Should You Lift Before Or After Cardio?

Should You Lift Before Or After Cardio?

Strength training is good for your muscles; cardio is good for your heart. Both are essential if you want to be a fit, healthy person, but what’s the best way to combine them?

We’ve covered one argument in favour of doing weights first: both use your muscles’ fuel stores, but being low on that fuel is more of a problem for weights than for cardio. Another reason to start with weights: you’re more likely to screw up when you’re tired, so struggling with a barbell at the end of your workout is arguably more dangerous than just having to get through another five minutes on the exercise bike.

But there’s another side here: if you lift first, you’ll be more tired when it’s time to do cardio. You won’t be able to give sprints your all. If you’re doing a long run, you’ll feel even more exhausted toward the end.

So here’s your rule: whichever is more important to you, do that one first. You’ll be fresh for it, and can do your lower priority exercise afterward.

  • If you’re trying to get stronger and want to lift the most weight possible, lift first.

  • If you want to get faster or better at endurance, do cardio first.

  • If you’re just working out for general fitness, either is fine.

If you’re working out mainly for weight loss, it’s still a toss-up. Some studies say you’ll burn more calories in the same workout if the weights come first; but then you risk feeling tired in the end and cutting your cardio short.

Feel free to mix it up, too! If it works for your schedule to alternate the two, go for it. You could even break up your cardio session and do half before weights and half after. Put the more important one first if you can, but at the end of the day all that really matters is that you’re able to consistently do both.


  • I’m not a professional, far far from it, but as I understand strength training, you gain muscle mass because your muscles get damaged along the way. Then, as they repair, they build more muscle mass.

    So you’re damaging your muscles, albeit at a controlled rate. So wouldn’t you get faster results if the muscles were already tired, and prone to getting damaged? That doesn’t mean you’ll life bigger weights, just that you’ll build more muscle.

    One of the classic methods of building muscle mass was to lift your highest weight until you couldn’t any more, then drop the weight and repeat. Keep going until you struggle to lift just the weight bar.

    To me, that suggests that doing cardio first would give better results with the strength training. Willing to be wrong, I’m not a professional as I said, but that was always my takeaway from the traditional muscle building methods. If your muscles are tired enough, you get benefit from lifting just the bar itself.

    • There’s a model for this called pre exhaust training, but if I remember right the data in literature doesn’t show a significant difference in muscle growth.

      The real key factors are:
      – Volume below your MRV
      – Progressive overload
      – Caloric intake
      – Frequency (for beginners to intermediates)

      There’s also some data suggesting mixing rep ranges during a single workout can slow your progress.

      • Have you got a link to the info about mixing rep ranges? I’d like some more detail on that.

    • That makes sense when youre exercising the muscles used in cardio.
      Simply being exhausted isn’t the same, though. If you go for a run and exhaust yourself, but then go to do bench press, you might find your strength diminished, which would mean you lift less (volume and/or weight), which means the pecs (which you don’t use in traditional running in any meaningful way) have not been exercised to their full potential.
      Your central nervous system only has so much it can give over a period of time, and if you’re knackered after doing cardio, your strength training will not be as strong as it would otherwise be.

  • I’ll give the same not a professional warning 🙂

    I’d think it’d be the opposite. You’d be damaging muscles at a lower weight and unable to do the higher weights. So you wouldn’t see as much growth.

    Personally, I have two approaches, I try to split the cardio and do a light workout (like a 5 or 10 minute cycle) first just to get myself warm and moving. Then do weights. After that assuming I haven’t overdone it I go back and do more cardio, like jogging or rowing. What I do depends a bit on whether it’s leg or arm day.

    The other approach is to alternate sessions. If you’ve got the time then do a weight day then next visit do a cardio day and so on.

  • Not a professional, yada yada.
    From a control point of view, I’ll do a light cardio prior to weights, then do the weights, and finish off with cardio.
    It’s based on simplistic logic – if I tire myself out prior to the weights, then the opportunity for uncontrolled or improper form increases, usually resulting in injury.
    I’m all for damaging the muscles in a controlled manner, but not so keen on damaging ligaments, etc which kills off weight training for a bit.
    If I’m tired during a cardio, then it’s simply increasing my endurance, and I can’t think of any injuries suffered in cardio due to exhaustion

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