Strength training or cardio: Which should you do first?

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The most frequent argument in the fitness community is “Cardio or Weight training”: which activity should be prioritised in a plan. Depending on a person’s tastes, fitness level, and goals, the method may change. Let’s discover the fundamentals of each modality in this post, how they contribute to various fitness objectives, and which one should take precedence.

Running, cycling, and swimming are examples of cardiovascular exercises, usually referred to as cardio, that speed up your heart and breathing. On the other hand, weight training entails lifting weights to increase muscular mass and strength. They both offer significant advantages for overall fitness and wellness.

Take a look at the advantages that each type of exercise provides for general health.

Cardiovascular exercises are primarily targeted to improve or aid in:

  • Heart health: Adding cardio exercise to your daily or weekly routine can help reduce the risk of heart diseases by improving parameters such as cardiac output, respiratory rate, lung capacity, VO2max, and stroke volume.
  • Endurance: Making it easier to perform daily activities and strengthening the heart, which improves circulation of blood with oxygen and nutrients.
  • Glucose uptake: Improving insulin sensitivity (Van Der Heijden et al., 2009) and oxidation of fatty acids (Pedersen et al., 2015).
  • Weight loss: Burning calories, which can be helpful for people trying to shed more weight. The recommended exercise intervention for weight loss would be moderately intense aerobic exercise, preferably in combination with strength training (Pedersen et al., 2015).
  • Reducing stress levels, anxiety, and improving overall mental health (Yao, L. et al., 2021).

Weight training has several other benefits, which include:

  • Building muscle mass, which helps with gaining overall strength and also improves physique.
  • Increasing bone density, thus reducing the risk of bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis.
  • Potentially increasing metabolism (RMR) along with an increase in muscle mass, which eventually burns calories throughout the day even at rest. In a study by Alberga et al. (2016), skeletal muscle mass increased by only 0.9 kg (p < 0.001) in the resistance trained group, 0.2 kg in the aerobic trained group (p > 0.05, not significant), and 0.4 kg in the combined group (p < 0.05). However, there is no significant change in RMR.
  • Preventing injuries by strengthening the muscles around the joints and improving overall joint health.

Which one should be given priority?

The answer depends on specific and individual fitness goals. One can prioritize cardio or weight training, or both, with a structured plan. In simple terms, for people who are trying to lose weight, they should understand that losing weight is a byproduct of an overall process of being on a calorie deficit, and they can prioritize the training adaptation they wish to have that will contribute more towards improving their quality of life.

For example, if a person not only wants to lose weight but also wants to look aesthetically well-built, they may opt for weight training as the centerpiece of their training. On the other hand, if a person plays or wants to play recreational sports like badminton, marathon running, or swimming, they can prioritize cardio as a priority in their training plan. In both scenarios, we should not completely ignore the modality not considered a priority.


Cardio and weight training, both, have numerous benefits and should be incorporated into a well-rounded workout routine. The priority of which should be based on individual goals and fitness level. Ideally, a combination of both should be included in a daily workout routine for optimal health.

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