Ask a Trainer: Is It Better to Do Cardio or Strength Training First?

Nike master trainer Holly Rilinger clears the air about this fitness head scratcher.

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When you *finally* find the motivation to get your sweat on, you want to get the most bang for your workout buck.

As soon as you step foot into the gym rocking your best fitness fashions, however, you find yourself at a fork in the road: Wait, should you do strength training or cardio first?

When it comes to the benefits of doing strength training or cardio first, the evidence is mixed. Some research shows that cardio first is better, because doing resistance training first may increase a person’s sense of exercise effort, which may make your workout motivation dwindle more quickly.  

Conversely, other studies have shown that doing strength training first is better because it depletes the body’s carbohydrates stores, which means it may burn slightly more fat for fuel.

We asked Holly Rilinger, a Nike master trainer, for her take.

“The truth is there’s no one-see-fits-all formula, and honestly it just depends on your goals,” says Rilinger. That means:

  • If your main goal is better exercise endurance (i.e., shorter times or better performance when running, competing in races, etc.) or lose weight, then it may be best for you to do cardio first. Here’s why cardio is the best exercise for weight loss.
  • If your main goal is to build strength, then you may want to start with strength training.
  • If you don’t have a specific goal that leans either way, Rilinger suggests doing the one you enjoy the most first.

“The reason for this is you’re going to have the most energy and focus at the beginning of your workout, and it’s going to be the stronger part of your workout,” says Rilinger.

Another tip: You don’t have to do both cardio and strength training on the same day. “In fact, if you’re working out multiple days a week, I think that you should put all your energy and strength and focus into one or the other,” says Riligner.

In the grand scheme of things, as long as you’re working your body, it’s a good thing. “At the end of the day, it’s important that you just move,” she says.