Cardio or Weights First? It Depends!

Guest post from Tamara Grand

You know that you need to include both cardiovascular training and strength training to have a balanced fitness program, but you’re still not clear on which one you should do first when combining them both in a single workout?

You’re not alone.

The question of whether to perform cardio before or after weight training is an old and still frequently asked question. While there has been much debate amongst the experts, there is really no right or wrong answer. There are benefits to both, depending on your primary fitness goal.

When your goals are easily categorized as being EITHER cardiovascular OR strength focused, the answer is easy. Perform the component that you’re aiming to improve first while your energy level is high and your focus on the goal is sharpest (and in particular, if you sometimes cut your workouts short).

  • If your primary fitness goal is to increase cardiovascular performance (for example, run longer or faster, compete in a ½ or full marathon or a triathalon), do cardio before weights.
  • If your primary fitness goal is to increase muscular strength or power (for example, body building, vertical jump distance or batting speed), do weights before cardio.

Even better than doing both in the same workout (although more time consuming too), you could alternate cardio and strength days which allows your body more time to recover from the specific challenges of each workout type before performing them again.

When your goals require a more even mix of cardio and strength training (for example, weight or fat loss, obstacle course or adventure-style race), the question becomes more difficult to answer. Some experts believe that if weight loss is the primary goal, doing both on the same day with cardio first may offer some advantages in increased metabolism and energy expenditure. Others suggest that to generate the increase in muscle mass needed to significantly boost metabolism, heavy lifting should be done before cardio (which should be kept to short durations of high intensity).

In my opinion, one of the best ways to exercise for weight or fat loss is to combine both cardio and weights in a metabolic strength circuit. Rather than separate the two components, intersperse short bursts of all-out cardiovascular effort (think sprints, burpees, skipping rope) with multi-joint, compound strength exercises (for example, squat to press, deadlift to bent over row, lunge plus core rotation). This style of training keeps the heart rate up throughout the entire workout and effectively blends the distinction between cardio and weights.

Regardless of your goals, don’t get too hung up on the question of whether to do cardio or weights first. Getting both components into the workout is better than abandoning one or the other because you didn’t know which to do first!

How do you balance your gym routine? What order do you incorporate cardio and strength training?

Read more from Tamara at FitKnitChick

Feature image courtesy of arinas74 and didig via


  1. I always love this perennial question, which we also answered a while back on our blog with a similar result: IT DEPENDS. You are so right. The second most popular question is “what’s the best workout?” Do you get that one?

  2. Hey Kymberly,

    I missed your answer to this question; sure it was enlightening and entertaining!

    I do get ‘what’s the best workout’ a lot too.

    My two stock answers?

    ‘For you?’ (gets them thinking about their own needs)


    ‘Whichever one you’ll actually do!’


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