Should You Lift Weights Or Do Cardio First? All You Need To Know

Lift Weights over cardio

In this article, I’m going to answer the question should you lift weights or do cardio first? And the answer is ideally you should perform cardio and weight train on separate days. But if you can’t do that. Then you should lift weights first so that you’re not weaker in your strength training workouts.

This is because doing something like running before performing heavy squats will fatigue you. Resulting in you not being as strong when you’re squatting and this will lead to you not making as much progress over time. Instead, lift weights first and then do cardio after.

Your Main Goal Should Be Increasing The Amount Of Weight On The Bar Over Time – Should You Lift Weights Or Do Cardio First?

This phenomenon is called progressive tension overload. And to achieve progressive overload as efficiently as possible you need to eliminate any influence that will mitigate your ability to get stronger over time.

If you perform cardio before lifting weights. Then this will mitigate your ability to lift as much weight in your heavy sets thus decreasing the effectiveness of those sets.

Lifting weights and getting stronger is already hard enough without doing gruelling cardio beforehand.

And over time if you continue to do your cardio before weights. The net effect will be unfavourable, and over time you won’t be as strong. In comparison to doing cardio after your workouts.

And because the stronger you are, and the more muscle you have are highly correlated. You’ll be missing out on gains.

And who wants to miss out on those gains?

If You’re Going To Do Cardio And Lift Weights, Make Sure That You Perform Your Cardio After Not Before

If you do this you would have entered the gym and performed your hard sets nice and fresh. And regarding the exercises, you want to perform. You need to perform the compound lifts. The squat, bench press, deadlift and press.

If you can perform these lifts fresh then you will get the best return from your workouts and these lifts. You’ll get the strongest and build the most muscle. Overtime.

But you’re only the strongest in these exercises if you do them first. Just to explain my point. Imagine doing 5 rounds of sprints on the treadmill. And then going straight into a set of 5 reps of barbell squats where you’re intending to get a new 5 rep max. It’s just not going to happen.

Setting Limits On Your Cardio For Maximum Results – Should You Lift Weights Or Do Cardio First?

Regarding low-intensity cardio like walking. You don’t have to focus too much on reducing this. Because it’s so low impact, your recovery from this type of cardio probably won’t bleed into your resistance training workouts.

On the other hand, when you start working at a higher percentage of your VO2 max. And if you don’t know what your VO2 max is, it’s the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise; that is, the exercise of increasing intensity. 

To simplify this concept, think about it like your max cardio output. That is, the most intense you could possibly go. And if you’re working at high to moderate levels of your VO2 max it’s going to take more to recover from. And if you’re lifting weights as well. Then you’re going to be having to recover from endurance and strength workouts. This is known as the interference effect

If you want to get the most from your weightlifting workouts you should limit high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity steady-state training to 1-2 hours per week.

Use Cardio To Support Your Strength Training – Should You Lift Weights Or Do Cardio First?

If Your primary goal is to build muscle. Then cardio should only support it. Not take over it.

If you didn’t do any extra cardio work but you focused on getting stronger on the compound exercises and maintained a calorie deficit you would still lose fat and improve your physique (build muscle).

Think Of Cardio As A Bonus

Schedule your resistance training into your week. And also schedule your cardio in. But make sure your resistance training is non-negotiable. And your cardio can be optional.

This is because ultimately resistance training will shape your body. And the stronger you get the bigger you get. That’s why the biggest guys in your gym are normally the strongest.

As A Rule Of Thumb, The Harder The Cardio Is The Harder It Will Be To Recover From

Sprinting cardio

I briefly spoke about this before. But this is why walking and low impact cardio are so good because they’re easy to do and they don’t fatigue you enough to negatively affect your weight training workouts.

And remember high intensity = high recovery cost.

