Cardio or weights first? An age old question amongst many fitness fanatics; Which order is best for generating results? In this article we explore the benefits of both, and which is most suitable for succeeding with your health and fitness goals.
What is Cardio?
Cardio based exercises are those of which raise the heart rate for an extended period. These types of exercises have been proven to improve fitness, stamina and endurance, whilst burning calories.
Whilst there are many benefits of doing cardio before weights, the main benefit is the potential for better cardio performance – Chtara et al. (1) . Performing cardio first, allows for a higher intensity whilst you’re still ‘fresh’. This is an important factor for sports specific individuals who may be looking to improve fitness and stamina for their respective sporting discipline. Weights before cardio will heavily impact negatively of cardio performance due to muscular fatigue. Cardio before weights is excellent for warming up and preparing the body before before a weights session, but it also comes at a cost. Weights after cardio can drastically affect your weight lifting performance. Depending on the intensity of the cardio exercises performed before a strength training session, lifting strength and power can be hindered drastically.
What is Weights Training?
Weight training can be described as the lifting of a load (bodyweight or external weight) to improve strength and/or power.
Just as doing cardio before weights may allow for higher performance on the track (or the treadmill), the same rules apply to performing weights before cardio. García-Pallarés et al. (2) demonstrated that highly trained kayakers achieved significant performance improvements in muscle strength and power as well as aerobic capacity when perfomng weights/resistance training before cardio. It is important to note that this study only looked at performance results of the upper body. Weight training before cardio also improves the potential of obliterating personal bests (PB’s) with lifts and thereby maximising muscle building efforts. This is mainly due to lifting weights before fatigue from cardio sets in. The weights before cardio sequence also has a better metabolic affect on the body, leading to greater fat loss. Kang et al. (3) This is caused by the increased EPOC (exercise post oxygen consumption) response. The body’s necessity for more oxygen, post ‘weights before cardio’ is a lot higher than the reverse order. The higher demand of oxygen to repair micro-torn muscle fibres, greatly improves a higher metabolic state, leading to improved fat loss. On the flipside, high intensity cardio exercises such as sprint training after a heavy lifting session can increase the risk of injury. High intensity cardio exercises places a lot of demand on fatigued, lactate filled muscle. The reduction of movement caused by fatigued, lactate filled muscles affects mobility and range of motion. This tightness may lead to cramping and in worst cases, torn or strained muscles and/or ligaments.
Cardio or Weights First, What is Best?
The best order of exercises is solely determined on the goals and outcomes of the individual. Each session should have a certain focus in mind. The question isn’t ‘which is best?’ but rather, which is best for your overall goal of training. For instance, a marathon runner would be best to perform cardio first as strength has a minimal affect on the overall performance of running marathon, whereas, a power lifter would be best to train weights before cardio, as strength is the most important factor of powerlifting. Each their own.
- Cardio before weights is best performed in sports specific settings for sports that require a high aerobic demand. e.g long distance running
- Weights before cardio is best for burning fat and improving aerobic capacity
- Select cardio or weights first based on which is best suited to your overall goal
References 1. Chtara M, Chamari K, Chaouachi M, Chaouachi A, Koubaa D, Feki Y, Millet GP, Amri M. Effects of intra-session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. Br J Sports Med. 2005; 39 (8): 555–60.