Should you do cardio before or after weights?

by Rob Flett on Sunday 06 August 2023

3 min read

Cardio before weight training: are you sabotaging your progress?

It’s been a hot button topic within the fitness industry for decades “should you do cardio before or after weights?” not too far behind “will cardio impact muscle and strength gains?”

Ask multiple fitness professionals and you’ll likely get a similar answer: “it depends on the individual”.

Within exercise science, generalisations based on research help guide best practice. However, when determining the best approach for an individual the overall training context must be considered. Let’s delve deeper so you can make the best choice for you.

Should we even train both together?


There have been numerous studies demonstrating the negative impact of endurance training on muscular development. The findings show that cardiovascular training blunts the adaptations we strive to create when strength training – known as “the interference effect”. To optimise results, the research suggests specialising one endeavour (1,2).

If we think about it, this makes complete sense. Bodybuilders occupy the weight-room and marathon runners occupy the pavement. If these populations swapped training schedule they would regress dramatically.

But what about the average gym-goer looking to stay fit and healthy?

Although trading the running shoes for a barbell may help optimise muscle and strength gains, you can still make progress doing both. In fact, a mixed training approach seems best for overall health and the benefits of cardiovascular training will typically outweigh the drawbacks of the interference effect (3).

If strength and muscle gain is your priority, the interference effect can be lowered by favouring high intensity cardio (short durations, maximal efforts) as it better resembles the demands of resistance training (4). If endurance training is your primary focus, any form of resistance work will go a long way in reducing injury risk and improving your force output on the track.

In any case, it is important to note there is a trade-off at play, so set your expectations accordingly.

So how does this impact my sessions?  


When adopting a mixed training approach, it stands to reason that you might need to complete both styles of training in the same day or even single session. 

Here the tip is simple: weights first, cardio second.

For the average gym-goer, hard weight training should precede any hard cardio work. Resistance training carries significant coordination & stabilisation demands which become increasingly difficult to handle the more fatigued we are from cardiovascular training (4).

Attempting to lift heavy weights in a pre-fatigued state can result in:

  • Heightened injury risk  
  • Reduced movement quality
  • Decreased force production
  • Increased perceived fatigue (weights will feel heavier than they should).

Interestingly, the same is not true when we complete cardio after resistance training because of the reduced external load and lesser neurological demands (5).

The last piece of context: adherence


We have spoken about the correct approach and order of things on this topic, but it is important to note that adherence plays a role. If the elevated heart rate and endorphin rush from cardio is the only thing that motivates you to do some strength training, have at it! Just note that very demanding exercises such as free weights might be off the table. In this case, it would be best to favour machines or isolation exercises to get the job done as they pose less injury risk when you’re pre-fatigued. 

To sum up

Mixing both cardio and weights in the same training block is not going to ruin your progress. Understand which one is your priority and plan appropriately within your training schedule. If doing both on the same day, best to do weights first whilst you’re fresh.

Happy lifting! (and running).


About the author:


References
  1. Dudley G, Djamil R. Incompatibility of endurance and strength training modes of exercise. J Appl Physiol 1985; 59 (4): 1446-51
  2. Leveritt, M., Abernethy, P. J., Bary, B. K., and Logan, P. A. (1999). Concurrent strength and endurance training. Sports Med., 28: 413-427
  3. Wilson, JM, Marin, PJ, Rhea, MR, Wilson, SMC, Loenneke, JP, and Anderson, JC. Concurrent training: A meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res 26(8): 2293–2307, 2012.
  4. Atakan MM, Li Y, Koşar ŞN, Turnagöl HH, Yan X. Evidence-Based Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training on Exercise Capacity and Health: A Review with Historical Perspective. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 5;18(13):7201. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18137201. PMID: 34281138; PMCID: PMC8294064.
  5. Carroll, T & Riek, Stephan & Carson, R. (2001). Neural Adaptations to Resistance Training: Implications for Movement Control. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 31. 829-40.

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