Strength Training or Cardio First?


Should I do strength training or cardio first? This has been my number 1 question since I started working out and I started a long time ago. Although, I never looked the part, I always loved going to the gym but I never really figured out the right answer to the above; and with good reason. It is a simple question with a complex answer but I want to try and decode it for you here.

3 Things to consider

  1. Do you like working out?
  2. What does the science tell us?
  3. What is your end goal with your exercise?

The reason I have these three items to consider, is because it will determine my recommendation. If you are someone who loves working out and wants to make the most of it, move on to number 2. If you are someone who simply works out to stay healthy and you don’t really care how you get your workout in, it does not matter. What makes you feel good is the right thing to do. As long as you keep moving, go for it! Movement is more important than whether or not, you should be doing strength training or cardio first. Do what makes you go to the gym or go for your run, don’t make it harder for yourself.

If you are like me, and want to make the most out of your workouts and you love working out. You will want to know more about why you should choose one or the other. And number 2 and 3 might give you the answer you need. Whether or not strength training or cardio first, is not definitive and the science keep changing and molding the answers to see below as a guide that might change tomorrow.

What Does The Science Say About Strength Training or Cardio First?

Some research tells us that we should do strength training first as cardio would deplete the energy resources before we need it for the most strenuous workout – the strength training. Which means we would not maximize our efforts of strength training. If you are a science geek, you can reference this study here.

Other researchers tells us that strength training builds more muscle and therefore has us burning more when resting. Therefore, we should focus the majority of our energy towards strength training. Ergo, have strength training come first. You can read about the study here.

Now you might think, that strength training should be done first, but there is research out there that supports other theories.

Some researchers found that you if you did strength training first, your heart rate is 12 beats higher which impacts your perceived cardio performance. This means you might not push yourself as much as you need during your cardio workout to balance out the the added calorie burn from strength training during rest. You can read more about these details here.

There is a ton of research out there, it is just a matter of making heads or tails of the research. Which leads me to my third and last item to consider. With the research we do have, I can now provide a guide of what is recommended depending on what your goals are.

What do you want our of your exercise?

Now this is really the most important question to ask yourself in order to answer the question “Strength Training or Cardio First?”. What are you trying to get out of your workouts?

Weight loss

If weight loss is your aim, strength training first will be my recommendation. Your aim is to burn as much as possible to be able to loose the amount you need as weight loss is all about a calorie deficit. As you gain more muscle, you will burn more from merely existing (aka. you will have a higher metabolism). To focus your energy to build more muscle you should start your workout with strength training.

Now you might think you will look like a body builder when you are done loosing weight. That will not be the case. You will need to have some serious weights behind you to do that. However, you can focus your strength training to give you a more lean look rather than a bulky look and we can go into that at another time.

Run a 5K

If your goal is to be able to run a 5K (or more) or some other endurance sport you should do your cardio first. Your focus is now around building your endurance and you should focus your energy around that. As you have more energy at the beginning of a workout, start your workout with your cardio.

Now this does not mean that you should skip on your strength training. Strength training is vital for a good endurance outcome as well. You just need to do it last and make sure you are focusing your strength training around the need you have for your endurance training. I might write another blog post about this.

Want to be more fit

Your choice! This is the beauty of workouts. No matter what you do, there will be an improvement, it is just a matter of what you prefer. If you love your cardio workouts, start with those. If you love strength training and seeing the increase in weights over time, start with strength training. Do what makes you happy and makes you continue to go to the gym.

For those of you who are simply dabbling at working out and are not 100% comfortable just yet; you don’t need to focus on whether or not you need to do strength training or cardio first. All you need to focus on is to get comfortable at the gym and build a routine that makes you want to work out. Workouts should make you feel good and give you more energy, not the opposite.

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