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Should You Do Cardio Before Or After Weights?

How to map out your workouts for max gains.

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Every athlete, whether a runner, soccer player, bodybuilder, or recreational exerciser who just wants to get in their steps and maintain general fitness, most likely has a slew of exercise sessions that need to be organized into their weekly workout routine.

As a running coach, I regularly put together training plans and ensure that each piece of the puzzle fits just right for each person and their fitness goals, whether it be a track session, gym workout, or any other type of exercise that needs to be included in the mix.

If you need to double up on your exercise sessions and do your cardio workout and strength training on the same day, you are probably wondering whether you should do cardio before or after weights.

It would be so easy if there were just one way to do it right, but, as with many of these debates in the fitness world, the answer is: it depends.

What does it depend on? Your goals. Your schedule. Your personal preference.

You have to ask yourself, what is my main objective? Is it weight loss, running, sports performance, strength training, muscle gains? After determining your primary focus, you can plan your training program accordingly.

In this guide, we will help you determine whether you should do cardio before or after weights to organize your training plan and best reach your personal fitness goals.

A person on a treadmill.

Is It Better To Do Cardio Before Or After Weights?

As mentioned, whether it is better to do cardio or weights first is primarily based on your fitness goals.

Many athletes, especially triathletes and even experienced runners, have more workouts than days in a week and sometimes have to double up instead of performing cardio and strength on different days.

The first workout session of the day must be the most important to you and the one that will lead you toward your fitness goal.

If your primary goal is aerobic endurance and stamina, such as that of a runner, cyclist, or triathlete, you should do your cardio sessions before your resistance training workouts.

If your main goal is to build muscle strength and muscle mass, you should perform your strength workouts in the gym first and your cardiovascular endurance sessions afterward.

People doing a barbell deadlift.

When Should I Do Cardio Before Weights?

If your main focus is shaving down your 10K time or completing your first triathlon, perform your cardio sessions as your first workout of the day.

This includes any type of aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling, and swimming, and at any intensity, whether a lower-intensity, moderate-intensity, or high-intensity session.

You want to get to your aerobic sessions strong, well-rested, with your glycogen stores filled up, and ready to give it your all.

If you lift weights before your cardio, you will most likely feel fatigued and unable to perform at your full potential.

According to sports training researcher Dr. Kenji Doma,1 running after weight training, even six hours after your first session, impairs running performance more than running before weight training. 

Therefore, get your cardiovascular exercise out of the way first to ensure you are firing on all cylinders and not tired out from a heavy lifting session beforehand.

A person jumping rope doing cardio before weights.

Yes, you will get to your strength training workouts a tad fatigued, making the sessions harder than you want them to be, but for a runner or a triathlete, weight lifting is secondary to their endurance.

Therefore, weight lifting can be treated as a complement to training, a way to strengthen and reduce the risk of injury, but not the main attraction.

To give your body a chance to recover, schedule your weight training sessions at least 6 hours after your run or other cardio activity.

If you are an endurance athlete and trying to figure out what type of workouts to double up on your weight training days, I suggest your high-intensity runs or cardio sessions.

Getting your hard run or cardio in first and then doing weights on the same day will allow you to follow that with a complete, one-session recovery day the next day (such as a recovery jog or easy cycling ride) where you aren’t overly stressing your system.

This will allow your body enough time to really recuperate before you need to jump back in and do it all over again.

A person doing a bicep curl.

When Should I Do Weights Before Cardio?

If your primary goal is to build strength and muscle or burn fat, do your strength training session first.

Strength training can include any resistance exercise, such as bodyweight, resistance band, dumbbell, kettlebell, or weight machine workouts.

Going into your weight training session strong and fresh will allow you to lift heavier weights and perform each rep with proper form. Form and technique are crucial to reaping the benefits of your workout and helping you stay injury-free.

When performing difficult lifts and movements at the gym, your neurological system should be firing on all cylinders to ensure you are capable of performing each lift with precision.

If you do your high-intensity cardio session before your weights, it could hinder your power (explosive strength) and, ultimately, your performance.

When I refer to doing cardio before or after a lifting session, I refer to a full-on workout based solely on cardio. This does not include warming up and cooling down for your gym workout.

For example, before your strength training sessions, you will want to warm up with 5-10 minutes of very light cardio just to get your body moving and your heart rate slightly up. This can be done on the recumbent bike, the elliptical machine or a row machine.

Follow this light, low-impact cardio with some dynamic exercises that mimic the movements of your lifts to come. For example, if you will be performing overhead squats, you’ll want to do some air squats with an overhead reach. For pushups, you could do some inchworms.

After your strength training session, you may like to “shake out” your muscles with another five low-intensity minutes on the bike or other available cardio machine.

Remember, these aren’t cardio sessions, per se, just a way to warm up and cool down to stay safe during your workout.

A person doing a push press with dumbbells.

Can I Combine Cardio And Weights?

Combing cardio and weights into the same workout session is a great way to kill two birds with one stone and do it all at once.

If your goal is to improve your overall fitness, sessions such as HIIT workouts, high-intensity interval training, are a great way to torch calories with a mix of cardio and weights all in one.

These sessions are intervals of high-intensity work with short rest periods in between. They include challenging exercises such as burpees, jump squats, medicine ball slams, and lifts.

For example, you could do a tabata-style workout, which is 20 seconds all out performing a high-intensity exercise and 10 seconds of rest eight times. A few of these will work your entire body, get your strength and cardio in during one workout, and save you a ton of time.

Take Personal Considerations Into Account

When deciding whether to do cardio or weights first, you will also need to consider practical and personal considerations such as your work and family schedule, time restraints, or personal preferences, such as what works better for you and your body.

If you have a tight work schedule you may only have one time slot in the morning to get everything in, that’s where workouts that combined cardio and strength really come in handy.

Or, you may have an hour in the morning and an hour at lunch. If you need to do your workouts at 7 am and noon, that can work as well.

You may have a friend who can only work out at night, but the accountability of working out with someone else may motivate you to get the sessions in.

Your personal preferences and happiness also need to be considered. You want to enjoy your workouts. That’s how you’ll get the most out of them.

The bottom line is that you want to make the choice that will keep you consistent with your fitness routine. This consistency will ensure you get on the right track to meet your goals.

If you are looking for some high-intensity workouts to promote weight and fat loss, check out the following guide:

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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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