When it comes to setting fitness goals and working towards achieving them, you’ll likely need to do a combination of both cardio work and weight training. However, the question of which should ideally come first is a dilemma for many in the fitness industry.
In truth, there isn’t concrete evidence pointing either way. Ultimately, what the decision really boils down to is the individual’s specific fitness goals.
What is it you’re trying to achieve? Are you aiming to strengthen your heart and lungs and increase your aerobic endurance? If so, cardio workouts should take priority. If however, your chief aim is to increase muscular strength, then you should perform weight training first.
Your priorities are going to have a significant influence on your workout sequence and how often you’ll need to do cardio or weights. This is especially true if you’re planning on combining both in the same workout.
Looking in further detail, opting for cardio workouts first is a good idea if you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular fitness. If you’re training for an upcoming race, it would be completely counterproductive to do a number of weight-based sessions in preparation.
On the other hand, weights should come first if you’re targeting improvements in strength and looking to lose weight. This is because you’ll need all your energy for lifting to ensure you adopt the proper form and technique.
Prioritizing weights over cardio allows you to focus on lifting correctly rather than turning up sweaty, mentally drained and out of breath from a tough cardio workout beforehand.
Can I do cardio and weight training together?
The value of combining the two is again dependent on your individual goals. Traditional guidance states that workouts should be alternated, so cardio one day, followed by weight training the next.
There is however, nothing that makes this guidance compulsory for athletes. In fact, many opt to focus on both in the same workout or split the two into different sessions on the same day.
The most popular example of this is probably CrossFit. The high intensity workout combines both cardiovascular and strength training into one session in the hope that it’ll deliver results in a shorter period of time.
Recent research, including studies in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, have found that these types of workouts don’t have any negative physiological effects. For those with busy work lives and other commitments, CrossFit and other combined workouts can be a much more efficient use of limited time.
Endurance athletes can similarly benefit from concurrent training, as it helps to offset the catabolic nature of long-distance, time-consuming workouts. A lot of high volume endurance workouts can reduce testosterone levels and increase cortisol, but the effects can be significantly diminished if strength training is incorporated into the workouts. This is also the case for short-distance athletes, although it is essential they recover thoroughly after intense cardio and strength training.
If you decide against training both cardio and strength in the same workout, and instead look to do two separate sessions in the same day, it goes without saying that you should give yourself sufficient recovery time in between the two.
Ideally, the rest time between high intensity cardio and lifting weights should be around eight hours. This is because your body doesn’t physiologically adapt - in this case, get faster and stronger - until after a workout, so to repeatedly stress it with exercise could stunt your progress.
Can I skip cardio and just lift weights?
If you want to lose weight and build muscle, then you can potentially skip cardio workouts. While doing cardio in addition to lifting weights will only help you build a strong and toned body, it is possible to still achieve similar results without cardio if you’re really against the idea of it.
For many people, the thought of treadmills and bikes in a gym is the stuff of nightmares. They avoid them like the plague, and instead choose to solely focus on their weight-based exercises. While this isn’t recommended practice - after all, there are several benefits to cardio exercises - it won’t negatively impact your pursuit of building muscle and losing weight too much.
Cardio workouts burn a great number of calories while you perform them, but the moment you stop working, the effect ends. In contrast, when lifting weights you not only burn calories as you work, but also for as long as 48 hours afterwards finishing your workout.
The reason this happens is because as you’re lifting weights, your muscle fibres break down and repair. This however, doesn’t happen immediately, but several days after your workout has finished. Once the fibres have repaired, they become stronger, thus improving both your muscle mass and metabolism.
It’s safe to say that both cardio workouts and weight training can help you to become healthier, fitter and stronger.
The perfect workout program will typically include both, maximizing the potential for improvements to cardiovascular fitness, muscle growth and a reduction in body fat.
Cardio exercises will burn more calories during activity, but lifting weights keeps your metabolism elevated for much longer after finishing.
While the best choice for you will be dependent on your individual circumstances, it’s difficult to disregard either of the two when evaluating their benefits.
Therefore, it’s best not to pick one or the other. Both cardio and weight training have their specific strengths, with many of them complimenting the benefits of the other.
The ideal exercise programs for improving all-round body composition, and the type we recommend following if possible, will include a variety of both cardio work and strength training.