Cardio first? Strength training first? It doesn’t matter.


(Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s your big day at the gym, the one when you have time to do some weight-lifting and some cardio. But which one first?

Here’s some good news: it doesn’t matter, at least not to your overall fitness.

In a study published this week in the journal “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” Finnish researchers determined that there was no difference in overall fitness after 24 weeks, regardless of which order you choose. Two groups of men achieved the same, significant increases in aerobic capacity and lean muscle mass whether they hit the stationary bike or the leg press first in their twice to thrice weekly workouts.

“These results indicate that loading order does not seem to affect training adaptations of healthy, moderately active young men,” the researchers in the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyvaskyla wrote.

Given how often this question is asked, there is surprisingly little research on it, Moritz Schumann, a doctoral candidate who led the study, said in an e-mail. It’s not entirely clear why, Schumann said, though there has been more thorough study of alternating days of strength training and cardio.

“We can be confident…that when performing a relatively moderate training volume and frequency (2-3 combined cycling and resistance training sessions of 90-120 [minutes] each), the training order is up to personal preference,” Schumann wrote. “…Whether our results can be ultimately applied to athletes with a longer training history, often training a much greater training volume, remains to be investigated.”

Within each training session, of course, gym users may find some impact from the exercise order they choose. A good cardio workout — especially if running on a treadmill is preferred over a stationary bike — could affect leg muscle strength. And a hard lower body resistance session could have an effect on that day’s cardio efforts. But the end result after 24 weeks  should be the same.

The men in the study showed no overall loss of body fat or lipids in their blood despite aerobic workouts that grew progressively longer, from 30 to 50 minutes over the course of the study. Those workouts simply may not have been long enough to trim body fat, Schumann said.

He also cautioned that sufficient rest is needed between sessions that involve both cardio and resistance training to ensure that gains are made.

There are a couple of other good fitness tips in Thursday’s Post. Check these out:

Lenny Bernstein writes the To Your Health blog. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.
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Lenny Bernstein | March 19