HOW many times have you gone to the gym and asked yourself, "Which should I do first: cardio or strength training?"
Truth is, there's no hard and fast rule - it depends on your personal goal, according to a new study.
Performing strength and endurance training simultaneously in the same workout, typically known as 'concurrent training', is a popular training strategy to develop various aspects of physiological capabilities in most sports.
However, a recent review questioned which order is best for optimum results.
The study assessed the impact of training sequence: strength followed by endurance versus endurance followed by strength training on two performance parameters, namely cardiovascular fitness and repetition maximum (i.e. the heaviest weight you can lift with maximum effort in a single repetition).
LIFT BEFORE YOU RUN
Results showed that sequencing strength training prior to cardio in the same workout session appears to be beneficial for greater improvements in strength gains, while the improvement of cardiovascular fitness is not affected by training order.
Why? It all comes down to the physiology of how your body uses energy. When you exercise, your body first uses a quick burst of 'anaerobic' energy that doesn't require oxygen. Then, after a minute or two, your body moves into aerobic metabolism, which requires more oxygen above what you're already breathing in.
"It all depends on what your training for" adds Dr Jackson Fyfe from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University.
"When strength gain is our primary goal, we therefore want to prioritise the quality of our strength training sessions - completing these when less fatigued will help".
"Put simply, if you are fatigued from a prior cardio session, you will either have to lift a lighter weight or perform less repetitions across a set, which over time will likely compromise your strength gain."
WHEN CARDIO MATTERS MOST?
Training for a specific event, such as marathon or cycling race, it makes sense to focus running or cycling drills. However, it's still smart to include strength training if you want to be a better runner or biker. Research shows that resistance exercises will improve muscle power and economy hence improve overall endurance performance.
WHAT ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS?
In terms of fighting fat, both resistance exercises and endurance are crucial.
Cardio workouts, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling, will burn calories and weight training will stimulate muscle growth, which in turn raises your metabolic rate, helping you burn fat faster.
The intensity you do your cardio may matter though. The popular high intensity interval training or HIIT training will give you the same, if not more fat burning benefits of slow and steady cardio, but in a shorter amount of time. However, this type of training is not suitable for all and cannot be performed every day of the week.
Besides, there are many other reasons to add strength training to your workout repertoire beyond bigger biceps. Maximal strength is a major determinant of daily functioning, such as flexibility and balance, and is especially related to health outcomes such as mortality risk, improved blood sugar control and weight management.
1. You want general fitness - it makes no difference to which one comes first, just choose the right sequence for you. Mixing things up a little to progressively challenge yourself to improve your overall fitness and prevent boredom is ideal.
2. You're training for an event - Specificity is key. For runners, that means focusing on running drills. Want to improve your bench press weight? Prioritise your workout with the hardest stuff first to maximise the amount you can lift.
3. You want weight loss - No preference - doing any physical activity is better than none, and the more you do the better, as long as you do what you love, stick with it and keep moving. However, a combination of cardio and strength is ideal and don't necessarily need to be performed on the same day. Current physical activity guidelines recommend adults accumulate 300 minutes (five hours) or 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days of the week, and do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.
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