It’s a conundrum many people face when entering the gym. Ask any trainer if you should do your cardio first or last and the answer is simple: it depends.
Although that sounds vague, the fact is your training goals will determine which works best for you.
If your goal is better endurance, do cardio before weights.
For instance, if you’re training for a marathon or any long-distance run, prioritize your run before strength training so you can focus without the distraction of your legs being fatigued.
Doing light, steady-state cardio before any intense activity prepares the body for exercise before grabbing the barbell. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when exercisers did a low-intensity warm up for 15 minutes, they were able to lift more weight in a 1-rep max test on the leg press machine than those who did no warmup or only warmed up for 5 minutes.
If your goal is burning fat and losing weight, or getting stronger, do cardio after weights.
Also, if you are on a lower-body weight training alternate day, you may want your cardio after your weights so you don’t wear out your legs first.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recruited 11 healthy and fit men who ran on a treadmill at moderately hard, very hard or maximal intensity for between 20 and 45 minutes. They then performed resistance exercises like the high pull, squat and push press.
Results showed their performance on the strength moves was significantly compromised after the aerobic workouts.
If you are alternating weight training and are on an upper-body day, you can do either cardio before or after. Since you’re focusing on arms, shoulders, back etc., your legs won’t be compromised.
Also, if your goal is general fitness without an intense weight-training schedule, you can do either one first. Finish up your workout with the one you like more to end on a good note.
Remember, it’s important to combine cardio and strength wisely so you don’t overwork the same muscle groups. Focusing on the same muscle groups during back-to-back cardio and strength training sessions doesn’t allow for adequate recovery and could lead to injury.
The bottom line is it’s better to have consistency than worry about the two extra calories you might burn from doing weights or cardio first. Analyze your goals and plan your workouts to reach those goals.