Well-rounded athletes and optimally healthy people maintain physical fitness with both strength and endurance. Some prefer to focus on one or the other in a single workout, but there are big advantages to combining cardio and strength training into one session. It increases the physiological benefits of exercise, and it makes it easier to fit a substantial workout into a busy daily schedule. So, how do you balance the two types of training?
There is lots of conflicting information on whether it’s best to hit the weight rack or the treadmill when you first get into the gym. As it turns out, there’s pros and cons to both- but it really comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish.
Starting with cardio will elevate your core temperature and heart rate. In other words, it warms up your muscles and quickly gets the body into a state of energy expenditure. By increasing your heart rate before strength training, the body will enter the session fatigued and actively burning calories, leading to more overall calories burned during and after the workout. Unsurprisingly, energy spent on exhaustive endurance exercise will limit the number of repetitions and weight that can be used to strength train. This approach is a great option for those looking to lose weight, tone muscle (versus bulk), improve cardiovascular health, or train for a run, bike, or triathlon event.
On the other hand, starting with strength will allow you to lift more weight and complete more repetitions. This is because weightlifting is an anaerobic activity, meaning it requires short, big bursts of energy. By choosing to lift before engaging in aerobic cardio, you can utilize your body’s fuel stores (before depleting them in endurance activities) to create more powerful bursts of energy when lifting heavy. This type of exercise is more strenuous on the muscles, so lifting before cardio will definitely hinder your hope of feeling fresh and springy on the treadmill. The strength before cardio chronology is the way to go if you are looking to gain muscle mass and burn fat.
Still having trouble deciding what’s best for you? Take a step back and consider your goals… an aspiring marathoner should obviously err on the side of running first, and lightly lifting after. A mass seeking bodybuilder should not be logging a 10 mile run before trying to bend the bar on the squat rack. If your overall goal is to be fit and healthy, start with the exercise that you like less. By beginning with the tougher segment of the workout, you will look forward to the fun part and be more motivated to finish with a good effort. Mix up the routine- make some days strength focused with low intensity cardio, and make other days cardio demanding with less time and energy spent on heavy lifting.