Cardio or Strength – Which should come first?


This is a question a lot of us trainers get. Understandably people want to maximize their efforts when working out, and they want to know if a certain order of cardio of weight training will burn the most calories. However, there is no universal simple answer to this question, and many trainers have opposing views on this topic.

After doing some research and using my own experience, here is what I think you need to know when choosing your workout order:

1. If you can separate your strength training and cardio days – this is optimal. I realize with busy schedules not everyone can devote the time to do this, so a great alternative is to circuit train. Combine your weight training with short bursts of cardio. Here is an example of a set you could do:

1. 12 Squat presses

2.12 Lunges with bicep curls

3. 30 sec burpees

4. Basic plank hold

2. It depends on what your goal is. It gets a little tricky here, but in general if fat loss is your primary goal then cardio wins in most camps. (My opinion differs some here which I will explain later). If gaining strength and adding muscle are your goals then start with strength training. 

3. Special considerations for certain ailments : If you are beginning exercising due to diabetes or high blood pressure, cardio may be more important for you, since weight loss and building a stronger cardiovascular system are top priority in these cases.

Now there are arguments about my first point on cardio being best for weight loss – maybe I should specify fat loss here.  If you choose to do cardio before weight training you will not be able to lift to your capacity due to the fatigue from your cardio session. Which if fat loss is your goal you may say you are okay with that.

But wait. Muscle burns calories at rest and your EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) is greater with weight training. EPOC raises the calorie burn for up to several hours after exercise depending on what type of workout and the duration of the workout.

Also, you use a lot of glycogen (sugar stored in your muscles) during weight training. Once depleted your body gets energy from your fat stores which is a plus for doing cardio last even with fat loss being the primary goal.

One study of different exercise groups compared a group with a healthy diet and cardio combo with a group with a healthy diet and primarily strength training. The effects on tissue (muscle) loss were pretty amazing.

Diet and cardio group: 68 % fat ; 22 % muscle

Strength and cardio group: 97 % fat ; 3% muscle

In my opinion, I would rank strength training over cardio for strength and fat loss. 

So there is a brief synopsis of this age old question that I beleive will continue to be debated. Bottom line, do both cardio and weight training. Train hard and with a variety of workouts to keep your muscles guessing and as always get those rest days in and keep working on flexibility to complete your fitness routine.



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