Which Should Come First: Cardio or Weights?

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When you first arrive at the gym, it's full. Did you jump on the first free treadmill you saw? Or go to the weight room because there must be a machine or two empty?

More importantly, does the order in which you complete the various parts of your workout routine really matter? Cardio, weightlifting, balance, flexibility exercises.

Yes, in fact, it is. Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., an associate professor of sports and exercise science at the University of Colorado in Western Gunnison, Colorado, said he studies the optimal timing of these different exercise components. "If you think about the physiology of training, the order of your training matters," he said. "But one person's optimal order will be different from another person's optimal order based on individual priorities."

So, how do you decide which exercise sequence is right for you? Use the goal-based guidelines below.

How to know if you should do cardio first or lift weights first
If you want to get faster: Do cardio first.

Dalleck found in the study that exercisers who did cardio late in their workouts had a heart rate 12 times higher per minute, with the same intensity and duration of exercise as those who did cardio first. In other words, exercising feels harder than it actually is. In another study, exercise scientists at James Cook University in Australia reported that even strength training reduced performance in endurance athletes, especially runners and cyclists, after a few days.

If you want to lose weight: Do strength training first.

Resistance training builds muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. "Since your resting metabolic rate accounts for the majority of your daily calorie and energy expenditure, if your goal is to lose weight, it makes sense to do this first," Dallek says. In one study, 10 weeks of resistance training increased resting metabolic rate by 7% and lost nearly 4 pounds of fat mass. However, don't skip cardio altogether, as the aerobic portion of the exercise will still burn more calories than the strength training portion.

Want to get stronger: Do strength training first.

It may seem obvious, but the science behind it is interesting. Lifting weights is similar to sprinting—requiring short periods of extreme effort—requiring your muscles to use energy other than oxygen to exercise. Depending on your fitness level, your muscles (and heart) can only take a certain amount of anaerobic training before they get tired. So, if you deplete your energy stores during the aerobic portion of your workout, you don't have as much energy left to build strength. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, exercisers who ran or biked before lifting weights reduced the number of exercise repetitions by 20 percent and lost significant weight.

If you want to improve your balance: Do cardio or strength training first.

In his research, Dalleck found that neuromuscular or flexibility exercises at the beginning of the movement did not improve participants' balance or agility. "Because of the overall benefits of cardio and resistance training for you, it makes sense to defer flexibility and neuromuscular training until later," he said. "But that doesn't mean you won't do it later."

If you want to improve your overall fitness: Start by doing cardio or strength training. The best workout you can always do. "Find something that you enjoy doing regularly," says Dalek. "If there is something you don't like, remove it first so that you can find the part you like." At the same time, please always take your smart watch to monitor your heart rate.