Better to do Cardio Before or After Weight Lifting?

Better to do Cardio Before or After Weight Lifting?

Jan 31, 2024 · Zed Walls

Better to do Cardio Before or After Weight Lifting?

 As you stand at the crossroads of your fitness journey, deciding whether to lace up your running shoes or grip the cold steel of dumbbells first, it's not just about the direction you take but the order of your steps that can shape your path. You've likely heard conflicting advice on whether to prioritize cardiovascular exercises or weight training in your workout regimen. If you're aiming to maximize fat loss, you might lean towards starting with a heart-pumping cardio session.

On the other hand, if building muscle is your target, you'd probably consider hoisting weights before hitting the treadmill. Yet, the decision isn't black and white; it's shaded with nuances of your body's energy systems, the intricacies of muscle fatigue, and the delicate balance of hormones that choreograph your body's response to exercise. You're right to question the conventional wisdom because the sequence in which you perform these activities could be the silent conductor orchestrating the symphony of your fitness results.

But before you tie those laces or pick up that barbell, there are important physiological breadcrumbs to follow that may just lead you to your answer.

Understanding Exercise Order


When deciding whether to hit the treadmill or the squat rack first, you should weigh several key factors that can significantly impact both your workout's effectiveness and your overall fitness goals. Considering your fitness level, exercise experience, and athletic goals is crucial when determining the exercise order. If you opt for strength training first, you'll likely have more energy and focus to lift heavier weights, which is essential for muscle growth and strength development. Starting with weights also ensures you don't burn glycogen reserves needed for intense lifting, as cardio first could deplete this energy source.

However, if you prioritize cardio and strength training on different days, you may optimize each session without compromising the other. But remember, doing weights before cardio might reduce your endurance for the treadmill or bike session. To strike a balance, you can warm up with light cardio before transitioning to weights, saving your stamina for strength training.

Your exercise routine should align with your fitness goals, whether that's building muscle, improving endurance, or both. By understanding how exercise order affects your performance, you can tailor your workouts to maximize results while minimizing the risk of injury.

Pros of Cardio First

Pros of Cardio First

When you kick off your session with cardio, you're setting the stage for a more effective workout. You'll not only warm up your muscles, decreasing the chance of injury, but you'll also boost your endurance, which can enhance your performance during weightlifting. Additionally, starting with cardio may shift your body's energy usage, potentially increasing fat burn when you hit the weights.

Warm-Up Benefits

Kicking off your workout with cardio can boost your endurance and prime your muscles for the strength training to come. The warm-up benefits of starting with light cardio are significant when it comes to both your exercise performance and safety. Here's why you should consider leading with cardio:

  • Enhances Blood Flow: Cardio warms up your muscles by increasing blood flow, reducing the chance of injury during resistance training.

  • Elevates Heart Rate: Gradually raising your heart rate helps your body transition smoothly into more intense lifting.

  • Prepares Muscles: Cardio helps to loosen up your muscles, making them more pliable for the weights segment.

  • Boosts Performance: An initial cardio session can improve your overall stamina, enabling you to lift with better form and efficiency.

Endurance Focus Advantage

By starting your workout with cardio, you can significantly enhance your endurance, ensuring you're well-prepared for the subsequent weight-lifting session. Prioritizing cardio before weights primes your body for endurance exercise, allowing you to tackle your training with increased stamina. This type of cardio warm-up promotes blood flow and prepares your muscles, reducing the risk of injury when you transition to more intense weight lifting. If your goal is to boost aerobic capacity, leading with cardio workouts can give you the endurance-focus advantage you're aiming for. By tailoring your routine to include cardio sessions first, you're taking a comprehensive approach to fitness, effectively balancing your training and cardio to meet your endurance goals while keeping cardio second in terms of intensity.

Cons of Cardio First


When you kick off your workout with cardio, you might tap into your energy reserves too early, leaving less fuel for your strength session. This can lead to reduced performance during weightlifting, as your muscles may not be able to handle the same level of intensity after cardio. Additionally, starting with a heavy cardio session could increase your risk of injury by pre-fatiguing your muscles.

Reduced Strength Performance

Engaging in cardio before lifting weights can lead to reduced strength performance, as your muscles may already be fatigued from the aerobic activity. When you prioritize a high-intensity run or bike ride, you're taxing both your muscle and nervous system, which are crucial for maximal strength during weightlifting. This means when you finally get to lifting weights, your ability to perform may be compromised.

  • Pre-fatigued muscles from cardio can decrease strength and power output during strength training.

  • The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) may increase, making weights feel harder to lift than if you'd done weights first.

  • Your stamina for maintaining proper form in strength exercises could be reduced, increasing injury risk.

  • Cardio first may necessitate more recovery time or splitting your strength training and cardio into separate sessions.

