If you do cardio and weight training on the same day, which do you perform first? Do you do a brisk cardio workout before settling down to the weights or do you grab a pair of weights and start pumping out reps? Hopefully, you warm up before doing either!
Is there a “best” way to order these exercises? There are arguments for and against doing cardio or resistance training first and no definite consensus about which is better. One consideration is what your main fitness priority is. Are you more focused on building muscle strength and size? In that case, you might strength train first to optimize your performance during the session that matters most. If you do cardio first, you’ll fatigue your lower body muscles before you begin strength training. This can impact your performance on exercises such as deadlifts, lunges, and squats.
But, if your primary objective is to increase your aerobic capacity or endurance, you might prioritize cardio and do it first. Here’s another perspective If you’re trying to lose weight, you might weight train first to deplete your muscle’s glycogen stores. Glycogen depletion forces your body to burn more fat during the cardio portion. So, there isn’t a right or wrong answer, it depends on your goals and objectives.
The Afterburn: Burn More Calories Afterward
Here’s another question. How does each approach affect the afterburn you get after a workout? As you might know, afterburn is another name for EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. It’s the additional calories you burn after a workout is over. This is the extra energy your body expends after the sweating and hard lifting are over and you’ve recovered. The afterburn usually peaks an hour or two after a workout and gradually declines over hours to days. It can be as short as 10 hours or as long as 72 hours.
When you do a demanding workout that forces your body to tap into anaerobic energy pathways, like high-intensity interval training and high-resistance strength training, the afterburn is greater than when you do a steady-state, moderate-intensity workout like a moderate jog. With a low or moderate-intensity workout, you can comfortably maintain a steady pace without overheating or gasping for air. As a result, your body recovers faster and doesn’t burn as much energy getting back to baseline.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Intense workouts place more stress on your body. Your body has to cool down, your breathing has to return to normal, your body temperature has to drop, ATP in the muscle must be replenished, and lactic acid that builds up in your muscles has to be sent to the liver to be processed. It all takes energy! So, your body burns calories at a higher rate afterward and the afterburn is greater. Although the afterburn effect isn’t enormous, it’s an additional calorie burn.
Exercise Sequence and the Afterburn
Does the order in which you do a workout impact the extent of the afterburn? A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at this issue. In the study, they asked participants to complete two versions of the same workout. The workout included 25 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on a treadmill followed by a session of resistance training. One group completed the cardio workout first followed by the resistance session. The second group reversed the sequence and did resistance training first. They also included two additional groups. One was resistance training only and the other cardio only.
The result? The afterburn was greater when the subjects’ resistance trained AFTER cardio. According to this study, it is the resistance portion of training that determines the afterburn, not the cardio component. Of course, this may vary depending upon the intensity of the resistance workout. You’re unlikely to get a major afterburn if you lift light weights and do high reps. The two primary determiners of afterburn, regardless of the type of workout, is intensity and duration. Of the two, the intensity is more important.
On the other hand, if you do a high-intensity interval workout or other forms of vigorous exercise, cardio can create a significant afterburn too. In one study, published in Sports Medicine, researchers found that for cardio workouts there is a minimal threshold intensity for achieving a significant afterburn and it’s around 80% of maximum heart rate. You’ll have a longer afterburn if you boost the intensity to this level or beyond. Remember, you need to max out your aerobic energy pathways and force your body to use anaerobic pathways to maximize the afterburn.
At least based on this study, the order in which you do cardio and resistance training does have an effect on the degree of afterburn you get afterward. To maximize the afterburn, resistance train after doing cardio.
What about a Circuit Workout?
Doing a workout circuit-style may also help you get a greater afterburn. In one study, female participants either ran on a treadmill or did a circuit training workout. They performed both workouts at the same intensity. The circuit workout, despite the similarity in intensity, led to a greater afterburn 30 minutes after the workout, relative to the treadmill training. This was based on increased oxygen uptake during the first 30 minutes after the workouts.
What’s the Big Deal about the Afterburn?
At one time, fitness trainers placed lots of emphasis on the afterburn based on the idea that the additional calorie burn can help you get leaner. But more recent research suggests the afterburn isn’t as substantial as we might hope. The additional calories corresponding to the afterburn in one study was only 69 additional calories. It’s not the hundreds of calories that some sources cite. However, the additional calorie burn adds up over time. Plus, exercise that elicits a stronger afterburn is more intense exercise and that has benefits that moderate-intensity exercise doesn’t.
The Bottom Line
The afterburn effect is small, but, over time, it adds up. If you do cardio and strength on the same day, which you do first should depend on your goals. But you may get more of an afterburn if you do cardio first and resistance training afterward.
· On Fitness. September/October 2018. “Cardio or Weights First?”
· Sports Med. 2003; 33(14): 1037-1060.
· Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005; 94(5-6): 500-4.
· J Sports Sci. 2006 Dec;24(12):1247-64.
· European Journal of Applied Physiology, 114 (9), 1809-20.
Related Articles By Cathe:
Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs: