What Does the Research Say About Doing Cardio or Weight Training First?

What Does the Research Say About Doing Cardio or Weight Training First?

One of the most highly debated subjects among fitness enthusiasts is cardio versus weightlifting. Both types of exercise provide plenty of value, but no one can seem to agree on whether it is better to do cardio or weightlifting first. To figure out which exercise you should begin your workout with, it is necessary to quit listening to hearsay and take a look at the research. 

How Do Weightlifting and Cardio Affect Each Other?

To understand which type of exercise is better to do first, it is important to understand how they affect each other. In the short term, doing cardio first seems to have a negative impact on a workout. A 2015 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that test subjects performed worse if they tried cardio before weightlifting. This seems to happen because the cardio tires a person out and makes it tricky for them to do their best. 

Cardio before weightlifting is not just a problem because it tires you out. Another problem with cardio is that it tells the body to create muscle fibers that are small and resistant to fatigue instead of prioritizing muscle growth. According to a 2009 study at Stephen F. Austin State University, doing a lot of cardio means that the muscles become less responsive to resistance training, so a person gets less gains compared to someone who does not do cardio near a workout. This might seem ominous, but it does not mean you should avoid cardio altogether. The research suggests that doing high intensity interval training cardio 24 hours after weightlifting will reduce its tendency to inhibit muscle growth. 

What Are the Long Term Effects of Doing Weighlifting First?

A 2016 study from the University of Jyvaskyla involved following several participants over the course of six months. They divided the participants into groups based on when they exercised, and each group did high intensity training and progressive weight lifting. The end result was that the group that weightlifted before they did cardio had a little extra strength. 

Other studies have also replicated similar results. For example, a 2018 study found that people who lifted weights first were able to add 10 pounds more to their lower body one rep maximum in comparison to people who lifted after doing cardio. Interestingly, this study also found that aerobic capacity did not change regardless of whether or not a person did cardio or weight lifting first. 

The Bottom Line

Most studies agree that it is generally best to do weightlifting before cardio. It won't hurt you to do cardio first every now and then, but in general, doing cardio before weightlifting can tire you out and it may get in the way of building muscle. The only reason to do cardio first would be if you want to gain endurance while minimizing muscle growth. However, most people are interested in getting stronger and acquiring more muscle, and doing weightlifting first is better for achieving that goal.