Cardio v Strength Training - What to do first?

We all know a healthy balance of strength and cardio training is needed in any good fitness plan, and you really shouldn’t focus 100% of your workouts on just one aspect. Even someone who runs at a professional level, for example, needs to incorporate a good strength training programme into their routine. But what about those on a busy schedule and only have a short amount of time to squeeze in cardio and weight training into one good session? Which type of exercise should come first? Well, according to research, weights can’t wait!

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a very interested study where 3 different workout strategies were pitted against each other by researchers: just strength training, running followed by strength and also cycling followed by strength. The results of the research showed that exercisers who ran or cycled prior to strength training achieved fewer weight lifting reps; pure strength training with no cardio involved resulted in more reps.

There are a variety of research projects that have found similar results. Bouts of treadmill running decreases the number of reps and muscle power, as well as increasing heart rate and perceived exertion, particularly if resistance training follows a HIIT running session.

This is as a result of both a mindset and physiological change when participating in aerobic training first. Most people will “feel stronger” when they take on resistance training first and if they have done some cardio exercise first, their fibers and muscles will have fatigued, likely resulting in poor drive and form afterwards. LA trainer Lacey Stone has been quoted stating  “It’s vital that you lift before your cardio workouts, because you will have the most power and the most strength to lift heavier loads, which in turn will make you stronger,”.

But when does cardio take priority? Well, research shows that a strong combination of both cardio and resistance training leg to fat mass and waist circumference decrease, however so did aerobic activity alone. Just resistance / strength training however didn’t lead to significant weight loss. Therefore if you’re aiming for weight loss and don’t have a lot of spare time for a thorough, mixed workout, then cardio should take priority.

It’s also important to take ample rest time between your strength sessions so that your endurance isn’t effected. Just as cardio effects resistance training, strength training can in turn fatigue your muscles and therefore slow down the benefits of your cycling or running sessions. Your workout will feel far more vigorous and you will tire faster.

Of course, it all boils down to the individual in question and their fitness goals. Gauge which combination and order of exercise works best for you and what you are trying to achieve in your gym time. The general rule of thumb is cardio effects your size whilst resistance effects your shape. Lifting before your cardio will help you get the most out of your strength training, but strength training alone won’t help you much in weight loss. Ideally a mixture of the two is best practice, but if you’re aiming to burn fat on a busy schedule, then more aerobic exercise is key.



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