Q | Is is better to do cardio or strength training first in my workouts?
A | Most people see the best results when they perform their strength training before doing a cardio session, says Alex Viada, CSCS, a record-setting powerlifter and triathlete, and author of The Hybrid Athlete.
Doing cardio first — especially intense cardio — can exhaust the energy stores and muscle fibers needed for strength training. If you go for a run and then head straight for the weights, your strength, power, and focus will be compromised, making it more difficult to build muscle, says Viada. (Hopping on the treadmill or running through a few dynamic exercises for a quick warm-up, however, won’t impair your strength-training performance.)
Additionally, lifting usually requires more mental focus, he says, “so I would rather people do complicated movements when they’re mentally and physically fresh.”
If running or another form of cardio is your preferred activity and your schedule allows for two-a-day workouts, Viada recommends breaking cardio and strength into separate sessions: Go for a run first thing in the morning and save the weights for the afternoon, or vice versa. This way you’ll be able to do your preferred activity when you’re freshest, and you’ll get in a meal or snack to replenish energy stores in time for your second session. (For more on doing two-a-day workouts, check out ELmag.com/2adayswo.)
According to a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, giving yourself at least six hours to recover from a strenuous cardio session will help you reap the full benefits of each workout.
The researchers found that athletes who performed a cardio session immediately following strength training saw fewer strength gains than those who had at least six hours of recovery between workouts. The ideal recovery time was 24 hours.