Its Best To-Do Your Cardio On Different Days If Possible

For instance, say that you worked out with weights Monday to Friday. On the weekends you could do cardio. You could do two 30 minute runs or two one hour bike rides. As long as your doing no more than two hours of hard cardio. E.g. running or HIIT. Otherwise, it’s going to negatively affect your recovery.

Second to separating your cardio for separate days is to separate your cardio by 4-6 hours. If you have your own cardio equipment from home. Like an upright bike, cross trainer, or treadmill you can perform the cardio as it fits around your schedule.

But if you’re like me and don’t own any of your own cardio equipment. Then it can be a pain to go back to the gym, just to use the cardio equipment. So I just try to go for a walk or bike ride instead.

The Upright Bike And Low Impact Cardio

Low Impact cardio

Because cycling is a constant motion of pushing/pedalling forward which is a concentric movement. This means that there is no eccentric movement in this type of cardio. To illustrate an eccentric movement think of the downwards motion of the squat.

The eccentric part of the movement is part of what causes Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) Doms takes place because when you lift weights you tear your muscle fibres (especially on the eccentric part of the lift) and it usually occurs 12-72 hours after lifting weights. As your muscles are recovering this is when you experience DOMS.

The amazing thing about cycling is that it’s all concentric and because it’s concentric you’re not going to experience much Doms at all and recover well. In contrast, if you run, especially downhill. And bringing yourself to a stop after running. Or a moderate-intensity jog would require an eccentric component.

And because walking and cycling are extremely low impact this also reduces the recovery cost required.

Lifting Weights Has A Cardiovascular Component

If you’ve ever done your third set of squats and grinded your way through the last rep of the set you’ll know what I mean. Its no easy task. Especially if you’re working in a rep range of in-between say 10-20 reps.

Its been said by many strength coaches that a heavy set of squatting for 20 reps is one of the hardest things you can do. Even just doing a set of 10 with a heavyweight 1- 2 reps from failure can be a pretty brutal task. After the last rep, you’re completely gassed your heart rate is dramatically increased, and if this doesn’t test and improve your cardiovascular health, then I don’t know what does.

The meta-analysis above (which means the study of studies) shows vividly how strength training can dramatically improve your cardiovascular health.

If You Have A Limited Amount Of Time Just Focus On Getting Stronger

As you now know weightlifting can improve your cardiovascular health. So if you have limited time, make sure you choose to lift weights and to get stronger over cardio. Lifting weights will just give you more bang for your buck.

Ideally you would be lifting weights and doing cardio. But sometimes that isn’t feasible.

Some of the reasons for picking weights over cardio are:

Cardio won’t make you stronger but weight training will and help you fight against sarcopenia and muscle atrophy (loss of muscle and strength as you get older)

Getting stronger is more fun then doing the same old long slow duration cardio. (this is just my observation but I believe it to be valid)

The stronger you are the more useful you are. As Mark Rippetoe said, “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.”

To illustrate why strength training, in general, has far-reaching benefits when compared with cardio. Read this article below.

The Bottom Line On Should You Lift Weights Or Do Cardio First?

  1. You need to be prioritising weights over cardio. Your primary goal should be progressive poundages on the bar over time. Too much moderate-intensity to high-intensity cardio will diminish the effectiveness of your weight training and strength gains. If you’re going to do cardio. Do it on separate days, 4-6 hours after lifting weights, or after your workout for the best results.
  2. Strength training not only gets you strong, but it also improves your cardiovascular health. If you actually “train” rather than merely “exercise” and training can be defined by the ability to initiate a program that works towards a long term outcome of getting stronger. And exercise can be defined as just burning calories. If you train you’ll be getting stronger and improving your cardiovascular health in the process. Getting stronger will lead to you burning more calories and developing more muscle thus increasing your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn at rest). The maintenance of muscle costs energy.
  3. If you are going to do moderate to high-intensity cardio perform it for 1-2 hours per week and make sure that your weight training comes first.

Thanks for reading.

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Published by henrypaget

Hi, I'm Henry and it's my mission to help you succeed with your fitness & health.

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