Should you do cardio before or after lifting weights at the gym?

When you walk into the gym, chances are you tend to gravitate to the same section first every time. Maybe it’s the cardio machines: sweating out on the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike is your kind of stress relief. Or maybe you prefer the weight part, which makes you feel strong and confident.

Both cardio and strength training are important, but if you really want to maximize your workout — while also protecting yourself from injury — any type of exercise matters. Surprised? Keep reading to find out how to structure your workouts straight from expert trainers.

Why are weights and cardio important?

If you’re a seasoned runner and dismiss weightlifting as brittle or, conversely, if cardio is your kryptonite, trainers offer a hard truth: Both are important. “Strength training is important for a number of reasons: It makes you stronger, which helps support your daily activities, whether you’re an office worker, student, busy parent, or casual or serious athlete,” says fitness trainer Donna Walker, NASM.

Wendy Batts, NASM-CPT, CNC, an adjunct professor of exercise science at the California University of Pennsylvania says strength training is linked to living longer. Scientific studies have shown that strength training can reduce the risk of premature death by 10 to 17 percent.

As for cardio, that too has been linked to longevity. According to scientific studies, regularly performing cardio-based activities can add four to eight years to your life. “Cardio is important for heart and lung health. It lowers your blood pressure, helps with your sleep and strengthens your immune system,” Walker says. If you’re trying to lose weight the healthy way, she says cardio plays an important role and it doesn’t have to be super intense either. “Walking is great cardio,” she says. “Do something you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, skating, hula hooping, or a team sport.” In addition to these benefits, cardio has also been linked to improving mental health and boosting mood.

Related: 25 Cardio Exercises You Can Do At Home

Should you lift weights and do cardio on the same day?

Some people do both strength training and cardio on the same day. Others split it up and spend certain days of the week lifting weights and cardio other days. What’s the best way to deal with it? Both trainers say it depends on a person’s individual goals and schedule, including how much time they can spend exercising. However, Batts says if you have the option, she recommends doing them on different days. “There is some evidence that performing cardio exercises that are too close to strength training — before or after — can disrupt the body’s responses and processes involved in developing strength and muscle,” she says. In other words, giving yourself time to recover from strength training is important.

As for how much strength training and cardio you should do each week, Walker recommends 30 minutes of cardio three to five times a week and 25 minutes of strength training two to five times a week. “More is not always more. It’s important to listen to your body and allow yourself plenty of rest and recovery,” she adds.

Related: What You Need To Know About Functional Strength Training, The Type Of Exercise That Makes Life 10 Times Easier

Should you do weight lifting or cardio first?

If lifting weights and doing cardio on the same day works best for your schedule, Batts says you should decide what to do based on what your training goals are: Whatever it is, do that first, because then you have more energy. “For example, someone training for an upcoming half marathon would do their running training first, followed by strength training [because their primary fitness goal is to build endurance],” she says. Lifting weights requires energy, so if you do strength training first, you may not be able to run that far later.

On the other hand, if your goal is strength training, lift weights first. “You maintain better form and have more energy to potentially lift more loads or [do more reps]versus using muscles that are slightly fatigued to do the same,” Walker says. It’s a valid point: If you’re completely exhausted from a 30-minute run on the treadmill, your form is more likely to suffer if you gently going through a dumbbell routine, which also helps to avoid injury.

Related: 12 Trainers Share Their Favorite Workouts Or Weight Loss — And Yes, Walking Counts!

Both trainers say there are also many types of exercises that combine cardio with strength training so that one can do both at the same time. Walker says F45 (where she’s a coach), YogaSculpt at Core Power Yoga, and Les Mills BodyAttack (another place she teaches) are three fitness classes that structure their classes with this in mind. Batts says you can also create your own cardio strength training combos through circuit training, alternating these different workouts one after the other with minimal rest in between.

Rather than getting too caught up in what to do first, the most important thing is to make an effort to move your body — that’s what really counts. However you structure your workouts, your body will benefit and it can add years to your life too.

Next, check out a whopping 75 ways to get a full-body workout at home.


  • Wendy Batts, MS, LMT, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CNC, personal trainer and adjunct professor of exercise science at California University of Pennsylvania

  • Donna Walker, NASM, fitness instructor, F45 coach, Les Mills teacher

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