Cardio or Strength training: Which Comes First?

fitness model having a cardio workout on a technogym climb equipment

Aerobic and resistance training are both important when looking to improve your physical condition and health. Aerobic exercises improve cardiorespiratory fitness and promote weight loss, resistant training on the other hand has the ability to develop multiple aspects of performance, however it is commonly linked with an increase in muscle mass, strength and power. Both of these workout modalities are often carried out during the same workout. Overall, studies identified that the sequence of execution is not significant in terms of efficacy. However, Chtara and colleagues reported that performing aerobic training before resistance training could improve running performance, cardiovascular competence and post-exercise energy expenditure more efficiently, in comparison to executing the exercises in a reverse order.

A potential negative to this exercise order is that when aerobic training is performed vigorously first, it can compromise the successive performance of the resistance exercises, limiting the strength, power and hypertrophic gains.

  1. The first reason behind this is fatigue, vigorous aerobic exercise can result in fatigue of the targeted muscle groups thus having a detrimental effect on the outcome of the resistance training.
  2. The second reason is that prolonged endurance exercise seems to attenuate the acute growth hormone response during the consecutive resistance training. Therefore, athletes who require great levels of strength and power in their sport should pay close attention to the sequence of exercise. When unable to perform resistance based training before cardiovascular training, it would be suggested to separate both of the training modalities by at least 6 hours to allow an adequate recovery period.

Technogym strength training However, it has been documented that the execution of resistance exercises prior to aerobic training seems to be more effective in enhancing aerobic power in the elderly and women. Furthermore, high intensity resistance exercise can potentiate energy expenditure, favouring fat utilization during the subsequent aerobic exercises. Following a vigorous resistance based workout, the body continues to burn calories for up to 48 hours, this is also known as EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption). However, if you perform cardiovascular activity prior to weight lifting, there is a strong likelihood that your performance during weight lifting exercises will be limited and negatively influenced by fatigue thus reducing the EPOC effect.

The order of aerobic and resistance training sessions can be differentiated depending on the goal of the program. Some examples are runners or cyclists, who would typically start their workout with cardiovascular training, where as sprinters or body builders would prefer to start with resistance training.
If your aim is a general fitness and wellness however, the order of exercise is not overly important. Changing the order of the workout can be a great way to prevent boredom in addition to the fact that there are minimal negative consequences when mixing both the training modalities together.

References:

  • Kang, Jie Ph.D., FACSM; Ratamess, Nicholas Ph.D. Which Comes First? Resistance Before Aerobic Exercise or Vice Versa? ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal: January/February 2014 - Volume 18 - Issue 1 - p 9–14
  • Chtara M, Chamari K, Chaouachi M, Chaouachi A, Koubaa D, Feki Y, Millet GP, Amri M. Effects of intra-session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. Br J Sports Med. 2005 Aug;39(8):555-60. PubMed PMID: 16046343; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1725284.