Cardio Or Weights First? Exercise Order Sometimes Matters

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"Is there an order to working out? In other words, should I do weights first and then cardio?"

-- Karen

Working out is always good for you. The good news is that, whether you do it before or after weight training, cardiovascular exercise like running, swimming, biking or machine-work will improve everything from your heart health to your mood to your chance of avoiding many cancers. And lifting weights helps with everything from bone density to metabolism.

But according to exercise physiologists and personal trainers we spoke with, the order of operation can change depending on a person's goal.

"This question is one of the biggest questions on people's minds when they go to the gym," says personal trainer and HuffPost blogger Jeff Halevy. For those who are seeking weight loss, cardio should come first, but if gaining muscle mass is the goal, it's time to hit the weight room first. But why?

Let's start with the muscle-building scenario. "Doing cardio first will induce fatigue that may compromise technique and possibly increase risk of injury," explains Fabio Comana, director of Continuing Education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Exhausting oneself with a big run right before weights and resistance training doesn't just up the risk of injury, it also means you'll have less energy to throw into a really good weight training session.

On the other hand, if you're looking to lose fat, Halevy recommends doing interval cardio training before getting started on weights. As he explains, the cardio will deplete your body's supply of glycogen -- the stored form of glucose in muscle cells and a primary material in our energy storage. Once glycogen is depleted, the body turns to more long-term storage sources, like fat.

"If your goal is strictly a lean body -- not to be strongest, or most powerful, but achieve maximal leanness -- I always recommend implementing high-intensity interval training at the beginning of each workout," says Halevy.

But that doesn't mean weights aren't important for fat loss. In fact, when it comes to analyzing the percentage weight loss that's comprised of fat versus lean tissue like muscle, weights have cardio beat overall.

"Resistance training should always be a consideration," explains Comana in an email. "Mother nature will help us lose lean tissue naturally (23 percent in women between ages 30 and 70), that we need to preserve. Diet and cardio also results in lean tissue losses (68 percent fat, 22 percent muscle / lean tissue). Whereas diet and resistance leads to 97 percent fat loss, and only 3 percent lean tissue loss."

There may be other reasons for doing cardio first. As Comana points out, many more people are familiar with cardiovascular exercise, so it will seem less intimidating and is thus more likely to happen. If the weight room is daunting enough to prevent a workout session, it's worth getting started on cardio and working your way up. And if another health goal -- say Type 2 diabetes or hypertension prevention or treatment -- is the priority, Comana recommends cardio over resistance. "Some diseases are better managed with cardio first, then introducing resistance training later," he told Healthy Living.

It's important to get the opinion of a doctor and certified personal trainer or exercise professional before proceeding, but the takeaway is simple: if you're exercising, no matter the order, you aren't doing anything wrong. Depending on your goal, you may want to choose one type of exercise over the other. Of course, you could alternate days and avoid the question entirely.

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