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Which should I do first: Cardio or weights?

This is a very common concern I get from clients and the general public. Depending on who you are, you’re probably more particular to one over the other. For myself, I prefer weights to cardio. When I was just beginning to enter the gym I preferred cardio. Mainly because I did not have the self-efficacy to confidently walk into the weight room. But which comes first? Is one more important than the other? Let me just get this stated off the bat: they are very different, but both serve their purpose.

Strength and cardiovascular endurance are on opposite ends of the training spectrum. It can be a challenge to improve both at the same time. However, we aren’t here because we want to be an award winning Olympic athlete. We are here because we just want to not feel so winded going for a casual run or walking up stairs, but also showcasing a little more muscle tone.

So, what can we do to solve this?

Do both. I know, I know. “Not helpful, Shane.” Stay with me. Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D. states a study from Derek Hansen, a head coach for strength and conditioning in Vancouver, BC where he used both training aspects for training his basketball players where they saw a benefit in both training aspects.

However, Derek places an emphasis on weight training because strength is their main priority. Alex describes how researchers are able to measure which proteins are created in muscles after different forms of exercise.

Both are important, but what comes first?

There is no right or wrong here. The way I generally program for my clients (and myself) is I place the cardio portions at the end of the workout.  I start out with the weights because most of my clients come to me with a goal that needs some form of strength training. I design weights to be first because this is when we are feeling the freshest and can use all that focus and energy into proper form into the lifts that require more attention.

But also, it depends on your goal. Alex Hutchinson describes a “switch” that happens at the beginning of a workout that determines if “better endurance” or “more muscle” will be created. Unfortunately, this cannot occur at the same time.

So, if you’re goal is to increase strength, build muscle or tone your weights should come before cardio. If you’re goal is to improve cardio endurance, then your entire cardio workout should come before the weights. If you want to improve both, change it up from day to day or incorporate resistance training circuits that give you that “cardio feel”.

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