You've probably heard that you should balance your exercise regimen between strength training and cardio workouts, but which one should you do first? Well, if you're looking to slim down and tone your muscles (and who isn't), experts recommend hitting the weight rack before jumping on the elliptical. Below are some key points that explain why this approach makes the most sense.
1. Strength training taps into your anaerobic energy systems, which are responsible for helping your muscles produce short-burst, high-intensity movements such as lifting a dumbbell or performing a squat. Anaerobic energy relies upon stored energy sources within the muscles, and unlike its counterpart (aerobic energy), it does not depend upon oxygen breathed from the air to fuel the muscles. When you train with weights first, it will tap out your anaerobic energy systems, and then when it's time for you to begin your cardio workout, your body will be forced to burn fat in order to provide your aerobic system with the fuel it needs to keep you going. This, in turn, will burn more calories not only during your workouts but also after the cool-down period.
2. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that participants were able to complete fewer weightlifting reps after they had just finished running or cycling while performing strength training without any cardio beforehand yielded more reps. Another study published by the same organization focused on the effects of performing treadmill running workouts before strength training exercises. The study revealed that participants experienced a decrease in muscle power and number of reps performed when engaging in resistance training after a treadmill running workout. In addition, factors such as heart rate and level of perceived exertion increased when performing strength training sessions after aerobic exercise.
3. Performing a cardio workout before strength training can also have an effect on your form, which in turn can reduce the effectiveness of your weightlifting exercises. When you think about it, this just makes sense – for example, if you try to perform squats after you just spent 30 minutes on the elliptical, your thighs, calves, and hamstrings are going to be weaker than they would be if you had "fresh legs." This will result in less stability underneath the weight and sloppier form, as the tiny fibers that control your fine muscle movements will have already been used to the point of fatigue during the cardio workout.
The Bottom Line: Train According to Your Goals
Although the above points present a good case for starting with strength training before cardio, keep in mind that the main point of doing workouts in the first place is to help you achieve your particular fitness goals. For example, if you're gearing up for a half-marathon, you would probably be better off hitting the treadmill first instead of making a beeline for the weight room. You will have to determine what makes the most sense in light of your individual fitness objectives. If you're shooting for endurance, cardio before strength training is a good start; if you're more focused on sculpting certain muscle groups, you're better off starting with resistance training right off the bat. Keep in mind also that there's nothing wrong with alternating your cardio and strength days to get an equal dose of each type of exercise. But for general purposes – e.g., slimming down and toning up – your best bet would be to tackle resistance training first, then cardio.