What should come first: cardio or weights?

Cardio or Weights First

As seen in AFPA ENews

Some will advise you to get cardio done first before you hit the weights, but order of exercise may or may not affect results.

If I had a dollar every time someone asked me what to do first, cardio or weights, I would have retired long ago to a place where the sun always shines and the temperature never has a minus in front of it.

Why so many queries? Probably because the answer remains elusive, despite the strong opinions of those camped on either side of the argument.

Ask an aerobic animal who lives for the treadmill or elliptical machine, and they’ll tell you to get your cardio done first. Ask the pumping iron set and they’ll advise you to hit the weight room first.

At the heart of the dispute is the belief that the first of two workouts will reap the most benefits. Using the rationale that fatigue will impair whatever workout follows, there are plenty of hardcore exercisers who believe that combining cardio and weight training into one workout isn’t as effective as doing them on alternate days.

That’s not great news for anyone on a tight schedule who wants to maximize their efforts in the gym — which, quite frankly, describes most of us. After all, we’re products of a culture that wants it all, which in this case means reaping the health and fitness benefits associated with regular aerobic exercise along with the strength and boost in lean body mass that comes from hitting the weight room.

Even if you look to the scientific literature for an answer, you’re going to find a difference of opinion. Several studies suggest that combining aerobic and strength training into one workout provides similar gains in both strength and aerobic fitness, but others claim that the benefits aren’t quite as robust as compared to workouts performed independent of each other.

As for exercise order, there, too, the results are mixed, with some studies stating that fatigue or physiological changes reduce the body’s ability to reap maximum results from the second workout while others refute that claim.

The latest study hoping to shed light on the uncertainty of exercise order is out of Rutgers University. Published ahead of print by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the research team gathered 23 deconditioned college-age females and divided them into two groups, one that performed an aerobic workout first and a strength workout second, and the other that started with strength training and followed with an aerobic workout.

Both groups trained for one hour four times a week for eight weeks with the researchers taking measurements of strength, aerobic power and body composition before and after the study.

The aerobic workout consisted of 30 minutes of moderate to moderately high intensity exercise while the strength workout consisted of three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

At the end of the eight weeks, all study subjects experienced similar improvements in strength, aerobic fitness and lean body mass regardless of whether they started with cardio or strength training.

“In summary, there were significant improvements in VO2max, 10RM (rep max) chest press, 10RM leg press, and LBM (lean body mass) after an eight-week concurrent E (endurance) and R (resistance) program,” said the Rutger researchers. “When E and R are combined into a single session, there does not appear to be an effect of exercise order in untrained females.”

Before you assume that the argument has been solved, keep in mind the subjects in this study were unfit, which could account for their results. Novice exercisers typically respond well to their first bout of formal exercise, which may have influenced their improvements in fitness, strength and body composition regardless of exercise order.

Similar studies in fit males have suggested that exercise order did have an effect on strength and fitness gains, especially if maximum results were the desired outcome. Whether for cardio or strength training, the men experienced fewer gains in whichever exercise modality was done second.

Part of the problem with this mixed bag of results is that subjects vary considerably between studies. Some are fit exercisers while others are sedentary individuals, both of which can have remarkably different responses to the same exercise routine.

Then there’s the differences in exercise modalities, including the intensity, duration and frequency of the workouts. All of these elements can have an impact on the results.

Finally, it’s safe to assume that males and females may respond to each exercise protocol differently, which throws another variable into the works.

Where does that leave the average exerciser looking for an effective, time-efficient workout? Well, if you’re looking for average improvements in strength, aerobic fitness and body composition, go ahead and combine your strength and cardio workouts in one, and don’t worry about exercise order.

But if you have specific performance goals like running a marathon or maximizing your strength gains, consider splitting up your workouts. A schedule of alternating strength and cardio workouts probably will produce the best results.

As for anyone wanting to do it all in as little time as possible, rest assured that you can’t go wrong in terms of exercise order or combining both workouts into one.



Twitter: jillebarker


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