Which is better to do first, cardio or resistance training?


If your looking to build muscle and develop strength, the last thing you want to be doing is eating up on your glycogen (fuel) storage prior to resistance training. You want to be 100% so you can perform your resistance exercises to its optimal potential. Lifting heavy weights requires a lot of energy, so doing cardio first will obviously tap into your storage, hence affecting your workout.

If you’re looking for General fitness or Weight Loss, I would definitely say it’s your choice. Whatever one you find to be more difficult, I will suggest doing first. The reason I say this is because you are likely to skip or "half azz" the second part of your workout if you don’t enjoy it. Obviously this will become habit and eventually lead to ineffective workouts and lack of results.

I hope this helps you in the debate of what’s best to do first. At the end of the day, that is what’s great about fitness. There are so many variables involved, that One Way is Never the Only Way.

This seems to be the health equivalent of "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" :)

This is a common question and one that can be addressed in many different ways. First, it is important to think about your goals as well as your time frame. Keep in mind that resistance training helps to build lean muscle mass and increase metabolism, therefore helping us drop body fat. Cardio keeps the heart healthy and helps us burn more calories during our workout. As you can see, both are vital to overall health.

There are 2 ways I work this question out:

  1. Resistance train first. If I am planning a split session, I will do the resistance part first to enable the larger muscle groups to fire, but more importantly, to have a fresh mind and focus for the muscle work at hand. The cardio will usually follow as a steady state cardio such as running, spinning or rowing.
  2. Circuits. Circuit training is a great time saver and a way to get both resistance training and cardio in at once. You can perform a strength move for 2 minutes (think pushups, squats or lunges) then perform a cardio move for 1 minute (jumping jacks, tuck jumps, burpees). Keep going through this style of circuit and you can cut your workout down to 30 minutes, receiving the benefit from both cardio and resistance training.

There are many different ways to tackle your training and many more opinions on the order of training. Think about your safety and form being the top priority, then mix it up from there. Change up your moves and time every once in a while to give the body a new challenge and to keep from getting bored. Your fitness is a personal choice and should reflect your own style and personal goals, so have a little fun with it.


JC Pinzon
I advise resistance first so you don't get too tired when doing cardio. If you do cardio first you will be too weak for your resistance training and end up cutting your workout short. Remember that the more muscles you have the more calories you burn at rest.

It really does depend on your goals and what your body can handle. It is also important to note that cardio training is just as effective when split as it is all at once. Thirty minutes of cardio is the same all in one chunk and split into two sections of 15 minutes or three sections of 10 minutes (all else being equal).

One thing that may also have an effect on muscle growth in terms of cardio is that the swelling produced following resistance training is essential for some hormone responses such as growth hormone. These hormones are key factors in tissue repair. A full aerobic training routine following a high-intensity resistance training routine can cut down on this swelling resulting in fewer stimuli for growth hormones leading to a decrease in muscle growth.

A common misconception is that cardio training following resistance training (or other anaerobic activity) is essential for the clearing of lactic acid. This is commonly seen in baseball pitchers. Coaches have them run miles following throwing to "get rid of lactic acid." Although running will speed up the process of clearing lactic acid, blood lactate levels are restored in a matter of hours.

It depends. You should always warm up with a little cardio action and some stretching before doing any resistance training, but the order in which you do things is really up to you. What works best for you? I personally change things up all the time. For instance, today I will work my abs for 15-20 minutes then do cardio for 40 minutes and tomorrow I will rock my power resistance training routine and then tear through Spring Lake Park on my Mountain bike for 40 minutes.

Mike Luque
If your goal is to change your body composition, in other words to have less fat and more lean muscle mass, and you want to do both cardio and resistance training in the same session, you'll get better fat burning if you do your cardio after you've done your weight training. The weight training will burn off stored glycogen (muscle food) so that when you do your cardio, you won't have a store of glycogen and your body will start into your fat reserves to fuel your cardio workout. Of course, that assumes you're doing your cardio workout effectively!

