Cardio or Strength First?

As you get ready to work out, do you find yourself wondering where to start? Is it best to start with cardio or strength training?

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer — it depends on your fitness goals! Consider your health aspirations as you create a workout plan.

The Case for Strength Training First

If your goal is to build strength and muscle mass, your workouts will benefit most from starting with strength training.  A study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research explores the effect of intense cardio training before a strength training session. The results of the study suggest that the performance of strength training is severely undercut by aerobic activity.

A similar study by the European Journal of Sport Science shows that strength training — especially heavy lifting — may be impeded by starting with cardio. 

If your goal is to enhance your power or your muscle definition, you should plan on beginning with strength training and rounding out your routine with a jog on the treadmill. Starting with strength conditioning allows you to focus on your form and maximize your training without any of the fatigue brought on by intense cardio. Approaching your strength training at your freshest will help you avoid injury and improve your technique. 

The Case for Cardio First

Do you have aspirations to run a marathon or boost your stamina? If so, a run on the treadmill or an intense session on the elliptical may be the best way to kick off your workout routine. 

Making a simple running program the focal point of your workout is a surefire way to smash your marathon goals. Starting with cardio will allow you to focus on correct form and avoid unnecessary risk of injury. If you’re hoping to elevate your stamina, varying your sessions between the rower or stationary bike can help keep things interesting and avoid overuse issues.

As with any routine, balance is key! Strength training — especially in the legs and core —  can help take your running skills to the next level. 

The Case for Mixing Sets

While it can be challenging to decide where to start your sweat sessions, there is a third option — mixing up your routine with a combination of short cardio and strength intervals. Perhaps the most compelling argument for this approach is to prevent injury.

A study by the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that doing intense strength and endurance training sessions one directly after the other does not leave time for sufficient recovery time. This can lead to exhaustion, bad technique, and a higher risk of injury.

To improve overall fitness, a balance between cardio and strength training is more ideal. One way to accomplish this is by starting with a light cardio warm-up  — such as a short spin on the stationary bike — before heading into focused strength training. Studies like the one completed by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that an easy 15-minute warm-up can improve your performance in subsequent training of specific muscle groups. 

Another study by the same journal suggests that a mix of strength training and cardio — done in short intervals  — is an excellent template for creating an effective overall fitness plan. Regardless of what order you choose to mix up your routine, research suggests that a healthy balance of both types of training can improve performance, body mass, and strength.

The Bottom Line 

As always, consult with your physician before incorporating new training methods into your workout. Consider your unique fitness goals as you create the home gym and the home workout routine that’s right for you! 

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