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Is it better to lift weights before or after a cardio workout?

The best order is what works for you. But when it comes to fat loss and endurance, there are some benefits to being strategic about how you layer cardio and strength exercise.

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A well-rounded workout routine contains a balance of cardio exercise and strength training.

The American Heat Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity a week, as well as moderate- to high-intensity strength training 2-3 times a week.

If you're checking off both workouts on the same day, many people wonder if the order of the activity matters. Should you lift weights first then head out on your walk? Or hit the pavement before grabbing your dumbbells?

The answer is either, but it depends on which type of cardio you're doing — and what your overall health goals are.

Cardio can be a great starter or finisher to weight training. If you’re doing cardio at a higher intensity, you may use up a lot of energy leaving you tired during strength training. But if you’re going on a moderately paced walk, you probably won’t be too tired to do strength training afterward and it can be a great way to warm up the body.  

The benefits of cardio before weights 

Cardio before weight training will be the optimal choice if you want to increase endurance. This is because performing cardio takes energy from the energy stores needed to sustain aerobic or cardiovascular exercise.  

Performing cardio pre-weight training enhances cardiovascular endurance. In addition, weight training with depleted energy stores also enhances muscular endurance. Striving to enhance endurance is an excellent goal for long-distance or marathon runners, as it improves fatigue resistance and develops slow-twitch muscle fibers needed for endurance-based sports. 

Doing cardio first can also serve as a warm up for your strength-training session. For example, if you are walking at a moderate pace and not winded or physically tired after your walk, this is a way to warm the body up and prime it for movement before strength training. 

The benefits of cardio after weights 

Doing a cardio workout after weight training is ideal if you want to lose fat and get stronger. Building muscle mass is also desirable for fat loss goals as it has been proven to promote a faster metabolism.   

You’ll also hit the ground running with energy for strength training rather than showing up to this type of exercise already feeling physically tired.  

And if your cardio of choice is done at a moderate to leisurely pace, it can serve as a cool down from a more intense strength training session.

The bottom line: The best workout order is the one you'll commit to

If you’re somewhat new to exercising or just getting back into it, start with the type of exercise you feel most motivated to do. For some of us, lacing up our sneakers for a walk is the easiest way to get moving. For others, grabbing some dumbbells for strength work is much more appealing.

If you currently have a workout routine, whether that be strength training or cardio, I encourage you to stick with what’s working and build off of that. So if you feel motivated to do your 20-minute walk and you’re looking to add in strength training, do your walk first since it’s already part of your routine. Then you can add on strength training after. 

Or, if you’re committed to a strength-training plan and looking to step it up with your workouts (or have more energy or time left to give), tack on a cardio session after you’re done with your weights. 

What works for one person will be different than what works for another. The key is to work with your body and your existing habits to continue making progress toward your health goals!