Both routines are designed to exercise muscles. Cardio works the heart muscle, the diaphragm and some muscles around your ribs associated with breathing. Resistance works the motor muscles. We cannot work the heart muscle directly like we can the motor muscles - biceps, glutes, etc. instead we rely on the increased demand for oxygen and nutrients from the motor muscles to send a signal to the heart muscle to work harder. Thus, if we do resistance first, at the usual pace, this is normally not enough to get the heart muscle into the "zone" for a sustained period of time. Then, when we go to the cardio, the motor muscles are "tired" and it is more difficult to get the cardio muscle into the fitness zone. If you are doing both resistance and cardio, I recommend doing the cardio first. This not only "warms you up" but also pre-works your motor muscles and you get more benefit from the resistance training.

In short, completing a full cardio or full resistance training workout one before the other comes down to personal preference and training experience. Recent research indicates that the average American adult needs to perform both at least 3 to 4 times per week ranging for about 30 to 40 minutes each day and alternate between moderate and intense levels in order to maintain adequate physical fitness and health.

In respect to weight loss and body composition changes, performing both during the same exercise session may help deliver the best results. Exact preference of order is not as important as simply getting it done. Don't get stuck in the trap of making excuses of not doing one or overdoing the other simply due to the enjoyment factor or like-ability. Both your cardiovascular system and movement systems need adequate stimulation for you to achieve the best and optimum levels of fitness...and to prevent that results killing plateau.

Here is a sample guideline for incorporating both into the same routine:

  • 5 to 10 min - Light cardio warm-up (get your blood flowing or break a light sweat)
  • 5 to 10 min - Foam rolling and/or Stretching (prepares your muscles for what you are about to do and decreases risks of exercise induced injury)
  • Pick 3 to 4 core exercises and exercises that emphasize improving balance. Do 2 to 3 sets
  • 2 to 3 minutes of moderate to intense cardio. Try adding in 15 to 30 second bursts that push your intensity meter
  • Pick 4 to 6 resistance exercises that focus on different muscle groups (i.e. chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs) or total body movements. Circuit these exercises together by performing 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions per exercise. Try not to rest between sets or muscle groups.
  • 2 to 3 minutes of moderate to intense cardio. Try adding in 15 to 30 second bursts that push your intensity meter.
  • Repeat Steps 5 and 6 if desired until you complete 2 to 4 sets (work up to this if it is your first time doing circuit training).
  • 5 to 10 minutes - COOL DOWN/repeat foam rolling & stretching exercises (many people do not perform a proper cool down which can increase your risk of post workout injury and/or increase recovery time between workouts)


This all depends on what you prefer and your workout for the day and what you want to accomplish.

If you have planned for a heavy leg workout you may or may not want to ride the bike first. Some prefer to pre-exhaust the muscles to insure working to failure in order to build strength and insuring to get the cardio done. While still others prefer to do their weight training first and then do their cardio to help work the lactic acid out of muscles to ward off stiffness.


Rick Richey

Don't limit your resistance and cardio with just doing one for the first half and then the other for the second half. Mix them up throughout the entire workout! Do a timed cardio burst after each resistance set. Or, do a resistance exercise within your cardio circuit. Every training protocol depends on the goal, but variety is the spice of fitness, and often the key to results.

The answer is that it depends on your goals.  If you are aiming to increase muscle mass, or become stronger, do a light warm up, then your resistance training, and finally your cardio.  If your goal is cardio endurance, then start with your cardio.   If you are just looking for general fitness or weight loss, then you can mix it up.  Some folks find that they are too tired after one to fully give 100% to the other.  You might want to split up the two workouts and do one in the morning, the other in the afternoon/evening.  Again, it’s a matter of personal preference.  Both are good for you and both should be part of your weekly routine.

If you choose to separate the two then it does not matter which one you do first. Personally when I choose to separate the two, I do cardio first because it acts as a warm up for me.  Most of the time I combine the two because it takes less time and I think it is more effective.

I completely agree with Wendy.  Great answer!

Coming from a guy who has trained heavy his entire life it is next to near impossible to output your maximum intensity with weights if you have done high intensity cardio before weight training.  

