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Cardio Before or After Weights? Here’s What Science Says

A combined approach to fitness involving both cardiovascular exercises and weight training has several advantages. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), these forms of exercise provide comprehensive health benefits (2).

When you’re just starting out, integrating cardio and weights into your routine helps build a strong foundation for endurance and strength. Even those who’ve been in the fitness game for a while may want to save time by effectively blending these two methods.

But the lingering question remains: Should you perform cardio before or after lifting weights?  This decision can significantly impact your performance, endurance, and the overall effectiveness of your workout. 

Here’s a science-backed guide to crafting your workout routine for optimized physical performance and recovery.

Is It Better To Run Before or After Lifting Weights?

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), you should perform cardio before lifting weights to optimize your workout’s effectiveness.

ACE sponsored a study by a team of researchers from Western State Colorado University to determine whether or not there is a difference in performance when cardio and weights are done in different order (2).

The study found that when cardio was performed later in the workout, the mean heart rate of participants was high enough to be categorized as vigorous.

There’s nothing wrong with vigorous exercise; however, it has several implications for long term adherence to exercise, muscle recovery and injury prevention.

ACE suggests that performing cardio after strength training may expose you to the following risks:

  • Decreased energy and endurance for lifting weights.
  • Possible injury due to improper form when performing cardio with tired muscles.
  • Slower muscle recovery, which may affect your next workout session.
  • Decreased motivation over time to continue your workout routine if it proves too challenging.


In light of these considerations, the ACE recommends that performing cardio before lifting weights is a better way to optimize your workouts.

Other reasons in support of cardio before strength training are (3):

  • Cardiovascular exercises raise the heart rate and body temperature, which helps prepare the body for physical activity. This can help prevent injuries while performing strength training exercises.
  • Doing cardio beforehand can also improve blood flow and warm up muscles, making them more pliable and less prone to injury during weightlifting.
  • Starting with cardio can help you get into a rhythm and increase your endurance for the rest of your workout. This can lead to better performance and results in the long run.

As far as choice of cardiovascular exercises go, the ACE recommends low-impact activities like walking, cycling or rowing for beginners. These exercises provide a good balance of cardiovascular benefits and muscle activation without putting too much strain on the body.

Running, on the other hand, may be too intense for beginners, if done before weightlifting. However, more experienced runners may find it beneficial to do a light jog or run before lifting weights as a form of dynamic warm-up.

As far as how long to perform cardio before lifting weights, the ACE recommends a warm-up period of at least 5-10 minutes and at most 30 minutes. Keep it short and sweet; the goal is to get your body ready for strength training, not to exhaust yourself before you even start.

Find out how to combine cardio and calisthenics in our cardio calisthenics blog.

Does Cardio After Weights Affect Muscle Growth?

Whether or not performing cardio after weights affects muscle growth depends on the intensity, duration of the cardio, among a few other factors:

Catabolic vs. Anabolic States

Weightlifting puts your body in an anabolic state (muscle-building), while prolonged cardio can shift it into a catabolic state (muscle-breakdown). Balancing these states is crucial for muscle growth (1).

Energy Depletion

Doing cardio after weights may impact muscle growth if it leads to significant energy depletion. After an intense weightlifting session, your body might not have enough energy left for an effective cardio session without tapping into muscle, which could potentially hinder muscle repair and growth (2).

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Intense cardio sessions after weightlifting can increase the need for recovery time, impacting muscle growth if the body doesn’t get enough rest to repair and grow stronger (2).


Adequate protein intake and overall nutrition plays a critical role in muscle recovery and growth. Consuming enough calories and nutrients to support both your cardio and weightlifting activities is vital (5).

Type of Cardio

The impact on muscle growth also depends on the type of cardio. Low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, like walking or light cycling, is less likely to interfere with muscle recovery and growth, compared to high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which may be more taxing on the muscles used during weightlifting (4).

Our low-impact cardio workout blog lists some  low impact cardio workouts you can try.

Individual Goals

For individuals aiming primarily for muscle gain, focusing on weightlifting with minimal cardio is often recommended. Conversely, for those prioritizing endurance or fat loss, incorporating cardio after weights is a strategic approach.

Having cardio after weights can affect muscle growth, but with careful planning around the type and timing of cardio, along with appropriate nutritional support. It’s possible to design a program that allows for both cardiovascular fitness and muscle growth.

  • Timing and Type: Consider the type and timing of cardio; low-intensity cardio might be better suited post-weights, or consider separating sessions (AM/PM) or days for cardio and weights.
  • Nutrition: Be sure to have proper nutrition before and after your workouts to fuel your sessions and aid in recovery and muscle growth.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body responds to combining both exercises in terms of performance, recovery, and progress towards your goals. Adjust accordingly.

