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Should You Do Cardio Before or After Weights?

If you stop and calculate it, you’ve probs wasted many, many minutes of precious gym time pondering the question of whether you should do cardio before or after weights. It’s a legit Q, especially when you’re up in the gym just working on your fitness sans your witness trusty digital group fitness instructor guiding you every step of the way just like those two years of home workouts in your kitchen. The answer, as it turns out, isn’t exactly straightforward.

First, let’s talk real quick about why you should be making time for both cardio and strength. While there are tons of different ways to get your fitness on, most forms of exercise can be lumped into two buckets: cardio and strength training. Cardio” means activities that focus on raising your heart rate and primarily working your cardiovascular system—aka your heart and blood vessels—like walking, running, dancing, and indoor cycling (hi, Peloton fam!). And strength training means doing exercises that focus on building muscular strength and endurance, like squats, lunges, deadlifts…you get the gist.

It might feel natural to gravitate toward one over the other—and it’s not a bad thing to find what you like and stick with it. But (there’s always a but), you really should be doing both cardio and strength workouts for an A+ fitness routine.

Working your heart improves endurance, so you can climb stairs without feeling winded (looking at you, New York City sixth floor walk-up ppl). It also reduces your risk of many different diseases. “Getting in daily ‘huff and puff’ is vital,” says Christine Torde, a National Academy of Sports Medicine–certified personal trainer and coach at Body Space Fitness in New York City. On the other hand, strength training improves balance, coordination, power, and keeps us strong in day-to-day life.

So, back to your original question: When should you do cardio and weight training? And what’s the best way to organize your gym time to optimize all those amazing benefits of both? Keep on scrolling to better understand the nuanced dilemma of doing cardio before or after weights.

How many times a week is ideal to do both cardio and weight training?

According to the offish Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, all adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio activity each week. On top of that, the recommendation for strength training is two or more days a week, making sure to work all major muscle groups.

An easy way to break that down would be five 30-minute cardio seshes throughout the week, plus two strength training workouts sprinkled in there. That’s the minimum.

The ideal number and duration of workouts will depend entirely on you and your goals. A half-marathon training plan may call for three or four days of running and two days of cross-training, which is when you’d lift weights. If you’re really focused on building muscle, then you may decide to break your strength workouts up into upper-body and lower-body days to really challenge each muscle. In that case, it’s a good idea to work each region two to three times a week, with at least 24 to 48 hours of rest in between heavy lift days. (Remember, you need time to recover so your muscles can build back stronger!)

Ultimately, if you don’t have specific goals (and absolutely fine if you don’t), it’s good to get a little cardio in most days, even if that means just a brisk walk and to lift weights at least twice a week to stimulate your muscles enough to see changes in strength.

Can you do both cardio and weights on the same day?

Short answer: Yes! Longer answer: There’s literally no reason you can’t do cardio and lifting on the same day and in the same workout session, if you’re feeling it.

Of course, there are some situations where you might not wanna do both cardio and strength training on the same day. If you’re currently training for a specific goal beyond just staying healthy and strong—like a race—it might make more sense to split them up so you don’t get super tired, Torde notes. So, probably not the best idea to plan a long run for the same day as a heavy strength workout.

At the same time, if you have a specific strength-based goal, you may wanna dedicate entire workouts to strength training and save your cardio for rest days. “If you have a strength goal, endless cardio will not help you gain muscle,” Torde says. Of course, challenging lifting will raise your heart rate—meaning, you’re doing some cardio work too. But the point here is that if muscle-building is something you’re heavily focused on, it makes more sense to dedicate most of your energy to that, and save extra cardio for another day. No matter what you’re doing as your workout, don’t forget to fuel your body (and recover afterward) with alll the healthy snacks, adds Torde.

Benefits of doing weight training before cardio

The biggest pro here is that starting with weight training means you’re fresh and still have all your strength to channel into your lifts, Torde says. “You can hit your reps and sets with more power and energy than if you did a run or boxing or HIIT class before.”

This is especially important if building muscle is your main goal. Once all the heavy lifts are out of the way, you can then end your session with cardio, like a light jog or a cool down that is cardio-based, Torde recommends.

Of course, you should still warm up before lifting. “If you have a big lift in your workout, warm up with dynamic exercises and movements that will really benefit and only help the lift you are about to do and get the body and mind ready,” Torde says. Focus on mobility moves (lunges are a classic) that warm up the movement patterns and muscles you’re about to use.

Benefits of doing cardio and then weight training

Doing cardio first will mean you’re already warm and ready for strength work. “It also promotes blood flow and might help you wake up a bit more before weights,” Torde says.

That’s good only if you’re not planning to do heavy or intense lifting. So if you’re planning a low-key strength sesh and you’d rather start with cardio, have at it.

Also, if you don’t particularly enjoy, IDK, jumping jacks, and tend to skip them, then it might be better to get that cardio out of the way first. That way, you won’t be spending all your reps coming up with excuses for why you have to dip out of the gym early and skip your planned jog or bike ride.

The bottom line

While there are some best practices, there are really no hard-and-fast rules about doing cardio or strength first. Whatever you choose isn’t going to make or break your health and fitness. Think about your exercise goals, and if there’s anything you’re looking to ~optimize~, then go from there.

Torde suggests sticking to one routine for a little bit and seeing how it works for you, rather than switching it up constantly. That way, you can decide if the order is working or if you’d rather do it differently. TL;DR Do your own thing when it comes to workouts! As long as you’re getting your blood pumping, you can do it any freakin order you want.

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