This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions around the gym! If you’re trying to get both cardio and strength training into the same workout, which should go first? Will one take away from the other? The answer depends on a few different factors. But there is one main point you should keep in mind when making your decision:
-Whatever you do first will detract from your capacity for the second.
1) What is your primary goal?
Are you primarily an endurance athlete? Are you most concerned with perfecting your running form, stride and your upcoming half marathon? It would make sense to start out with your cardio workout. Whether you were planning on doing some High Intensity Interval Training first, or 30 minutes of jogging, both options will diminish your energy stores for weight lifting afterwards – which, if excelling in these is your goal, is perfectly fine.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you’re a serious lifter of any variety, you’ll certainly want to lift first, run second. Personally I get a pretty serious case of jelly legs and tight calves after running, no matter the intensity! That makes performing something like a squat or lunge pretty difficult, assuredly detracting from my top weight for the day.
Well what if your primary goal is fat loss and you don’t particularly care one way or the other which you do better at? If you want both fat loss AND muscle gain, stick with weights first. If all you’re going for is fat loss, you’ll hear often that it doesn’t matter quite as much, but I’ll still contend that you stick with weights first.
Whether you start with even low-intensity cardio or weights first, both activities will take energy from your muscle glycogen stores – though the cardio in much smaller amounts than weights (if you’re lifting heavy that is!). Stick with weights first to do some work depleting your muscle glycogen stores and when you get to cardio you’ll have to rely more heavily on fat stores. That may mean that you can’t do your cardio quite as intensely, however.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your 5-minute bike warm-up is out of the picture. You absolutely should warm-up before any kind of workout. Just make sure those 5-minutes aren’t Tabata workout-worthy!
2) How much time do you have?
Maybe you’re torn between excelling at either cardio or weights – what if you want to be awesome at BOTH? Consider how much time you’ve got to devote to exercise. If it’s feasible, you could do one before work and one after. Or take a walk during your lunch break and hit the gym after. Ideally you should break up the workouts with as much time as possible, but don’t sweat being super precise or think that just because you only got 3 or 4 hours between sessions that your next workout is going to be terrible.
Are you super crunched for time and don’t have time to do both cardio and weights? Can you only hit the gym 3 days per week? Why not do both at the same time?
The great thing about making weight circuits is that there is a lot of freedom in your exercise choices. Want to do an upper body circuit one day, a lower body circuit another and a total body circuit for the 3rd? Sounds great! Want to do total body all 3 days? Why not? The only things to check off when constructing a weight circuit to combine cardio and strength training:
-Is your heart rate in your target range for the duration of the circuit? (I talk about this a lot on my latest post on my personal blog)
-Are you making sure to keep your rest periods down?
-Are you using weights that challenge you, but don’t break down your form?
If you’ve said yes to each of these, you’ve probably got an acceptable weight circuit.
3) Which do you prefer?
Honestly this blog post may make this issue seem more complicated than it really is. Do you want to lose fat but really really enjoy running and getting a sweat on before you lift weights? Go for it. One of the most important things about any exercise program isn’t whether it’s a particularly good one or not – it’s whether you stick to it consistently. If doing weights after you run makes you happy, keep doing it!
Hope this helped to clear up this common query! Have any more questions? Ask us below!