Which Should You Do First: Cardio or Weight Training?

Coach Sapna on November 05, 2016

The answer lies in asking yourself what your goals are. If fat loss is the main goal, or if you are looking towards cardiovascular fitness and hypertrophy as your preferred methods to get into shape, this article is for you.


A question that gets thrown around a lot in fitness circles is what to do first – cardio vs weight training? This seems to be a concern that many gym goers share. The answer is ultimately dependent upon the goals that you define for yourself. Are you on the lookout for ways in which you can improve your cardiovascular fitness? Are you preparing yourself for a sporting event or for a run? Or, are you planning to gain more strength? Either way, the most probably answer might be that you are looking to lose fat and are searching for an answer as to which exercise would be the best way to start your journey toward low belly or body fat.

Cardiovascular Fitness and Training (Sporting Event or Running)

If you are planning to improve your running time, cardio is the way to go. However, it is necessary to include weights in your training regime as well, as it helps in weight loss, reduces the risk of injury while running and also strengthens the muscles. At the same time, in this case, improving your cardiovascular strength is the main focus.

How to train for sporting event

Make sure that you include either Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) every week for the purpose of improving your running time and ability.

You can then choose to include 2 or 3 weight training sessions in your training session. These sessions can be based on building up the explosive power in your legs so as to give you that much needed push at the start.

The three best weight exercises for running are:

  • The High Bench Step Up
  • One Leg Squat
  • One Leg Hops

These exercises have been specifically chosen owing to the fact that they increase stride length and power. You can also choose to add Walking Lunges, Romanian Deadlifts, and Glute Ham Raises amongst other exercises to improve upon running technique. Pair these exercises with barbell squats and deadlifts and you are well on your way to conquering running speed, agility and power.

At the same time, make sure you do not forget to pay enough attention to the upper body. If you are planning to prepare yourself for running, make sure that you develop a strong middle and lower back along with proper development of your core muscles (Obliques and Abdominals in particular).

You might also need to work on losing weight for the race day. The more weight you carry into the race, the more difficult it becomes to unleash your full potential on the track. For this purpose, you would want to keep a calorie deficit when your training starts while also making sure that the intensity of the training program is kept high enough to avoid any fat build up along with systematic fat obliteration.

Training For Strength & Hypertrophy

If your main focus is to build muscle strength and size (hypertrophy), then you should turn towards weights as compared to cardio. In fact, you even have the option of completely chucking cardio out of the window, unless of course you want to include core strength training into this strength regime of yours.

In order to build muscle strength, you need to eat properly and also create a calorie surplus, which essentially involves finding a way to increase the rate of calorie consumption over calorie burn. This will allow the extra fuel you accumulate to be directed towards muscle build up. Make sure you increase your protein intake as well.

How to train for hypertrophy

During your training regime, make sure you put more emphasis on compound exercises such as bench presses, pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts. This will allow you to focus on getting the maximum bang for your buck. If you are looking to increase muscle tone and strength, but also want to ensure that fat build up is kept to as low a limit as possible, you can also choose to add some cardio sessions towards the end of your fitness regime. This can be in the form of a 20 minute session of HIIT.

Training for Fat Loss

While training for fat loss, it is a matter of personal preference as to whether you would like to focus on cardio or weight training first. However, as per my recommendation, weight training would be the logical choice as far as this question pertains.

Weight training allows you to build up a larger mass of lean muscle, which then serves as the ideal engine for burning through calories. After one weight training session, your metabolism rate can be maximized for a period of over 36 hours from the end of the workout session.

Another benefit that makes weight training a better choice as compared to cardio training is that it allows you to exercise more control over sculpting or shaping your body. Cardio training, on the other hand, is more akin to losing weight, even though it is not always restricted to this aspect as it often involves a combination of muscle and fat. However, focusing on cardio majorly in the first part of your fitness regime will basically just leave you with a smaller version of your current.

When it comes to diet, the most important direction to take is to define a calorie-deficit so that you have the chance to burn excess fat. However, it is also crucial to ensure that you are consuming enough calories so as to provide the needed fuel for muscle build up. A slow taper of calorie intake is one of the best ways to ensure that you get the most out of both cardio and weight training.


Did you know that there are differences in the way in which cardio and weight training can contribute towards fat loss and toning?

How to train for fat loss

Training regimes in this case would be more or less similar to those that you will be resorting to during weight or strength training. However, they are bound to be a bit lighter as compared to when you are planning to resort to high calorie intake. Another characteristic of this type of training regime would be increased number of compound movements with higher rep range (8-12 rather than 6-8).

From the perspective of cardio though, you can choose to dedicate one session solely to running, which would involve LISS for a period of 30-40 minutes. You can also choose to add about 10 to 20 minutes of HIIT towards the end of the weight training sessions. Or better yet, just inculcate both into your session.

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Coach Sapna

PGDM from Kirloskar Institute Of Advanced Management Studies | PGDHRM from Symbiosis | Graduation in Microbiology (Hons) from Delhi University Marketing enthusiast by profession, with the love for interacting with consumers to understand their psychology towards any brand/product. Through my articles, I intend to help all those who are looking for inspiration and happiness in life.