Lower Energy Reserves

Starting with cardio may drain your muscle glycogen stores, leaving you with less energy for a high-intensity weightlifting workout. When you're building strength, energy reserves are crucial. Engaging in cardio and lifting on the same day requires strategic planning. If you deplete your energy with cardio first, your strength workouts may suffer due to pre-fatigued muscles. Consequently, you might not be able to lift weights with the intensity needed to achieve muscle overload. This can limit your fitness gains and potentially increase the risk of injury. It's essential to consider whether to prioritize strength or cardio based on your goals. To optimize your workouts, consider performing cardio after you've tackled your strength sessions, ensuring your energy reserves are primed for building strength.

Pros of Weights First

 Pros of Weights First

Lifting weights before you tackle your cardio routine can enhance muscle strength and ensure you're performing at your peak during the endurance portion of your workout. By focusing on strength and muscle development first, you increase muscle mass and ensure you're able to maintain proper form throughout your new workout plan. This approach also means you'll be fresh when handling weights in the gym, reducing injury risk and allowing for maximum effort.

Consider these benefits of hitting the weights first:

  • Increased muscle recruitment: Starting with weights primes your muscles for action, helping you get more from your resistance bands or free weights session with guidance from a strength coach.

  • Better energy utilization: You'll use your high-energy stores for strength training, then burn fat during your cardio, optimizing your body's energy systems.

  • Quality rest periods: You can manage your rest periods effectively between sets to maintain intensity, which might be compromised if you're fatigued from prior cardio.

  • Lower injury risk: With muscles warmed up and activated, you reduce the chance of injury from improper form or overexertion during high-intensity training.

Cons of Weights First

Cons of Weights First 

While hitting the weights before your cardio routine can offer benefits, it's important to note that it might also diminish your aerobic performance, such as your speed and endurance. If you're aiming to improve your cardiovascular conditioning or focus on weight loss through high-intensity interval training, you may find that pre-exhausting muscles with weight training can hinder your ability to perform cardio at peak capacity. This is crucial to consider, especially when both cardio exercise and weight training are two pillars of a well-rounded fitness regimen.

A systematic review in Sports Medicine suggests that the sequence of exercises impacts your workout's effectiveness. You might experience a reduced incentive to push yourself during cardio after an intense session of lifting weights, which can affect your overall fitness goals. Additionally, starting with weights increases the risk of acute injury, as lifting heavy can be more hazardous when muscles are already fatigued from previous exercise.

Furthermore, prioritizing weights can lead to a reduction in the endurance and stamina that are vital for maintaining cardiovascular health and reducing fat mass. In the long run, this may also impact the desired increase in muscle size, as recovery and performance go hand in hand for sustainable progress.

Factors Influencing Your Decision

Factors Influencing Your Decision

Your decision to prioritize cardio or weights in your workout routine should hinge on your specific fitness goals, current physical condition, and personal preferences. It's not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and what works best for you might differ from someone else. To help you make an informed choice, consider the following factors influencing your decision:

  • Fitness Goals: If you're aiming for muscle size and strength, you might start with weights. However, if your goal is endurance or weight loss, it could be better to do cardio first.

  • Physical Condition: Assess your energy levels and any existing injuries. High-intensity cardio might be taxing if you're not used to it or if you're recovering from an injury.

  • Type of Cardio: The intensity of your cardio session plays a role. Light cardio may serve as a good warm-up, while intense cardio sessions might require their focus, perhaps on different days.

  • Schedule and Preferences: Include both cardio and weights on the same day if it suits your schedule, or alternate them on different days based on what you enjoy and can consistently maintain for your health and fitness journey.

Tailoring to Your Fitness Goals

Tailoring to Your Fitness Goals

Considering the factors that influence your workout priorities, it's essential to tailor the sequence of cardio and weights to align with your individual fitness goals. A recent study published in the Journal of Science in Sports indicates that whichever type of exercise you prioritize in a workout can impact your results. If you aim to increase muscle size, lifting weights before doing cardio is usually recommended. This approach can help prevent fatigue from affecting your strength training performance.

On the other hand, if enhancing endurance is your main goal, you might benefit from completing cardio first, three times per week or more. This allows you to tackle aerobic exercises with maximum energy and focus. However, for overall fitness improvement, you could consider combining both types of training in a single session. High-intensity interval Training (HIIT) and circuit workouts are effective methods for this.

Weights Before Cardio FAQ's:

Q: Is it better to do cardio before or after weight lifting?

A: It depends on your goals. If your primary aim is to burn more fat, you may want to consider doing cardio before weightlifting. However, if you are focusing on building strength, then doing weight lifting before cardio may be more beneficial.

Q: What are the benefits of doing cardio before weightlifting?

