Should you do cardiovascular exercise before weights or is it the other way around?
Since I was a junior in college, I heard this question uttered in casual conversation among friends, professors and athletes alike. Back then, few people could agree which order delivered better results. Today, technology and research have finally given way to an answer.
And the answer is, well, complex – what are your goals?
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, compared integrated training, serial training and single mode training.
The study was conducted on female participants and found that integrating cardiovascular training with strength training produced the greatest gains in muscle, upper and lower body strength, lower body endurance, reduced fat mass and reduced body fat percentage. The subjects performed a 20-minute aerobic warm-up, followed by resistance training while maintaining a high heart rate by running between sets and finishing with a cool down.
The other group performed serial training – a five-minute aerobic warm-up followed by resistance training at a low heart rate, including rest periods between sets, then 30 minutes of aerobic activity and a cool down. This group achieved increases in lower and upper body strength and lean body mass – results preferable to training in single mode. (Single mode is strength training on one day and cardiovascular training on another day.)
According to Men’s Health magazine online, men may have an alternative perception. The magazine cited another research article, also published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that suggested that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise before strength training delivers an increase in testosterone compared to the activities completed in the reverse order. However, according to the same research, aerobic exercise performed before strength training results in the release of a large number of enzymes that block the muscle-building effects of weight training.
Personally, I firmly believe in integrated training, but it can be tough to schedule. Integrated training has consistently left me in the best shape of my life, however it takes a great deal of time. I used to spend two to three hours at the gym, three to four days per week and long runs on the weekend. If you have the time, this is a workout plan that delivers.
But, if your schedule is quite busy, like most Americans, fit in what you can. Go for a little cardio and then hit the weights, so your heart rate is up for most of your weight training to increase fat burn and strength. If you find that you are sacrificing form due to fatigue, go back to the routine that suits your schedule and needs best. It doesn’t matter what the research says, if your workout doesn’t serve you and your lifestyle best, it won’t be effective at all. Remember, physical fitness and healthy weight management are not a one-size-fits-all process.