Whether you do weights or cardio first depends on two things: your goals and personal preference.
When we posed this question to you on our Facebook page, hundreds of you weighed in (531 at the timing of this writing). Most hailing the weight room as your first stop and for good reason—doing so doesn’t fatigue your muscles so you can go heavier. And this is great, especially if you’re goal is to burn fat and gain muscle, says Carla Sanchez, CSCS, an IFBB fitness pro and owner of Performance Ready in Lone Tree, Colorado.
While Sanchez suggests giving cardio its own separate day so that you can train at an intensity that really burns fat, she says: “If you must do cardio on the same day as weights and your goal is build muscle and burn fat, then I suggest the following: Make sure weight training doesn’t take more than 45 minutes, perform intense cardio intervals after weights, utilizing modes of cardio exercises that hit different muscle groups than what you trained.” So if it’s leg day, look to battle ropes, swimming and medicine ball tosses for your cardio intervals since these modalities mostly utilize your upper body. Then on days where you are working your upper body, you may look to sprints, plyometrics or stairs to do your intense cardio intervals.
Other trainers we spoke to also fell into the weights before cardio camp when it came to burning fat and building muscle. And with good reason: Your strength training will tap your anaerobic energy systems so that when it is time to do cardio, your body will have no other choice but to tap into your fat stores to fuel not only your workout but also your recovery.
But which comes first, ultimately, it comes down to your goals, says Felicia Romero, an Oxygen cover model and trainer based in Gilbert, Arizona. “Every body is different and, honesty, you must do what’s best for you,” she says. This philosophy jives with research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, which found that whether cardio was done before or after your workout didn’t really make a difference in long-term results. But here is the caveat: the training volume and frequency has to be equal. For example, 30 minutes of intense weight training should be paired with 30 minutes of intense cardio. Researchers also found that strength will suffer if you are doing too much cardio.
And if gaining muscle is where your goals are at, consider the advice of Darlene Kalina Salvador, a personal trainer based in Redondo Beach, California: “Light cardio—40% or less maximum heart rate—is good to warm up the body for 10–15 minutes. Light cardio on weight training days leaves more energy to be used to lift weights efficiently.”
When it comes to exercise order, the perfect sequence is based on you—your goals and your preference. Ultimately, you have to enjoy it.
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