Should You Be Lifting Weights Or Doing Cardio First? Pros & Cons To Either Option

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We all know that for a well-rounded exercise regime, we need to do both cardio and strength training. Cardio workouts are meant to get your heart pumping and have a host of benefits — not only do they help keep your heart healthy, but they also improve your brain function, keep your joints fresh, and improve your overall mood, per the Cleveland Clinic. "Try getting in a 30-minute workout five or more days a week that raises your heart rate for the duration of the activity," clinical exercise physiologist Dr. Erik Van Iterson advises.


It's not just enough to go for a power walk or a jog, however. While cardio exercise does work your muscles, strength training is also vital in keeping up your health. Weight-lifting workouts may seem intimidating, but they're just as important as cardio. Besides making you stronger and more toned, building muscles helps burn more calories while you're resting and strengthens your bones, Healthline states. Strength training also improves your balance, which helps reduce your risk of injury when you work out. With so many of us crammed for time to fit in a workout, it's easier to do cardio and weight training in the same session. So, which one do we do first? Well, the answer all depends on your fitness goals.


Pros for lifting weights before cardio

When it comes to strength training, personal trainer Eric Bowling shared with Women's Health, "Ideally, I suggest weight training three times per week, as this frequency has been shown to be an effective strategy when it comes to muscle building and fat loss." If your goal is to build muscle, Bowling advises lifting weights before cardio in order to get the most out of your energy. "If you prioritize weightlifting over cardio, you can focus more brain power on lifting those weights correctly versus going into a session sweaty and out of breath, unable to perform as well, and upping your risk due to fatigue," he stated.


Doing weight training before cardio preserves glycogen, which is a form of glucose that your body needs for energy. "You will have your best performance if you do [weightlifting] when you have the most fuel available. If you do cardio first, you will deplete some of that glycogen, decreasing your energy. And that will make weightlifting more challenging," trainer Danny King told GoodRx. Lifting weights first also helps burn more fat when it comes time for your cardio, so while getting your heart rate up is best for overall weight loss, pumping iron before a run has its benefits.

Cons of weight training before cardio

If your focus is on endurance training, doing weight training before cardio may not leave you with enough energy for your workout. According to Nike, if you're gearing up for a marathon, you should put cardio as your main priority. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, those who did strength training prior to their endurance workout fatigued faster during a cycling test. "[When] you're training for a marathon or any long-distance run, I would prioritize your run before strength training so you can focus on that without the distraction of your legs being fatigued," certified trainer Betina Gozo told Shape.


Jumping right into weight training without warming up your body can also lead to injuries. After a cardio workout, your muscles will be relaxed and primed to lift heavy weights. Even if you spend just 5-10 minutes doing jumping jacks to get your heart rate going, your muscles will thank you later.

Pros for getting your cardio sesh in before weight training

When it comes to lifting weights or cardio, many people prefer one over the other. If you're not a big fan of aerobic exercise, it may be best to tackle that first before heading to the weights rack. Doing cardio first can also get you mentally and physically ready for weight training and "prepares your body to do difficult, complex exercises and conditions your heart to pump more blood," nutritionist Jim White stated to Prevention.


If your main goal is to lose weight, you'll want to prioritize cardio over weight training. While gaining muscle is key in reaching and maintaining your weight, it's the heavy heart-pumping workouts that shed pounds. "Minute per minute, cardio burns more calories, so it works best for reducing fat mass and body mass," Cris Slentz, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University, told CNN. However, he stressed that weightlifting was crucial for overall fitness. "Resistance training is important for maintaining lean body mass, strength, and function, and being functionally fit is important for daily living no matter what your size," he continued.

Cons of doing cardio before weights

While it's important to do a warm-up before lifting weights, Fit Day warns that doing a heavy cardio session beforehand can lead to exhaustion, which causes your body to take longer to recover. Furthermore, if you've stopped eating carbs, by the time you finish your cardio workout, your body will have depleted itself of the fuel you'll need to lift weights. If you're looking to make some gains, you'll only want to do very light cardio to loosen up your body instead of going hardcore.


Most cardio workouts are on the longer side, so if you're strapped for time, you may not be able to do as many reps in the weight room as you'd like. Livestrong states that 30 minutes of cardio a day should be your baseline goal. "That's the bare minimum if someone wants to have the minimum average risk of cardiovascular disease," dietician Paul Krieger shared. However, an effective weightlifting session can take up to an hour, per Healthline. To maximize your gym session, if you want to get the most out of your strength training, it may be better to lift weights first and then squeeze in your cardio at the end.