Should You Do Cardio Before Strength Training?

Illustration women working out at the gym
AlonzoDesign/Getty Images

Combining strength training and cardio in one workout session saves time, but you may wonder which you should do first. The answer isn't always cut and dried, Doing cardio may be preferred if your goal is to lose weight or improve cardio endurance. If you want to build strength, you should do strength training first, followed by cardio. Ultimately, you should base your choice on your goals and how you prefer to do your workouts.

Which Workouts You Need

The exercise guidelines set out by the American Council on Sports Medicine recommend 11 or more workouts a week. These include five cardio workouts, three strength training workouts, and three flexibility workouts, although that number isn't always to same for everyone. The number of workouts you do can easily change based on your goals, fitness level, schedule, and level of intensity of your workouts.

The harder you work, as in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), the shorter the workouts. But if you're doing lower intensity workouts, you may need to workout up to seven days each week to see significant weight loss results.

The Benefits of Cardio Before Strength Training

If your goal is to lose weight, cardio before strength may be your best bet, although a review of studies found no difference in body fat percentage due to the sequence of exercise. Some of the proposed benefits of doing cardio first include:

  • Maximizes Your Calorie Burn: Doing cardio and strength during the same workout not only helps you burn more calories but doing cardio first actually maximizes the calorie expenditure of your workout since a session of cardio typically burns more calories than a session of strength training.
  • Increases Your Afterburn: Doing cardio first may maximize your post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the number of calories your body continues to burn after your workout. One small study found the afterburn was the greatest after a running workout followed by a weight training workout compared with the opposite sequence or a weight training workout alone. They also found that running was harder for the body after lifting weights first, particularly if you target the legs.

If your goal is to build strength, experts differ on this issue. Some recommending cardio beforehand to get your body warmed up for lifting weights. Warm muscles perform better and there may be less risk of injury if your body is warmed up and ready.

Benefits of Strength Training Before Cardio

If your main goal is developing strength and power, some say lifting weights should come first so you can give all your energy to it. Doing cardio first may fatigue your muscles, thus making your weight training session less effective.

systematic review of studies found better results for lower body dynamic strength if you do the strength workout first. However, they didn't find any significant effect in building bigger muscles or lower body static strength. Doing weights first also had no effect on building maximum aerobic capacity or body fat percentage.

If you believe the traditional stance of bodybuilders that too much cardio doesn't result in as much muscle growth, you may want to do shorter high-intensity interval (HIIT) cardio workouts to increase your power and endurance.

Make It Work For You

It's nice to have guidance but how you schedule your workouts will depend on a variety of things:

  • Your goals: If your goal is overall weight loss, you might do cardio first to maximize your workout time. If you have a specific goal or sport, you'll want to put that first. For example, if you're training for a marathon, you'll want to focus your best energy on your running workouts and schedule your strength workouts for your off days.
  • Your preferences: If lifting weights first feels good to you, there's no reason you have to change that. The idea is to have a consistent, balanced workout routine in whatever format fits your life.​
  • Your schedule: Carve out time to exercise and fit what you can into that time.

Keep in mind that you don't have to separate cardio and strength exercises. There are a variety of ways to work everything in the same workout.

Metabolic conditioning is one option, which involves both your cardio energy system and the energy system that supports your muscles. It involves using high-intensity, whole body movements, often with weights, that both get your heart rate up while helping you build strength. You go from one exercise to the next and the speed is what keeps your heart rate up, as well as the compound exercises. A 10-minute met con workout can fit easily into your schedule.

Similar to met con, high-intensity circuit training (HICT) involves combining both cardio and strength training moves in the same workout. For example, you might jog in place for a minute, then move on to squats with an overhead press followed by burpees. Try this type of workout once or twice a week and you'll work on all areas of fitness while burning more calories at the same time.

Building Your Workout Schedule

You can build your weekly schedule in many different ways. This is one example of how you might fit in all your workouts. This assumes you're working out for about an hour.

Sample Cardio/Strength Weekly Workout Calendar

It may take time to figure out a schedule that works for you and that schedule may change from week to week, depending on what's going on in your life. In fact, you don't have to follow the same workout routine from week to week. It's great to mix things up and try different ways to exercise.

A Word From Verywell

You may find that you like doing strength first, which is fine. Or maybe you even like to workout twice a day, doing cardio in the morning and strength training later in the day. The key is to keep things simple and fit in what you can. There's no rulebook and there really is no wrong way to exercise. Just making sure you do something every day is a great goal to have.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources