the activity that best benefits you. Whether that’s a mental or physical benefit. The point is, you’re getting it done.

Should I Do Cardio Before or After Weight Training?

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