Does it matter whether you do cardio or lift weights first?

A new study shows that for most time-crunched people who work out a few times a week and try to fit their cardio and resistance training into the same workout, it doesn’t matter which mode of exercise they do first. However, more research still needs to be done on athletes or people who train often or have a long history of working out.

As a trainer, I’ve long told clients (those who ask, anyway) that — if they’re doing cardio and weights the same day — they should do the form of exercise that is their top priority first. That way, they’ll have more energy to devote to it. I still think that’s a good policy — it just makes common sense.

However, the results of a new study, conducted by Finnish graduate students and published in two separate scholarly journals, shows it might not matter that much. While the study design leaves a little to be desired, in my opinion at least, the results are still interesting. In the study, nearly 200 participants (men aged 18-40) performed either supervised cycling workouts followed by weight workouts (or vice versa) for 24 weeks, for a total of two to three workouts a week. Researchers checked to see whether muscle-building effects — by measuring testosterone — would be different between the groups either after one session or six months of training.

Even though the students initially believed that the cardio-first group would have fewer muscle-building adaptations, they found that the order of exercise mode made no difference in the study participants, who worked out two to three times a week for 90 to 120 minutes. However, they said more study is necessary to see whether similar results could be applied with those with a long history of training or for athletes who train more often. (Want more info? Here’s a link to a free study abstract from the European Journal of Applied Physiology.)

Many of my clients say they like feeling thoroughly warmed up by doing a half-hour or so of cardio before hitting the weights. Go for it, I say. Others say they’d rather give all their energy to the weights first. Go for that too, I say. Unless you have a very specific goal or reason for training, you should do your workouts in the manner that makes you feel happier and more energized.

Remember: The only “bad” workout is the one you don’t do.

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Brewer-based personal trainer and author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at wendyfitness.com.