There is plenty of advice regarding how to approach a healthier lifestyle in glossy and sports magazines. However, amongst all this advice, one of the most common questions that I get as a Personal Trainer very often remains unanswered. The question is: What should I do first, cardio or weights? And does it actually matter?
The short answer to this question is: it depends. It depends what your goals and objectives are: What are you training towards? Do you want to gain muscle? Do you want to run a marathon? Do you want to lose body fat? Or is your aim to have a good general fitness that allows you to run for the bus and play with the kids? Could it be all of the above?
The fact is that you can’t be a bodybuilder and a marathon runner at the same time. Doing cardiovascular workouts only will prevent you from putting on serious muscle mass just as heavy weightlifting will hinder you in achieving your endurance goals. From my experience as a Personal Trainer I know that most of my clients are looking for a good mix of both cardiovascular fitness and increased strength. So, if good aerobic fitness and nicely toned muscles are what you are aiming for, my advice is to mix up your training. Do a weight session one day and do your aerobic workout the next day (or the other way around). You can also combine both weight and cardio training in a one session. However, if you need to integrate both types of training into one session then start with whichever activity matters most to you. The reason for this that the body cannot instantly switch from one setting – for example, “muscle growth” – to another, “endurance” for example. Let me explain why that is without getting too technical. On a cellular level an enzyme called AMP Kinase controls the body’s adaptation for endurance. However, researchers have discovered that the same enzyme also controls (in part) the body’s muscle growth. It is the way you start your exercise programme that regulates in which way your body is set for the session. As a result our the bodies aren’t able to change the setting from one to another (“muscle growth to endurance” or “endurance to muscle growth”). Therefore, if your aim is to pump iron and develop lean muscle mass then start with weights. On the other hand, if you are training for a long run, start with the cardio workouts first and do the weights towards the end.
Most of my clients are looking for a combination of both types of workouts. So, vary your training within the same session, as well as from day to day. This constant variety in workouts not only will make training more fun, it will also challenge your body and metabolism.