Read more: 8 Weight-Loss Tea Options With Science to Support the Pound-Slashing Claims

The Case for a Personalized Approach

While research may offer insight into what’s best, based on the physiological response of the body, the findings aren’t set in stone. We all have different fitness goals, body types, and workout preferences. Ultimately, the best approach for you may depend on a combination of factors including your personal goals, schedule, and comfort level.

Here are the top factors you should consider when deciding whether to do cardio before or after weights:

Your Fitness Goals

Top on the list of considerations should be your end goal. If you’re primarily looking to improve endurance and cardiovascular health, doing cardio before weights makes sense as it allows you to focus on these goals without exhausting yourself beforehand.

On the other hand, if your primary objective is muscle building or strength training, starting with weights may be more effective as it ensures you have enough energy and focus for lifting heavy weights.

We’ve discussed how to incorporate cardio  to your routine for weight loss in our, cardio after weights for fat loss article.


Your Fitness Level

How hard you find different exercises may also play a role in the sequencing of your workout routine. It makes most sense to start with the hardest exercise while your energy levels are still high. For example, if you find cardio more challenging than lifting weights, start with cardio and then move on to weights.

How Much Time You Have

Of course, a large part of creating an effective workout routine is ensuring it fits into your schedule. If you’re short on time, you may  find that a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) approach works best for you. In this case, you can incorporate both cardio and weights in one session by alternating between the two.

Your Comfort Level

Perhaps most importantly, listen to your body and do what feels right for you. If starting with weights makes you feel more confident and energized for your workout, go ahead and switch things up. The most important thing is to find a routine that you enjoy and can stick to in the long run.

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  • Is 20 Minutes of Cardio Enough After Lifting Weights?

For most people, 20-30 minutes is sufficient for a post-workout cardio session. Prolonged, intense cardio after weightlifting may lead to energy depletion and hinder muscle growth, if caloric requirements aren’t met. If you prefer a longer cardio session, consider separating it from your weightlifting routine or doing low-intensity cardio.

  • Should I Do Cardio Or Weights First To Lose Belly Fat?

Nutrition plays a more significant role than exercise in losing belly fat. However, if you’re looking to incorporate both cardio and weights into your routine, starting with cardio may be more effective in burning calories and fat before moving on to strength training. 

That’s because doing cardio first leaves you with more energy for lifting weights. That means you’ll perform both exercises more effectively and, over time, increase muscle mass to help boost metabolism.

That said, the most effective approach for losing belly fat is a combination of consistent exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate rest. With this in mind, focus on creating a sustainable routine that fits your goals and lifestyle.

  • Is It Ok To Do Cardio After Weight Training?

Yes, it is okay to do cardio after weight training. However, the timing and type of cardio may impact muscle growth.  Consider factors such as recovery time, nutrition, and your personal goals when deciding whether to do cardio before or after weights in your workout routine. It’s also important to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed for optimal results. 

  • Is It Ok To Run After Lifting?

Running is a high-intensity exercise that can be taxing on the body, and performing it after lifting weights may affect muscle recovery and growth. However, if you find this sequencing easier, running after lifting weights can be beneficial. 

Just be sure to take into account factors such as nutrition and fatigue before deciding on the timing of your workout session.

  • Is It Better To Do Cardio Before or After Workout?

The American Council on Exercise states that the ideal sequencing for optimal results is to start with cardio and finish with weights (3).

However, as discussed in this article, it ultimately depends on your personal goals, fitness level, and comfort. It’s essential to experiment and find what works best for you while still considering factors such as nutrition and recovery time.

  • Is 10 Minutes Of Cardio After Workouts Ok?

Ten minutes of cardio after a workout can be beneficial for cooling down and promoting blood flow to aid in recovery. However, it may not be enough to replace a dedicated cardio session on its own. Consider adding more time or intensity to your post-workout cardio if you have specific cardiovascular goals. 

The Bottom Line

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether cardio should be done before or after lifting weights, the evidence suggests that starting with cardio may be more beneficial for optimizing workouts and preventing injuries. Cardio is an umbrella term. I would make recommendations instead of these vague claims, like “walking or cycling for 10 to 20 minutes before a workout may be beneficial for injury prevention.

However, cut and dry rules rarely apply in the world of fitness, so it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your routine accordingly. A good balance of both cardio and weight training can lead to a well-rounded and effective workout routine.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Anabolic and catabolic pathways regulating skeletal muscle mass (2011,nih.gov)
  2. ACE Research Study: Sequencing Exercise for Optimum Results (2014,ace.org)
  3. Cardio or Weights First? Cardio Before vs. After Lifting (2017,ace.org)
  4. Does Cardio Burn Muscle? What You Need to Know (2021,lionel.edu)
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