Cardio Before or After Lifting?

Whether you do cardio before or after lifting can depend on your goals.

Whether cardio should be done before or after strength training is one of the more hotly contested fitness debates – and it’s a subject that I touch upon in my Ultimate Guide to Working Out. Though there are pretty good arguments on either side, it often comes down to goals.

If your goal is weight loss or cardiovascular endurance, then it may make sense to do cardio first. You’ll be on the treadmill with a fresh set of legs and able to really push yourself hard (especially if you’re engaged in high intensity interval training). An often-cited study from the Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young University found that doing cardio first resulted in the greatest number of post-workout calories burned. They also found that doing cardio first was less psychologically taxing. If you’re looking to burn some extra body fat or to improve your cardiovascular endurance, then it may make sense do cardio first.

If your goal is more muscle size or muscle strength, then you might want to hit the weight room first – while your energy is still high. Many lifters feel partially depleted after a hard session of cardio, and they believe that this impacts their strength training abilities. Lifting also requires a lot of focus – and it could be hard to focus after a brutal session of high intensity interval training on the treadmill. For individuals targeting muscle size or strength, it may be more advantageous to save cardio for the end of the workout. It may make even more sense to do cardio on a different day altogether.

While there are certainly advantages and disadvantages for the timing of your cardio, know that it’s not going to make or break your workout. If you’re looking to build muscle, for example, but strongly prefer getting your cardio out of the way, then do it first! The most important variable to consider is you – and your personal preference.

Do you do cardio before or after lifting? Why? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. How do you feel about “crossfit” type workouts with cardio mixed in with the lifting?

    Thanks for your help!
    Cameron <3

  2. I usually do my cardio first. My habit developed as I would work out on the elliptical trainer to warm up before strength training. I gradually stayed on the trainer longer and longer until I just started doing my whole cardio routine first. I also like to hotter and sweatier when I’m lifting and pushing.

  3. I do my cardio before lifting. Otherwise it is harder for me to keep up with a cardio session right after lifting and still have manage to get some muscle growth. This year I gained up to 20 pounds doing a 30 minutes cardio session prior to my lifting. I haven’t tried the other way around on a regular basis though.

  4. I do my cardio in the morning and then lift in the afternoons. I have a pretty strict regimen, but it works great for me!

  5. Danilo Carrera says:

    I lost 50 pounds and one way was cardio after weight lifting, I think, that you start burning calories faster when lifting bells, so if you hit the cardio later you wont take too much time just to warm up

  6. The studies I’ve seen indicate the opposite. If fat burning is the goal you will get more by doing cardio after your lifting. This is due to the fact that lifting will deplete your glycogen, or stored energy, in your cells forcing your body to break down more fat to convert to glucose during your cardio.

  7. when I’ve started to workout in July, I started with cardio on a bicycle, but then I were tired and almost lost all energy. Then, in August I went direct to lift heights – mainoy because I seek increase muscle size. Therefore, under such situation, cardio is absolutelly useless for my individual goals, and also, I’ve got some great achievements now [and increasing every week].

    So ► for muscle size or muscle strength ► don’t waste your time!

  8. I like this post because I’ve also heard so many conflicting reports! One suggests that if you workout first, and then do cardio at a fat burning plateau level of 130+ beats per minute (heart rate) that you’re in the best weight loss burn zone. Is that true? I don’t really know, yet it seems to make sense. I used to do 1/2 hour of cardio before weights, but have changed to match this logic, but I can’t tell a bit of difference!!

  9. I usually do weight lifting first. I want to make sure that my form is perfect, so I want to be as fresh as possible when I lift weights. Cardio I can do right even when I’m not so fresh.

  10. Peter Colbourne says:

    I go to fitness classes and tend to vary the order in which I work out throughout the week, I tend to stick to this pattern:
    Mondays I’ll do two intense cardio classes followed by a resistance class.
    Tuesdays I’ll totally cut the cardio and just do resistance.
    Wednesday I’ll give my body a break, it needs it’s rest, all our bodies do!
    Thursday I cut the weights and stick to cardio
    Friday is another rest day.
    Saturday it’s resistance then cardio
    Sunday it’s cardio.

  11. My personal trainer set up my schedule to do high, intensive cardio before any weight or resistance work. However my main goal is to gain a few lbs (Im currently underweight, with body fat around 6%, really low visceral fat and around 50% muscle body mass). What you’ve written makes sense, I may have to ask my PT to change my routine.

  12. My cardio workout is running up a small mountain near my house, so I always do strength after my cardio. If I hit the mountain after strength training, I’d bonk hard. The mountain ends up being a series of natural intervals between uphill sections and flatter stretches and is a great way to combine leg strength, cardio endurance, and a high intensity workout all in one.

  13. It might depend on what form of cardio and which muscle routines you do. One day, I swam before my upper body weight routine. I couldn’t finish some of the exercises with the same number of sets I normally do because my shoulders and chest were already worn out from swimming.

  14. Interesting but I have read research that shows that if your looking to burn more calories then after weight training is best. Although the study did not delve into why you burnt more calories it was believed this effect was due to a raise in GH (growth hormones) in the body after a weights session. These findings were published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Excercise Journal. . . In my personal experience however, I find (for some strange reason) that after an intense workout on the weights where im pushing to failure, doing cardio afterwards is far easier. Its a nice way to wind down. I find it easier to keep my heart rate to around 124 and I feel like I have energy to burn. I used to do it beforehand and it always felt quite tiresome. Be interesting to see what others experience of this is.

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