Optimizing Your Workout: Should You Do Cardio or Weights First?

Getting in shape and improving your overall health often requires a combination of cardiovascular and resistance training. However, the order you do these workouts can have an impact on your results. So lets consider the benefits of cardio and weight training, factors to consider when structuring your workout routine, and recommendations for how to optimize the sequence of exercises.

Benefits of Cardio and Resistance Training

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, includes rhythmic activities like walking, running, cycling, and using cardio machines that get your heart rate up. Regular cardio workouts provide several health benefits:

  • Improves cardiorespiratory function – overtime, your heart and lungs become more efficient at delivering oxygen to your muscles during sustained activity.
  • Reduces risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Burns calories and body fat.
  • Enhances physical and cognitive function.

Resistance training involves strength-building exercises using weights, bands, or your own bodyweight as resistance. Adding resistance training to your routine provides additional perks:

  • Builds muscular strength, endurance, power, and size (muscle hypertrophy).
  • Helps maintain lean muscle mass and bone mineral density.
  • Improves blood pressure and blood sugar regulation.
  • Complements cardio training to improve overall fitness.

Experts recommend doing both cardio and resistance training to take advantage of their unique and synergistic benefits. But what order should you do them in?

Factors to Consider for Exercise Order

There are several factors to take into account when structuring your workout routine:

Your Goals

Your overall fitness goals can impact how you should sequence cardio and weights. If your primary goal is general health and fitness, the specific order may not matter too much. But if you have performance-related goals like training for a marathon or building maximum strength, you may need to prioritize one type of training over the other.

Your Current Fitness Level

Are you just starting an exercise program or have you been training consistently for a while? Research indicates that exercise order may not be as important for those new to working out compared to experienced exercisers. Beginners tend to see generalized fitness improvements from any well-rounded exercise routine. But athletes fine-tuning their performance respond better with more targeted sequencing.


Studies show the sequence of cardio and weights does not seem to impact fitness outcomes in young, middle-aged, or older adults. The key is that they are doing well-rounded routines with both elements. However, older adults may need more rest between vigorous cardio and heavy strength workouts.

Time Constraints

With limited time to exercise, many people combine cardio and resistance workouts together. Concurrent training routines like this provide excellent general health and fitness benefits across diverse populations. If your schedule only permits single combined workouts, don’t worry too much about exercise sequence. Just focus on including both elements.

Volume and Intensity

The overall duration and effort level of your workouts can influence ideal exercise order, especially if the volume is very high. Research suggests experienced exercisers doing high volumes of intensive cardio and strength training are more likely to experience interference between the two. Some evidence indicates cardio first may inhibit strength and muscle gains.

Rest and Recovery

Make sure to consider how to best schedule workouts to allow for adequate rest and recovery between vigorous sessions. Most studies suggest allowing at least 3 hours between heavy cardio and intensive resistance training for experienced athletes. Scheduling these workouts on alternate days can help maximize results.

Exercise Sequence Recommendations

Here are some evidence-based recommendations for how to optimize your workout order based on common goals:

General Health and Fitness

For most people focused on improving their general health, fitness and mental well-being, the sequence of cardio and weights within a session does not appear to be crucial. You can start with either modality or mix them up during the workout. Focus on including both elements and don’t overthink exercise order too much. Just find a routine you enjoy and will stick with long-term.

Building Strength and Muscle Mass

If your primary goal is building maximal muscular strength and size, prioritize resistance training first when combining cardio and weights. Some research indicates starting with weights may provide greater strength development versus cardio first. It also avoids pre-fatiguing the targeted muscle groups with endurance work. Allow several hours of rest before following up with cardio in the same day.

Enhancing Cardiovascular Fitness

For optimal cardiovascular conditioning and aerobic capacity, give priority to your cardio workouts. Some evidence suggests strength training done immediately before intensive cardio may modestly impair aerobic improvements in highly-trained athletes. Putting cardio first ensures you start with fresh leg muscles. Follow up with resistance training later in the day after adequate rest.

Training for Performance Goals

Athletes and exercisers with specific performance-related goals often need to develop a combination of cardiovascular endurance, strength, power, and other attributes. Determine which fitness components are most vital for your sport or activity type. Prioritize that exercise modality first when sequencing cardio and resistance workouts. Also make sure to allow sufficient rest between different types of demanding training sessions scheduled on the same day.

New to Exercise

If you are just starting a workout program after an extended break, the most important thing is to simply get active with daily moderate exercise. Don’t worry about cardio versus strength training order as a beginner. Focus instead on establishing consistency first. Once you’ve adjusted to regular exercise, then you can optimize sequence.

Concurrent Cardio and Weights

Due to time constraints, many people combine cardio and resistance exercises together in a circuit-style training session. This type of concurrent training provides excellent fitness benefits for general health. Research indicates the specific order of exercises does not seem to impact overall results. Feel free to mix up cardio and strength work within a session to keep it interesting.

Additional Considerations for Optimizing Your Workout

Beyond exercise sequence, here are some other quick tips for getting the most out of your workouts:

  • Warm up properly – do light cardio and dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system before intense exercise.
  • Progress gradually – increase volume, intensity, and difficulty over time to continually challenge your body.
  • Prioritize consistency – the most important thing is to stick with your plan long-term. It’s better to workout regularly at lower intensities than sporadically.
  • Allow for rest and recovery – take at least 1-2 full rest days each week to let your body adapt to training.
  • Address diet and sleep – fuel your workouts and recovery with proper nutrition and get enough good sleep.
  • Have fun – finding enjoyable activities will help you maintain motivation and consistency with your fitness routine.

The Bottom Line on Exercise Order

There are several factors to consider when structuring your workout routine, but the sequence of cardio and resistance training should not be over-analyzed, especially for general health goals. Simply focus on including both elements regularly, allow for adequate rest between demanding sessions, and choose the order you prefer.

Those with specific performance goals may consider prioritizing the more important training type first. Listen to your body and be willing to experiment to find the optimal workout formula that works for you. Consistency with your fitness routine over the long-term is what matters most.

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