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Cardio equipment at the gym.

Should you do strength training or cardio first?

Does it really matter whether you do cardio or strength training first? Yes, depending on your workout goals, says Lauren R. Jeffrey, ACSM EP-C, NASM PT, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center.

If you are training for a 5K or a marathon, you will want to do cardiovascular training first for maximum performance. If you want to increase your muscle strength, do strength training first when your muscles are not fatigued from cardio.

If you don't have a preference, you can:

  • Do your least favorite form of exercise first. If you like weight training more than cardio, do cardio first when you are feeling more motivated and less likely to skip it.
  • Do your favorite form of exercise first. This can motivate you to head to the gym or start your workout in the first place.

What is cardio?

Cardiovascular training, or "cardio," includes aerobic activities that get your heart rate up, like:

There are some benefits to doing cardio first: Your muscles will be warmer and less susceptible to injury during weight training, as long as you are not overdoing your cardio training.

What is strength training?

While some types of strength training, such as high intensity interval training (HIIT), can have a cardiovascular effect and raise your heart rate, their primary focus is strengthening and toning your muscles. Strength, or resistance, training includes:

You may gain more strengthening and toning benefits from doing resistance training first.

"If you wear out your muscles doing cardio, you are not going to be able to lift as heavy or do as many reps," says Jeffrey. "For example, if you run before strength training, you may find it harder to train your quads while weight lifting and won't see muscle-building results as quickly."

Cross-training for weight loss and fitness

Whether you prefer cardio or resistance training, it is important to do both, or cross-train, to get the most benefits.

"If you are training for a marathon, you want to increase the strength in the muscles you use while running," says Jeffrey. "If you want to lose weight, strength training will help you gain muscle, which burns more calories than fat. This will help expedite your weight loss because your metabolism will increase."

Always include a warm-up and cool-down

To stay safe and maximize your workouts, always stay hydrated and include a warm-up and cool-down.

Begin with a five- to 10-minute warm-up of low to moderate intensity exercise, such as walking or cycling on the recumbent bike.

"Don't jump in right away and start lifting heavy or sprinting," says Jeffrey. "This can increase your risk of injury."

Follow your workouts with a cool-down, such as walking or jogging at a slow pace, for at least two minutes after each cardio workout. Cool-downs:

  • Prevent your heart rate and blood pressure from dropping suddenly.
  • Get your blood flowing normally again; otherwise, you may experience dizziness or fainting.
  • Help reduce soreness after an intense workout.

Follow your cool-down with stretches to prevent injury. 

For more exercise and fitness tips, click here.

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