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  • Writer's pictureDavid Wilderman

Cardio or Strength Training…Which is Your True Love?

You go to the gym and you know you have less than an hour to get your workout in…you know you need to work your major muscle groups…annnnnd you need to work in some cardio as well. So what do you do first? Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer. Your priority in the gym all depends on your personal goals. So, if you want to lose weight, for example, then you should not be working out the same as someone who is training to run a marathon. To decide whether to work on strength training or cardio first, I’ve compiled a list of common workout goals and accompanying recommendations.

If You Want To Lose Weight:

Strength training is where you should start first, because you may oxidize a little more fat during the cardio portion of your workout. Note: This really would apply only to lower intensity, steady-state cardio workouts–it may not make a tremendous difference in the long run. And for those of you into high intensity interval training (HIIT)–this popular workout style has several benefits that may aid in weight loss. The only drawback is that you cannot do it daily. The suggestion is to keep your HIIT workouts to 3x/week max and on non-consecutive days (such as M-W-F). If you want to add more workout days, then choose cross-training, like yoga or a spin class.

If You Want To Maintain General Fitness:

If you just want to stay fit, then it really might not make a difference which you do first. According to one study, two groups of men performed either cardio first or strength training first for a period of 24 weeks. At the conclusion of the study, all of the men increased muscle strength and physical performance to about the same extent. However, in the short term, those that performed the cardio first had a more difficult time recovering. In the 2 days following the workout, the cardio-first group displayed decreased concentrations of serum testosterone, which may be detrimental if you’re looking to gain muscle strength. But as a general rule of thumb, do whatever you’re more likely to stick with and fits into your schedule better.

If You’re Simply Looking To Become More Active:

If you’re new to working out and you’re trying to move more, just do what you enjoy…and don’t be afraid to change up the order from time to time. Since you’re either setting up your body to either increase strength or to improve endurance in a single session, it’s not a bad idea to switch things up. Not exactly sure where to start? You can look into classes at a local gym or YMCA. Or, you can try one of the commercial routines such as P90X or Insanity that combine cardio and strength so you don’t have to choose (and these programs can be beneficial if you are short on time, but there are better options out there, such as working with a Physical Therapist or personal trainer).

If You Are Looking To Train For A Specific Event:

So, are you looking to run a marathon? Maybe a Tough Mudder? Or even starting with a 5K? Well, this may seem intuitive, but you must focus on your sport-specific requirements first. If you’re training for a running event, that usually would involve doing sprints or drills that require the most focus first. Maybe you’re looking to increase your bench press weight? Same principle applies…front load your workout with the hardest stuff. The last thing you would want to do is to fatigue your body first with cardio, and then risk injury with weights.

If You Want To Do More Of What You Love:

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you love to run and can’t stand to lift weights, then it’s probably best to do your strength training first and save the cardio for your reward at the end of your workout. Two things to really consider are interest level and energy. Try focusing first on the thing you’d like to avoid if you were running short on time or the thing you’d likely skip if you were fatigued from something you enjoy doing. Do you love to spin? Then get your strength training out of the way first, then head to the bikes knowing that the “hardest” part of your workout is over.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for general fitness and wellness, it really doesn’t matter whether you start with strength training or cardio. In fact, varying the order of your workout can be a great way to keep interest and to break up boredom–and there really aren’t many negative consequences to mixing things up. But if you are looking to gain strength, lose weight, or just need to set a priority, then focus on weight training first and cardio second.

If you have any questions re: getting started in your workout routine or are looking to train specifically for a particular sport or event, call my office at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at to send me an email or to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!


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