Whether you choose to do cardio before or after weights will have a different effect on the results that you’ll achieve with your workout.
It is a popular question and largely depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Cardio before weights has its advantages, just as weight lifting before cardio has benefits as well.
The simple answer is that your decision should be based on your specific goals. Here’s why.
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Cardio before weights
If you’re trying to lose weight or increase your strength, then doing cardio before you do your weight-lifting workout may drain your energy stores and take away from your weights session.
The general rule of thumb is to do whatever you want to get better at first.
That means if you want to get better at lifting weights and increase your strength, then you should lift weights first. It will give you better results in that area.
But, if you’re trying to improve your endurance such as running faster or for longer, then doing cardio first will help you to reach that goal faster.
This study by the American Council on Exercise showed that doing cardio before weights may feel easier for the cardio portion of your workout.
Whereas, doing the exact same cardio workout after lifting weights felt a lot more intense and was harder to get through.
An article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also revealed that doing cardio first can impede the amount of power you’re able to exert while lifting weights.
So if your goal is to get stronger, increase your size or improve your power output, then doing cardio before weights may hinder your progress toward those goals.
If you participate in moderate to vigorous or high-intensity endurance training before a strength workout then it could also impact how effective that strength workout will be.
Some people believe that doing cardio before you lift weights may help with fat-burning during your weight session.
However, the opposite is actually true.
If you do cardio before you lift weights, then lifting weights afterward will feel a lot harder and you may not be able to push yourself as much.
Benefits of cardio before weights
While cardio before weights may not be the best course of action to improve strength, size or power, it does have some advantages.
On average, cardio burns more calories per session than weightlifting.
So, if you’re just trying to burn the most calories, then doing cardio before your weightlifting session may help you to achieve that.
Doing your cardio first can also be beneficial if you’re an endurance athlete trying to improve your performance.
You’ll be able to run longer and faster if you run before lifting weights, as lifting weights first can make your cardio performance a lot less efficient.
Fasted cardio has become popular among people trying to lose weight.
It is often done first thing in the morning before eating breakfast or doing a weightlifting session.
It requires that you have an empty stomach in order to maximize your body’s fat-burning capacity.
When you fast, your body is in a hypocaloric state, meaning you’re taking in low to no calories. Especially in the case of sleeping, you’re taking in no calories.
Several studies have shown that working out in a fasted or hypocaloric state increases the amount of fat burned during your workout compared to having a meal first.
So, if you want to do cardio before weights in order to burn fat, then it may behoove you to do it first thing in the morning before you’ve eaten anything. And then maybe push your weights session to later in the day to get the most out of both workouts.
This can be a great way to break up your training if you’re short on time as well.
It can be beneficial to do your cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and then save your lifting for later in the day after you’ve eaten and had time to recover your energy.
Summary of benefits for cardio before weights:
- Burn more calories per workout
- Improve speed, run faster
- Extend the duration of cardio activity with more energy
- More stamina to push yourself longer and harder during a cardio workout
- Fasted cardio can increase your fat-burning
Weights before cardio
Research has shown that running or cycling can negatively impact a strength workout by decreasing the number of reps you’re able to do.
This means that if you want to get the most out of lifting weights, then that should be done before cardio because you’ll have more energy.
If you’re trying to increase your strength or size, then the number of reps and sets that you can push yourself through are a significant aspect of your workout.
Doing fewer reps than you’re able to because you’re worn out from your cardio may impact the results that you’ll get from weight training.
This is why if your main goal isn’t to get better at cardio, it should be left for after weights or done on another day that won’t impact your energy to get through your weight training workout.
This study shows that lifting weights before doing cardio will keep you from being able to push as hard or go as long during your cardio session before getting fatigued.
So, if you generally like to do cardio after leg day, for example, then you probably shouldn’t expect it to be the best cardio performance you’ve ever done.
The first activity that you do, the one you prioritize, will be the one you’re able to perform the best at. In this case, it’s lifting weights.
However, doing a low impact activity as a form of cardio after leg day can help with soreness and prevent you from getting as stiff.
Light cardio or low impact options include walking, swimming, an easy pace on the elliptical or another piece of cardio equipment at a lower intensity.
To maximize the benefits of your leg day, you’ll want to lift weights first and save your cardio for after your strength workout or do it on another day.
Benefits of weights before cardio
As I mentioned previously, lifting weights before cardio is a better option for optimizing strength improvements and weight loss because you have more energy to push yourself.
After all, challenging your body is what changes it so you want to make sure that you’re able to go into your workout with adequate energy.
Studies show that resistance training is superior to cardio for metabolic health and fat loss, so it’s best to prioritize that if you’re trying to lose weight or get leaner.
Cardio burns more calories per session, but lifting weights will help you to burn more calories in the long run because muscle takes more energy to maintain.
This means that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest.
Doing your weight training before your cardio will also enable you to lift heavier.
Lifting heavier weights will help you to build more muscle, which can boost your metabolism so that you burn more calories while doing less activity and eating more.
Summary of benefits for cardio before weights:
- Burn more calories in the long run
- Improve strength, lift more weight
- Perform more reps and sets before fatigue
- Build more muscle
- Increase your metabolic rate (calories you burn every day)
- Great for maintainable fat loss
Prioritize your goals
Now that you have a better understanding of the benefits and disadvantages of doing cardio or weights first, here are some guidelines that you can follow to keep it simple.
Do cardio after weights if you want to:
- Get stronger
- Build more muscle (hypertrophy)
- Burn more fat and lose weight
- Maximize leg day, work on lower body strength
Do cardio first if you want to:
- Get faster
- Improve your endurance
- Increase your stamina
- Go cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning for increased fat burning
- Get it over with because you’re not a fan of cardio
What’s best for you?
If you’re trying to maximize the results you’ll get from both lifting weights and doing cardio then you have a few options.
You can separate your workouts in the following ways:
1. Alternate the days that you’re lifting weights and doing cardio
Lift weights on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and do cardio on Tuesday and Thursday.
2. Do two separate workouts
Do a fasted cardio session first thing in the morning, and then do a weight lifting session 6-8 hours later to give yourself time to recover and replenish your energy.
3. Combine your workouts
If your focus is strength or weight loss, then lift weights for 30-45 minutes and then do 15-20 minutes of cardio afterward and adjust your intensity as necessary.
Or if your focus is on getting faster, improving stamina and endurance then do a 20-30 minute cardio workout, and then 20-30 minutes of weight lifting right after.
4. High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT
Combine your cardio and resistance training into one 12-20 minute workout where you have minimal rest.
There are many different types of HIIT workouts that you can do, such as:
- AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible)
- EMOM (every minute on the minute)
- Tabata (20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes at a time)
- Circuit training (multiple exercises back to back with minimal rest in between.
HIIT is a great option for busy people with minimal time.
Studies have shown that you can burn more calories and get some resistance training in for a metabolic boost when you do HIIT as opposed to steady-state cardio by itself.
Everyone’s body is different, just as everyone has their own specific goals, lifestyles, and priorities.
Ultimately, the best time to do cardio is what will work best for your life and your schedule.
The best choice that you can make is the one that you’re able to stick to consistently so that you can see results.