This is a question that I hear a lot at the gym. Should I do cardio or strength training first? Unfortunately, there's no one easy answer that applies to everyone. It all depends on where you are on your fitness journey and your fitness goals, and even what your preference is. Not to mention, you should also take into account your personal health, injuries, and what your doctor has told you about your physical activity levels. Everyone is different, so if you have a unique situation (and I think most people do at least a few times in their life), it's important to have a discussion with your health care professionals.
Your Fitness Level
If you're just beginning to get active, or are back at it after awhile of being inactive, it's a good idea to start slow. It takes time for your cardiorespiratory and nueromuscular systems to respond to the stimulus of exercise. For instance, for the first 6 or 8 weeks of strength training, your nervous system is learning how and which muscles to activate while doing strength training. For this reason, it's a good idea for people who are new to strength training to do the weight lifting portion of their workout before cardio. By doing strength first, you're fresh and ready to workout instead of tired after having done cardio already.
Your Fitness Goals
The second thing to consider is what your fitness goals are. If you're training for a 10 km race, I would suggest doing cardio first, and then doing the strength training portion of your workout. If you're working on increasing your strength, do your weight lifting first and then cardio afterwards.
Are you one of those people who hates running on the treadmill? Loathe the weight room? Typically people who do the part of the workout that they dislike most first, are more likely do get their workouts in. For example, if 30 minutes on the treadmill seems like 4 hours, you're more likely to do the 30 minutes of cardio if you do it first, instead of leaving it for after your strength training. Having something fun to look forward to is generally a good motivator to do the part of the workout that you don't enjoy as much.
How to fit it all together
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults aged 18 to 64 suggest:
- at least 150 minutes of cardio per week in bouts of at least 10 minutes
- at least 2 days per week of strength training per week
Of course the above guidelines are the minimal amount of activity needed for a healthy lifestyle. More exercise provides more health benefits. One way to get in the minimum recommended is to spend 30 minutes, 5 times a week doing cardio. Two days per week, add in total body strength training on non-consecutive days. So that comes to about 30 minutes of exercise three days per week, and about 60 minutes two days a week. This plan leaves you with two rest days each week as well. Whether you do cardio or strength training first depends on the variables of your fitness level, goals, and preferences, and of course your individual health and injuries.
For more of my fitness related posts, check out my fitness page.
Be sure to check with your doctor before changing your activity level. Honor your body and do what's right for your situation according to your health professional.
Do you do cardio or strength training first?