Should You Do Cardio Before or After Weight Lifting?

One of the commonly asked fitness questions. 


"When should I do my cardio?"


You might have asked this question to at least one personal trainer sometime prior to reading this blog post.


If you already have a cardio strategy that works for you, great. Keep it up. If you don't, read on.


If you want to lose weight and have a lean, toned body; the treadmill alone is not the answer. You need to add strength training to your gym routine if you want a strong and good looking body.

For a guy like me, I've been more than physically active my entire life. I was raised playing 3 sports year round: soccer, football & basketball.

I never had a concern with adding cardiovascular activities to my weekly gym schedule. Instead, I'd be at basketball practice, running up and down the court 3-4 times a week.


It was never a problem for me.


I was also relatively skinny my entire life, thanks to my fast metabolism. I never really had to worry about packing on unwanted fat while putting on lean muscle. For the regular person who simply enjoys going to the gym and lifting weights, it's a different ball game.

There's plenty reasons as to why you should engage in cardiovascular activities: a lower resting heart rate, lowering risk of heart disease, improved endurance and so on.

I've had so many discussions with people about their training habits and I'm never surprised to hear "I do my cardio first, then I lift weights".

It's a common mistake that you need to avoid and I'll tell you why. If weight or fat loss is the number one goal for you, this is the proper way to schedule your activities at the gym.


Attack Weights First


If your main goal is fat loss, your cardio should always be done after weight training.

Your full energy is required for the intensity of weight training. Doing cardio first will lead to exhaustion much quicker. When you have no more energy to lift weights, most people end up cutting their weight lifting session short.

They head to the mats to finish with core exercises, most of which are done at half the intensity, or they simply head home. 


Do you recognize yourself?


I found a recent study published by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. They tested three different training methods on a group of 10 physically active men:

Standalone strength training.

Running followed by strength training.

Cycling followed by strength training.


What do you think happened?


The group of men were able to perform less more reps if they performed strength training alone rather than engaging in strength training after running or cycling.


This should ring a bell to you.


"But that doesn't answer the question Daniel. This doesn't tell me why it's better to do cardio after weight training."

When you perform cardiovascular activities before strength training, you're most likely going to feel weaker afterwards.

Compound exercises like the bench press, squat, deadlift, require your full energy to perform the movement correctly. If you're tired while performing your lifts, you are (more often than not) limiting your motor unit recruitment. You'll either feel weaker and lift significantly less weight than you normally would, or you will end up overcompensating with a bad form.

That could lead to potential injury.

And the LAST thing you want is to get hurt.


Unless you're an advanced lifter or a world class athlete, this probably applies to you.


Carrdio before weights is simply not the smartest strategy.


Your Fat Stores Are Waiting To Be Burned

When performing prolonged low to moderate cardiovascular activities like running on a treadmill, your body will turn to stored fat (triglycerides) as the source of energy.

Think about marathon runners.

In order for your body to begin utilizing your stored fat much faster, you need to deplete your glycogen stores first because they serve as the human body's preferred source of energy.


What are glycogen stores?


It's the storage form of carbohydrates in your liver and muscles. You can accelerate the glycogen breakdown process by doing your weight training before your cardio.

An intense 45 -minute weight training session will help you do that.

The amount you have stored is different for everyone. It depends on multiple factors like your current weight, muscle mass, daily carb intake etc.

My weight training sessions usually last around 90 minutes.

Once you've completed your weight training, head to your favorite cardio machine. Your body will then have no choice but to look towards your stored fat as the main source of energy, right away.

It will result to a low body fat percentage and a lean/toned physique in the long run.



Find The Right Balance


Keep this in mind: doing both strength training and cardio helps decrease body fat significantly more than using one method alone.

Although a majority of people would rather begin their workout with a good sweat, it's crucial to understand that it could  slow down your long term goals. 

If you absolutely want to begin your workout with a good sweat, I recommend you do no more than 10-12 minutes of low intensity cardio prior to your workout.

If you're short on time, you're better off doing your cardio and weight lifting workouts on different days. You  don't want to attempt to complete both activities in one day only to stop half way through the other one.

Some people don't like running on a treadmill. You can try using an elliptical or a rowing machine. You can also try falling back in love with an old sport instead. If it's a high intensity sport, it gets the job done and it's also probably more enjoyable.


I can help you figure out the right training schedule. If you're interested, click here. 


  • September 8, 2016
Daniel Gracia

Founder of THE Force Academy