Is It Better To Do Cardio Before Or After Weight Training? Trainers Weigh In

Ah, the great cardio before or after weight training debate. Some people bang out cardio first simply to get it over with. Others prioritize strength training to get those lifts in when their energy is at the peak. Some exercisers don’t even think of cardio and strength workouts as two separate entities any longer!

So…how do you decide how to organize your workout sessions? Trainers have awesome advice, don’t worry.

Here’s how to decide whether to do cardio before or after weights based on common fitness goals.

The advice below is recommended by the American Council on Exercise.

  1. If your goal is better endurance, do cardio before weights.
  2. If your goal is burning fat and losing weight, do cardio after weights.
  3. If you want to get stronger, do cardio after weights.
  4. On upper-body strength training days, you can do either first.
  5. On lower-body strength training days, do cardio after weights.
  6. If your goal is just general fitness, do either first, but maybe start with the one you like less.

Now that you’ve got some basic tips, read on for all the deets about combining cardio and weight training and when experts say you should do them for max benefits.

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How often should you do cardio and weight training?

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity cardio a week, and strength training at least twice a week,” says Sarah Merrill, MD, a primary care and sports medicine physician at UC San Diego Health. But how you break that down depends on your goals—and your schedule.

Some experts make the case for an additional day of strength work: “Ideally, I suggest weight training three times per week, as this frequency has been shown to be an effective strategy when it comes to muscle building and fat loss,” says Eric Bowling, CPT, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in Los Angeles. “Cardio can be done every day if it’s low-intensity; the higher the intensity, the less frequently you can perform it.”

So, picking one cardio option, your weekly schedule might look something like this:

  • Weight training: 2–4 times per week
  • Low-intensity cardio: 5–7 times per week
  • Moderate-intensity cardio: 3–4 times per week
  • High-intensity cardio: 1–3 times per week

How long those cardio workouts last also depends on your goals. If you’re seeking strength improvements, then you may want to limit your cardio to a 10- to 15-minute session to warm up your muscles, says Mandeep Ghuman, MD, director of Dignity Health Medical Group’s Sports Medicine Program in Northridge, California. “If your goal is overall fitness and health then there is no real limit, except your physical and schedule limitations.” Just keep those recommended weekly exercise guidelines in mind so you don’t overtrain.

Can you do cardio and weights on the same day?

Traditional workout guidance suggests people alternate their workouts—cardio one day, followed by weight training the next, or vice versa. But “there’s no reason you can’t do both in the same workout session, or split into two sessions on the same day,” Dr. Ghuman says.

Take high-intensity workouts like an at-home tabata or Barry’s Bootcamp session, which combine strength and cardiovascular training to deliver results in a shorter time. Doing that type of workout doesn’t negatively affect you on any physiological level, according to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research—and it may be a much more efficient use of your limited time.

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