Exercise Before or After Strength Training?

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A question that I am often asked and one I have seen countless times on message boards throughout the world wide web is whether a person should do cardiovascular exercise before or after a resistance training exercise? Before going any farther, I would like to clearly state it is my position that everyone should engage in a cardiovascular exercise of their choice for 5 to 10 minutes before any exercise, be it a cardiovascular, resistance or endurance workout. This is vitally important for several reasons as a proper, light-intensity cardiovascular exercise will warm up the muscles, ligaments, joints and tendons which will be used more intensely in the subsequent workout routine. The most important benefit to warming up with light intensity cardio is the significant decrease in risk of injury.

Now back to the question of whether you should do cardiovascular exercise prior to or after a resistance workout? There’s no single best answer here and instead, you need to evaluate your personal fitness objectives. If you goal is to increase endurance, endurance or general cardiovascular health, then I suggest doing your cardio workout prior to weight and resistance training. By doing the cardio workout first (after your 5 to 10 minute warm up of course), you have the ability to take part in a more intense cardio session, which possibly may include some intervals in which you really push to your lactic acid threshold or VO2 max level. It’s much less likely that you would be able to achieve high intensity cardiovascular work after you’ve participated in a weight training session. So, in short if your goal is to increase cardiovascular fitness levels, you need to perform cardio workouts prior to resistance training.

On the other hand, if your objective is fat and weight loss, a current mode of thinking in the fitness community is by doing a cardiovascular workout after a resistance exercise, you increases the rate of fat metabolism (fat burn as it is often referred to as). The theory is that by engaging in an extreme resistance workout, you will deplete the glycogen stores in the muscles in this workout. Endurance athletes have long know this, yet generally in order for this to happen in endurance training, an athlete has to continuously run for about 90 minutes to fully deplete the muscles of glycogen. And so, I remain somewhat skeptical that many ordinary people working out are pushing themselves to the purpose of glycogen depletion during their resistance workout, particularly workouts of less than one hour in duration. For more advanced trainers, I do believe that it is possible and therefore can be an effective way of decreasing body fat perhaps for these individuals.

I tend to look at it like this, if you are engaging in a cardiovascular and resistance workout on the same day back-to-back, one or the other will be of a lesser intensity level naturally. Again, evaluate your personal fitness goals before deciding whether to do your cardio workouts before or after resistance training. If you are attempting to build muscle, you need to have as much muscle strength as you can available for your resistance workouts, therefore doing cardio before weight training would be counterproductive to your muscle building goals. If you are looking to gain endurance or heart health, place your focus on the cardio workouts and do them . Remember, irrespective of which you wind up doing first, it is more important to properly warm up with a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes of cardio (even if it is just a brisk walk on the treadmill) in order to prepare the body for the workouts beforehand, to get your head in the right space in order to bang out a productive workout, and most importantly to lower the possibility of injury. This debate won’t mean a thing if you get injured 5 minutes into a workout and are sidelined for another 8 weeks rehabilitating an accident!

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