As a trainer, this question has been asked to me a dozen times. I thought this was a very informative answer for those of you who have wondered the same.
Ready to run after those reps?
If you’re keeping score in the debate over which part of your workout comes first, a new study seems to add a point in the column for cardio.
About 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise before hitting the weights results in a bigger boost to your testosterone levels than doing the same workout in reverse order, according to results published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
This study doesn’t end the debate, though. For one thing, an increase in testosterone isn’t the only after-effect of a workout. Aerobic exercise also releases a flood of enzymes that can actually block strength training’s muscle-building effects, the researchers caution.
And though you might think the more testosterone, the better, research on whether this initial hormonal surge leads to more strength gains later on isn’t conclusive, trainer Marc Perry, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., founder of BuiltLean, tells MensHealth.com.
Perry typically recommends that if you can’t do weights and cardio in separate sessions, do weights first for the greatest gains in strength, power, and muscle mass. That’s especially true, he says, if:
- Your cardio of choice is something other than cycling, which is what study participants did. Running, swimming, or rowing may cause more fatigue that compromises your lifting form.
- You push your cardio past a moderate effort—for instance, by doing interval workouts. You’ll be too spent to lift if you do them first.
- You’re doing complex moves—such as Olympic lifts—or using heavy weights. If you hit the treadmill first, you may be too tired to execute them correctly.
But, Perry notes, there are a few cases in which cardio can come first. For instance, if:
- You like it better—it’ll help you stick to your plan. “If someone hates doing weights before cardio, it doesn’t matter if they’re going to get slightly better results, because they’re not going to do it,” Perry says.
- You’re not as young as you used to be. “For older individuals who need a proper warmup, doing a good 10 to 20 minutes of aerobic activity before strength training can be sensible,” Perry says.
- Your main goal is to increase endurance. It’s best to stick with your primary goal first, so you stay focused and don’t skip it