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Cardio Or Weights – Which First?

Depending on your goals you may choose to focus more on resistance training or cardio but ideally you should aim to incorporate both for maximum benefits. If you are planning on doing both in the same session the next logical question is which should be done first? This can be a source of confusion as there is often conflicting theories, fortunately I’m going to help clear things up.

High Intensity VS Low Intensity

Resistance training, whether it’s lifting weights or using your own body as resistance, is intense and taxes the body quickly. This form of training will target the strength or fast twitch muscle fibers which are designed for short intense bursts of energy. For this reason resistance training sessions are usually shorter than endurance type training and need glycogen and blood sugar to provide enough energy to be able to generate the required intensity for resistance training.

Cardio on the other hand targets our slow twitch or endurance fibers and involves longer periods of work at a lower intensity. While we will still need energy to fuel these sessions, they are less intense and allow the body to use slower burning sources of energy, such as fat. ┬áThis is why endurance or steady state cardio is often referred to as “fat-burning” training. Which is a little misleading, but I’ll explain in a moment.

So Which Should Be Done First?

Whether you want to burn fat or build muscle it’s best to do resistance training first while the stores of easily burned fuel (glycogen and blood sugar) are available. This will provide the body with the energy needed to train intensely. If you did cardio first you would burn up the quick fuel first and then be too fatigued to to get the most from the resistance training session as fat would be too slow as an energy source for the short intense nature of resistance training.

…But Cardio Burns Fat…”Fat-Burning Zone”….Right?

Yes, cardio can burn fat but only when the stored glycogen and blood sugar have been used up first. You may be familiar with the theory that it takes 20 – 30 minutes of exercise before you begin to burn fat? Well that’s because the body has to use up the stored glycogen and blood sugar it has before it moves to fat as a source of fuel. So if you did something else first that would use up the readily available energy, like resistance training, when you go to do your cardio the body should go straight to fat stores for fuel.

If You Avoid Carbs Does That Mean You Will Just Burn Fat?

Now before you reach for your pitch fork and flaming torch and go after carbohydrates understand that you need a certain amount of glucose from carbohydrate to function properly and if supplies go too low your energy levels and mood will suffer. What’s important is the quality and quantity. Aim for unrefined sources such as non-instant oats and quinoa which will release their energy slowly and help fuel your workouts.

Other Options For Incorporating Resistance Training And Cardio

If you’re short on time you could also split your training session and do resistance training in the morning and cardio in the evening or you could do circuit training which is another excellent option as it’s a hybrid of cardio and resistance training and offers the benefits of both while reducing overall time of the workout session.

What About Warming Up Before Exercise?

To be clear and avoid any confusion the above does not apply to warming up, you absolutely need to warm up before any form of exercise – cardio or weights. This can be done in numerous ways including light cardio such as 5 – 10 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bike or even a light jog outside. This is to literally warm up the body and lubricate the joints and isn’t long enough or intense enough to impact the training session ahead.

Which do you do first? What has your experience been? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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4 Responses to "Cardio Or Weights – Which First?"

  • davidgowing says: