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When you're setting up a workout program and trying to fit everything in, you may wonder if you should do cardio and strength during the same workout. The general rule is to keep them separate to get the most out of each - the workout you do first will always get your best energy and you may peter out before you get to your next activity. The problem is, most of us are so busy, we often have to combine them.

What's the best way to do that? Some experts will tell you to do cardio first - you'll get your muscles warm for your strength training. Others will tell you to do strength training first - otherwise, you'll wear your muscles out with too much cardio. There isn't any one right answer, though one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, does recommend doing cardio before weights. Not only is the after burn greater, but the the body may not work as well during cardio after lifting weights.

The bottom line is to do what make sense for you. If you're training for a specific race or competition, that activity should always come first. But, if your main goal is fitness, health and/or weight loss, experiment with different scenarios to find what works for you. In my workouts, I do upper body training before cardio simply because I know I'll skip the weights if I don't do them first. I keep my lower body workouts separate from cardio because my legs are fresh and I'm able to work harder.

How do you structure your cardio and strength workouts? Leave a comment to tell us about it.

The resources below offer more information about cardio and strength workout options:

  • Strength and Cardio Lifting Workout: This advanced workout, offered by Paul, our Weight Training Guide, is a unique way of adding some anaerobic training into your strength workouts. In this workout you do total body dynamic moves with lighter weights with a focus on power.
  • FAQ - Cardio and strength: This FAQ offers some ideas for putting together cardio and strength during the same workout.
  • Boot Camp Workout: This workout offers both cardio and strength moves for a well-rounded workout, though the focus is more on endurance than strength.
  • Fat-Burning Circuit: This is another workout offering both strength and cardio in a circuit-like workout, a good choice for those days when you don't have a lot of time.

Source:

Drummond MJ, Vehrs PR, Schaalje GB, Parcell AC. Aerobic and resistance exercise sequence affects excess postexercise oxygen consumption. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):332-7.

Comments
September 19, 2008 at 11:35 am
(1) jeremiah says:

i do cardio and strength in the same workout at the same time. my workouts consist of a 5 min warm-up run. a few minutes of stretching. then i do 20 minute non-stop bodyweight workout with no rest (squats, pushups, lunges, chin ups, jumps, etc.). then i cool down on the bike for another 5-10 minutes. that 45 minutes of constant elevated heart rate (cardio) with resistance strength training (body-weight). it is the best for burning fat and building strength.

September 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm
(2) Ted Potter says:

I do 60 minutes of cardio and then 30 – 40 minutes with
weights. The next day I reverse it. Some days I split 30 cardio weights 30 minutes cardio.

Sometimes my trainers has me do nothing but weights when I want to build muscle.

September 20, 2008 at 11:00 am
(3) Dave says:

I like to do both at the same time due to time constraints (though I agree with your legs day exception). My thought is to do the weights first as this wears down your glycogen store and when you get to cardio you’re more likely to burn pure fat. I like to do high intensity interval cardio
to keep the time to a minimum.

September 21, 2008 at 3:56 pm
(4) Jack says:

Isn’t it less time to do just one – cardio or weights – in single session? I’m guessing the time savings is in calendar days at the gym more than actual time spent there? Any clarification of this would be helpful.

September 21, 2008 at 7:11 pm
(5) Chris says:

I do both in just about every workout. I’m an mma fighter and need to have the explosive power gained from weight training, and the ability to coninue at a sustained rate for long periods of time. Ususally, I start with 15 min of high intensity interval training, either with sprints or on an eliptical. Then move to the weights for 30-45 min and focus primarily on 2 opposing major muscle groups. This allows me to move from one excercise to the next keeping my heart rate up and also allows some muscle recovery time for greater performance. Then I’ll finish with 15-30 min of more high intensity intervals. This system has worked wonders for me, it burns through fat and energy at a crazy rate and also lets me maintain plenty of muscle mass. Hope it helps!

September 22, 2008 at 5:33 pm
(6) stacie says:

I usually try to alternate my cardio from my weight training days. I weight train 3 days a week and do cardio in between each day. Each workout is usually an hour. If I am on a time crunch then I combine them in the same day and shorten them both up. This leaves you with plenty of energy for both and you get a better workout.

September 22, 2008 at 10:18 pm
(7) frank says:

I like to work with weights and machines for 45 minutes and since I am planning to run a marathon next month I run for 22 miles. I do this 3 times a week.

September 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm
(8) Bodyfitgirl says:

I do something a little different. Day one is strictly weights, Day 2 is lower body with HIIT after the weights. Day 3 is SS Cardio. Then I do that all over again for the next 3 days. I am focusing on building muscle.

September 24, 2008 at 8:22 am
(9) menomom says:

On Tu/Th I train with overall weights for 45 min, followed by an hour of raquetball. I do 10 min of machine cardio before and after as a warm up/cool down. On M/W/F I run 3-5 miles, followed by an hour of yoga. I have to say, I don’t notice a big difference… both ways wear me out!

September 24, 2008 at 1:27 pm
(10) Joe Cannon, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT says:

I am an exercise physiologist and I often discuss this study in my lectures. Despite what many say, its true that we really don’t know which combo is best so. Id suggest that those looking for weight loss vary strength and cardio every other month to keep their body guessing and take full advantage of the after cardio burn.

Joe Cannon, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT
http://www.Joe-Cannon.com

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