If you want to lose weight with exercise, the exercise guidelines set out by the American Council on Sports Medicine recommend up to 11 workouts a week: 5 cardio workouts, 3 strength training workouts and 3 flexibility workouts. Trying to cram 11 workouts into 7 days often feels impossible and it's clear that the only way to do it is to combine your workouts.
That leads to the age-old question: Should you do cardio before strength training or after? If your goal is to lose weight and you want to maximize your workouts, cardio before strength training might be the way to go.
The Benefits of Cardio Before Strength Training
If you're confused about whether to do cardio or strength training first, you're not alone. Experts differ on this issue, with some recommending cardio beforehand to get your body warmed up for lifting weights. Others suggest the opposite, saying that cardio may fatigue your muscles, thus making your weight training session less effective. So, who's right? There really is no right answer and what you ultimately do will be based on your goals. However, if your goal is to lose weight, cardio before strength may be your best bet because it:
- Maximizes Your Calorie Burn - Doing cardio and strength during the same workout not only helps you burn more calories, but doing cardio first actually maximizes the calorie expenditure of your workout overall, since cardio typically burns more calories than strength training.
- Increases Your Afterburn - Doing cardio first maximizes your post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the amount of calories your body continues to burn after your workout. One study followed 10 males who completed a weight training workout, a running workout, a weight training/running workout and a running/weight training workout. The findings? The afterburn was greatest after the running/weight training workout. They also found that running was harder for the body after lifting weights first.
And what about building muscle? Will doing cardio first negatively affect your body's ability to gain strength and endurance? One study, which followed participants over a 3-month period, found that doing cardio during the same session as strength training didn't change the development of muscular strength, explosive strength and power.
Make Your Own Rules
It's nice to have guidance but how you schedule your workouts will depend on:
- Your goals: If your goal is overall weight loss, you might do cardio first to maximize your workout time. If you have a specific goal or sport, you'll want to put that first. For example, if you're a bodybuilder or want to build more muscle mass, you might focus your best energy on lifting and schedule your cardio at a different time.
- Your preferences: If lifting weights first feels good to you, there's no reason you have to change that. The idea is to have a consistent, balanced workout routine in whatever format fits your life.
- Your schedule: In an ideal world, you'd be able to do separate strength and cardio sessions, but most of us don't have that kind of time. Carve out time to exercise and fit what you can into that time.
Fitting It All In
Knowing you have to fit in a minimum of 11 workouts and that you can combine strength and cardio into the same workout session, how do you actually schedule everything? Don't be afraid to experiment. You may not get it right the first time around and it may take time to figure out exactly what works for you. Below is a sample schedule mapping out a week that includes all the basic workouts. You can use this as a basic guide to set up your own workout routine:
- Monday: 30-Minute Cardio, 30-Minute Total Body Strength, 5-Minute Stretch
- Tuesday: 45-Minute HIIT Cardio Medley Workout, 5-Minute Stretch
- Wednesday: 30-Minute Cardio, 30-Minute Total Body Strength
- Thursday: 35-Minute Elliptical Interval Workout, 5-Minute Stretch
- Friday: 30-60 Minute Circuit Training
Chtara, M., et al. Effect of concurrent endurance and circuit resistance training sequence on muscular strength and power development. J of Strength and Cond Res. 22(4):1037-1045. 2008.
Dalleck, L. "Are Your Clients Performing the Right Kind of Exercise at the Right Time?" ACE: Community: Certified news: March 2011.
Drummond MJ, Vehrs PR, Schaalje GB, et al. Aerobic and resistance exercise sequence affects excess post exercise oxygen consumption. J. Strength Cond. Res. 19(2):332–337. 2005.