Should You Do Cardio After or Before Strength Training?

Should You Do Cardio After or Before Strength Training?

I am frequently asked and have seen countless times on message boards across the Internet whether a person should do cardiovascular exercise before or after a resistance training workout. Before proceeding, I want to state unequivocally that I believe that everyone should engage in a cardiovascular exercise of their choice for 5 to 10 minutes prior to any workout, whether cardiovascular, resistance, or flexibility.

This is critical for several reasons, including the fact that a proper, light-intensity cardiovascular exercise will warm up the muscles, ligaments, joints, and tendons that will be used more intensely in the following workout routine. Warming up with cardio also slightly raises core temperature, increases circulation, slightly elevates heart rate and helps to prepare the heart for an increased workload, improves lung function, and helps you mentally focus on the upcoming workout routine.

The most significant advantage of warming up with light intensity cardio is the significant reduction in risk of injury. Injury to a muscle, joint, ligament, or tendon is much more likely if the body is not properly warmed up.

Now consider whether you should do cardiovascular exercise before or after a resistance workout. There is no single best answer here; instead, you should assess your personal fitness objectives. If you want to improve your endurance, stamina, or overall cardiovascular health, I recommend doing your cardio workout before weight and resistance training.

By performing the cardio workout first (after your 5 to 10 minute warm-up, of course), you will be able to engage in a more intense cardio session, which may include some intervals where you push up to your lactic acid threshold or VO2 max level. After a weight training session, it is much less likely that you will be able to perform high-intensity cardiovascular work. In short, if you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness, you should do cardio workouts before you do resistance training.

If your goal is fat and weight loss, a popular belief in the fitness community is that doing a cardiovascular workout after a resistance workout increases the rate of fat metabolism (fat burn as it is often referred to as). The theory goes that by doing an intense resistance workout, you will deplete the glycogen stores in your muscles. When glycogen stores are depleted, the body begins to burn fat for energy.

Endurance athletes have known this for a long time, but in order for this to happen in endurance training, an athlete must run continuously for approximately 90 minutes to completely deplete the muscles of glycogen. As a result, I remain skeptical that many average people working out are pushing themselves to the point of glycogen depletion during their resistance workouts, especially those lasting less than an hour. For more advanced trainers, I believe it is possible and thus can be an effective method of reducing body fat for these individuals.

I like to think of it this way:

if you do a cardiovascular and resistance workout on the same day, one of them will naturally be of a lower intensity level. Again, consider your personal fitness goals before deciding whether to do cardio after or before resistance training. If you want to build muscle, you should have as much muscle strength as possible available for your resistance workouts, so doing cardio before weight training is counterproductive to your muscle building goals.

If you want to improve your endurance or heart health, prioritize cardio workouts and do them first.

Remember, regardless of which you do first, it is more important to properly warm up with a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes of cardio (even if it is only a brisk walk on the treadmill) to prepare the body for the workouts ahead, to get your head in the right space to bang out a productive workout, and, most importantly, to reduce the risk of injury. This debate will be meaningless if you get injured 5 minutes into a workout and are out for the next 8 weeks rehabilitating!