By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
Let’s start with a scenario. You’ve decided to start working out, and to do so you want to incorporate both cardio and weight lifting. To manage your time most efficiently, you want to do both on the same day. But, should you do cardio before or after weights and how do you know which to start with? Could starting with one over the other give you different results?
In short, yes. Your fitness goals are very important in deciding which to do first. After all, you cannot become both a long-distance runner and a bodybuilder. These athletes obviously train very differently from each other and that’s why they look so different! Now using these athletes as an example is extreme as most of us just want to be toned, strong, and able to run a few miles. But the core principle remains the same: your fitness goals decide whether you start with cardio or lifting.
If your goal is to increase strength gains or get a shredded look, you should start with weightlifting. When you weight lift, your body uses glycogen as fuel. Having a full supply of glycogen allows you to lift heavier weights and increase your strength. Starting with cardio depletes your glycogen, impeding your strength gains.
As with increasing your strength, shredding up also requires you to start with weightlifting to use glycogen. Only then can you start burning fat to reveal a more muscular physique. If you use up that glycogen first in your weight training session, you can then hop on that treadmill and burn off your fat.
On the other hand, say your goal is to train for an endurance event or to be able to run/bike/swim a certain amount of miles. You should start with that specific cardio training first. If you do strength training first, you will have less energy for your cardio after and may not see as many gains in your endurance. After that, you can do some weight lifting to supplement your cardio and strengthen those muscles that will make your cardio stronger. For example, runners often focus on core exercises so that they can improve their coordination, posture, and power.
What if your main goal is weight loss? In that case, you may want to consider combining cardio and weightlifting into the same session. For example, you can actually burn the most calories by super-setting weightlifting exercises with cardio. Alternating between the two will make your cardio feel more intense and make you work harder to achieve your lifts. This is one of the fastest, most effective ways to lose weight.
Lastly, as most of us have more than one goal to accomplish in the gym, you can combine any of these methods together. Say you want to build cardiovascular endurance, build a lean muscular frame, and cut fat all at one time. On the first day, to build endurance you would start with cardio and then weightlift, on the next day you would start with weights and end with cardio, and on the third day, you could do circuits that combine weightlifting and cardio into one session.