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Which Comes First: Cardio or Strength Training?

Apr 28, 2014
Have you ever noticed how most people will spend time on the treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike before they hit the weights? They try to get their cardio out of the way first, reasoning that it's the best way to be nice and warm when they finally do start lifting.

BIG MISTAKE! Want to make the most of your workout? Do it the other way around.

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Why Strength Training ALWAYS Comes First

Why should you start your workout by lifting weights? Simple: your body only has so much energy available in your muscles.

Your body can store about 80 calories' worth of glucose in your bloodstream, while your liver stores between 300 and 400 calories' worth. That means you have a total of 380 to 480 calories of easy-access energy to burn in your body.

When you start your workout--no matter whether you do cardio or strength training--your body begins to burn glucose to provide energy to your muscles. You use your muscles, but your lungs haven't yet begun to take in enough oxygen to keep up with the energy burning. For the first 10 to 15 minutes, you are burning pure glucose.

Now, what happens when you run out of glucose? Your body starts to burn fat, but fat is much harder to burn. It takes longer for your body to activate the fatty acids that have been stored in your body's cells, so you get less energy than you would if you were burning glucose.

How does this relate to the order of your workout?


Let's say you spend 30 to 45 minutes on the treadmill and another 20 to 30 minutes lifting weights. If you did your cardio first, you would burn up all or most of the glucose that is floating around your bloodstream and in your liver. Your run would activate the fat in your body, but it would be a slower burn of energy. When you tried to lift weights, you would run out of energy a lot more quickly.

Now let's switch it around and see what happens. During the first 30 minutes or so of serious, high-intensity training, you burn around 500 calories. That's just over what your body has stored, so your body will be depleted of glucose. However, when you hit the treadmill or stationary bike to do your cardio, your body will already have activated the fat for burning, and so you will be burning fat almost exclusively. If you do your 30 to 45 minute cardio session AFTER your weightlifting, it's high quality fat-burning simply because there is no glucose left in your body to burn!

Bonus: When you lift weights, your heart rate is elevated and it stays that way for hours after you're done. Cardio only keeps your heart rate elevated for minutes after you finish. If you lift weights BEFORE you run, you'll be able to get your heart rate up with far less effort than you would if you ran first. It's a no-brainer!

Don't Forget to Warm-Up

The only time you should do cardio BEFORE weight training is your warm-up. It's recommended that you spend at least 5 to 10 minutes running or cycling just to get your heart beating and your blood pumping. It will help to warm up your muscles, and will make it easier for you to stretch and dive right into your workout.

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Why Running Improves Your Heart Health

Some people get lucky and are born with fit, toned bodies. Andy Peloquin is not one of those people... Fitness has come hard for him, and he's had to work for it. His trials have led him to becoming a martial artist, an NFPT-certified fitness trainer, and a man passionate about exercise, diet and healthy living. He loves to exercise--he does so six days a week--and loves to share his passion for fitness and health with others.



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