Cardio Or Weights – Which First?

Depending on your goals, you may choose to focus more on resistance training or cardio. 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 are 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 to provide enough energy to be able to generate the required intensity for the training session.

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) 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.

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

Yes, cardio can burn fat, but only when the body’s stored glycogen has 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 based on the idea that the body has to use up all the stored glycogen it has, before it moves to fat as a source of fuel. So if you did something else first that used 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.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that straight forward.

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 in daily life. If supplies go too low your energy levels and mood will suffer. When it comes to exercise, too little carbohydrate will effect your strength and endurance levels. Essentially, you need to know what you goals are – fat loss, building muscle, or maintenance.

Keep It Simple

Knowing what your goal is will help determine your calorie and carbohydrate needs. Being in a calorie deficit (consuming less calories than needed to maintain current weight) will help with fat loss. While being in a calorie surplus (consuming more calories than needed to maintain current weight) is important for gaining muscle.

Other Options For Incorporating Resistance Training And Cardio

If you’re short on time you could split your training session, and do weight training in the morning and cardio in the evening. If that doesn’t suit, you might consider circuit training. Circuit training involves performing a number of exercises, one after another, before resting, and then completing the “circuit” again. This is another excellent option, as it is a hybrid of cardio and resistance training. Circuit training offers the benefits of both resistance training and cardio, while reducing the 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. It 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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