A: Doing cardio before weight lifting can help warm up your muscles and prepare your cardiovascular system for the upcoming weight training. It can also help in burning more fat as the body utilizes the available carbohydrates during weight lifting, and then switches to fat for energy during cardio.

Q: What are the benefits of doing cardio after weight lifting?

A: When you do cardio after weight lifting, your muscles will already be pre-fatigued from the weight training, so you may rely more on fat stores for energy during the cardio session. Additionally, by doing cardio after weight lifting, you can ensure that you have enough energy and focus to lift heavier weights without being too tired from the cardio session.

Q: Should I combine cardio and weight training in the same workout?

A: Combining cardio and weight training in the same workout can be an effective way to save time and achieve both cardiovascular and strength training benefits. However, it's important to consider the intensity of the cardio activity and how it might impact your performance during weight lifting.

Q: Is it better to do cardio and weight training on the same day, or separate them into different sessions?

A: Whether you should do cardio and weight training on the same day or in separate sessions depends on your fitness goals and your body's ability to recover. Some people prefer to do both on the same day to optimize their workout time, while others find it beneficial to dedicate different days to cardio and weight training to allow for adequate recovery.

Q: What type of cardio activity is best to combine with weight training?

A: The best type of cardio activity to combine with weight training depends on your goals and preferences. Some options include moderate-intensity cardio activities like cycling or brisk walking or more intense forms of cardio such as running or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It's essential to choose a form of cardio that complements your weight training and doesn't overly fatigue the major muscle groups you'll be targeting during weight lifting.

Q: Can I do cardio after weight training in the same workout session?

A: Yes, you can include cardio after weight training in the same workout session. However, it's important to consider the intensity and duration of the cardio session to ensure that it complements the weight training without causing excessive fatigue or compromising recovery.

Q: How much time should I devote to cardio and weight training in a week?

A: The recommended amount of cardio and weight training varies depending on individual fitness goals and overall health. Generally, experts suggest aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, combined with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. It's important to find a balance that works for you and aligns with your fitness objectives.

Q: Should I do cardio or weights first in my workout routine?

A: Whether you should do cardio or weights first in your workout routine depends on your goals and preferences. If your main focus is on improving cardiovascular endurance, you may choose to do cardio first. On the other hand, if you prioritize building strength and muscle mass, beginning with weight training may be the preferred approach.

Q: Can I do cardio and weight training on subsequent days?

A: Yes, you can schedule cardio and weight training on subsequent days. This approach allows for adequate recovery between the different types of workouts, which can be beneficial for maximizing performance and reducing the risk of overtraining. Just be mindful of listening to your body and adjusting your schedule based on how you feel.

Other Frequently Asked Questions:

Is It Better to Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

You're wondering about the best timing for cardio about weights. It's generally best to lift weights before doing cardio. This way, you'll hit the weights with maximum energy, reducing injury risk and getting the most out of your strength training. Save cardio for after, so you can still burn calories without compromising your muscle-building goals. Tailor this approach to fit your specific fitness objectives for optimal results.

Is 20 Minutes of Cardio Enough After Lifting Weights?

You've just conquered the weights and are wondering if a mere 20 minutes of cardio will suffice. It's like the cherry on top of a workout sundae. This quick burst of cardio post-lifting can enhance fat burning, improve cardiovascular health, and ensure you're not spending an eternity at the gym. It's a practical, time-efficient way to round off your session, ticking all the boxes for a well-balanced fitness routine.

Is It Better to Run Before or After Lifting?

You're wondering whether to hit the treadmill before or after lifting weights. It's best to lift first if building muscle or strength is your goal. Running beforehand can tire you out, reducing your lifting performance. But if you're focusing on endurance or warming up, a brief, light jog before weights can be beneficial. For optimal results, consider your targets and how your body feels after each exercise.

Is It OK to Do Weights and Cardio on the Same Day?

You're juggling two fitness balls—weights and cardio—on the same day, but will they both stay in the air? Absolutely! Think of your workout as a tailored suit; it must fit your goals and schedule. You can safely combine weights and cardio in one session, just be mindful of your energy levels and recovery needs. Mix it up with a HIIT session or split them up to match your fitness plan.


So, what'll it be for you—cardio or weights first? Consider the pros and cons, weigh them against your fitness aspirations, and make the choice that feels right. Just remember, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Your body, and your goals, guide the way. Stay attuned to how you feel during and after workouts; it's the best clue you've got. Choose wisely, and the results might just surprise you. Now, take a deep breath and dive in.

Profile Image Zed Walls

Zed Walls

Zed Walls, a vibrant and dedicated certified personal trainer, has been transforming lives in the fitness industry for over a decade. With a passion deeply rooted in strength and conditioning, Zed's journey began in his early twenties, where he discovered the empowering world of powerlifting. His remarkable strength and technique quickly made him a respected figure in local powerlifting circles.

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