Your primary workout goal will dictate whether you do your cardio workout before or after your strength exercises, so you should decide which component of fitness is most important- developing cardiorespiratory endurance or building muscular strength. For most people whose workouts are not designed for maximal muscular gains and athleticism, it is a matter of personal preference whether you do the cardio workout first or last. Here are some things to consider when deciding what is right for you.
If your primary focus is developing cardiovascular endurance, do your cardio workout first. There are many schools of thought about the effects of strength training on cardio endurance performance- some people advocate strength training before the cardio workout, and some people prefer doing the strength component after the cardio workout. While there is research to support both thought processes, for the general cardio enthusiast (non-competitive athlete) who wants to be able to do a long-term, sustained cardio workout (30 – 60 minutes) with ease and comfort, it may be best to perform the cardio workout when the muscles are fresh—before your strength workout.
It is important to develop the energy and neuromuscular systems necessary for endurance activities. An appropriate strength workout for an endurance athlete would be to develop muscular endurance first and then progress into a light strength program working all the major muscles with multi-joint, functional movement patterns that are more specific to the needs of the endurance activity (walking, jogging, running, biking, hiking, etc).
If you are working for strength gains, it is best to do your strength workout before your cardio workout. This allows the muscles optimal energy to complete the workout at maximal ability. If you did your cardio workout first, there would be an element of muscular fatigue present when going in to the strength workout; you want the muscles to be as fresh as possible to be able to exert maximal or near-maximal efforts. Performing the cardio workout immediately after the strength workout can help enhance recovery by supplying the muscles with more oxygen and nutrients, while also removing muscular waste products accumulated during strength training. As long as you keep the cardio workout at a low to moderate intensity level, it will help keep the muscles from getting too sore during your workout, and allow for improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness while facilitating muscle recovery following the intense strength training workout.
Regardless of whether you do your cardio endurance or strength training workout first, it is always important to perform a 10-minute warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints for the stress of the workout. This can be done by performing some type of mild cardio exercises (walking briskly while pumping the arms or cycling on a stationary bike and taking the arms through full range movement patterns) or dynamic movements such as calisthenics.
Trish Schwartz, M.Ed., has worked in the fitness industry for 25 years. Her experience includes owning and operating fitness centers, running her own in-home personal training business, working as a physical education instructor at the collegiate level and teaching at a six-month personal training school. She is a certified Health/Fitness Instructor (HFI) through ACSM and Pilates Mat Instructor through Physical Mind Institute. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education and Master of Education degree in Exercise Physiology from Colorado State University.
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