For weight loss your main goal is not how much weight you lift so the timing of cardio does not matter as much.  I will say however that a light warm up (active or dynamic) before heavy weight training is good to get blood flowing, to loosen up joints and to prepare for exercise.

For many of my advanced clients I recommend a ton of light intensity cardio to reduce overall body stress and burn a greater percentage of stored fat.  When you are doing light intensity cardio your body is not taxed and therefore can handle cardio before training.

As a rule of thumb, if you want to lift heavy weights do not do a high intensity cardio session (160 bpm or higher) before hand but everything else is fair game!

The answer to this question depends on your actual goal. For general fitness, it is good to mix up the routine and there are no rules on how you mix this up. If you want to do cardio first one day and weight training first the next day, this is ok. It is a good idea if you are training to do a running or cardio race like a triathlon, to do your cardio workout first so you don't get too tired while training for this event. While training for a weight lifting, power lifting or figure event, you will want to do your weight training first.  

Well if you are doing both in the same day it really depends on what your body can handle.  Some people can do cardio first then weight and vise versa.  However some people get tired if they do cardio first then their weights.  This is more of a personal preference on what you can handle.  I always tell my clients to try different training routines to see how they feel and do the one that best suites them.  There is no wrong way to do it, just do what makes you feel the best. 
Wendy Batts

Well, the answer here is: it depends on your goal. If your goal is strength, power or muscle growth, you may want to keep the cardio for after the weights. This is because you want as much fuel on board as possible to push those weights around and doing cardio before may use some of that up.

If your goal is weight loss, toning or general fitness, what matters there is personal preference. Do the order that you feel best with. If you’d rather be the freshest possible for the weight workout, then do that first following a quick warm up. If you’d rather have more energy available for the cardio session, perform that work first.

Often people give you all kinds of advice or reasons why to do one over the other first. In the big picture, what matters is that you are moving more and increasing your activity to improve and maintain your health. Whichever exercise order will help you to do that consistently over time is the winner in this case.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Doing cardio first can help you do your full workout, and thus burn more calories, instead of pooping out halfway (not 'cause you have to poop, but because your legs feel exhausted). And finishing your workout with weights helps boost postworkout metabolism -- the rate at which your body burns calories after you're done. The result is an overall higher calorie burn. Plus, muscle burns more calories than fat, upping the total even more.  That being said, if you’re short on time, any type of exercise is good, so don’t stress too much.

It depends on what your goal is. If you are trying to build your cardio vascular endurance do your cardio work out first. If you are working to gain muscle it is better to do your resistance training before your cardio.

 Most people do cardio (aerobic exercise) first because it is a way to warm up the muscles before strength training.  The purpose of a warm up is to prepare the body by increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles and to bring synovial fluid to the joints. Eight to ten minutes of cardio is sufficient for a warm-up.

So, it is recommended to warm up before weight lifting, but it doesn't matter when you do your longer duration cardio programs.  You can split it up into two or even three shorter periods of time. If you are at home and you want to do 10-15 minutes of cardio in the morning, 10-15 at noon, and the same at night, this is all good. The main thing is that it works into your lifestyle and you can stay consistent with doing some form of cardio for 30-45 minutes a day on most days of the week.

For the vast majority of exercisers, the order of their workout is not important and just a personal preference. A popular myth states that "doing cardio after resistance training will allow you to use all fat, since muscle stores of carbohydrate are depleted." This myth fails in a couple of ways. First, very few people completely exhaust their muscle glycogen (energy) stores during a workout. If you did, you would not be able to do much cardio anyway as the body requires muscle carbohydrate to be used in the burning of bodyfat. Second, all cardio exercises use a combination of muscle carbohydrate and fat to fuel the activity. The closest you can come to burning pure fat, is when you are asleep. The bottom line comes down to your preference. Some people enjoy doing cardio first thing, allowing them to feel warmed up and ready to go when they start lifting weights. Others feel as though doing cardio first takes away from their resistance training intensity. Decide what you like the best, as well as what will actually help you get your entire program done, and stick with that order. Change the order in which you perform the two type of training to avoid boredom.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.