Exercise order: strength or cardio first?

Many people wonder about exercise order.Strength or cardio first? Which part of fitness training, cardio or strength training, should be performed first. Both alternatives have advantages and disadvantages so it is hard to give a clear answer but the advantages and disadvantages of each method are outlined below.

Cardiovascular exercise before resistance exercise:

-Warming up for the muscles

-More energy available for cardiovascular exercise, for example people can run faster and longer.

Resistance exercise before cardiovascular exercise:

-More energy available for effective resistance exercise

-Better coördination of movemens because all muscles have plenty of energy

Both exercise orders have their respective advantages, and cause disadvantages in the second training form, since training intensity is generally lower because not all energy is available after the first part of the training. The important question is if this always is a disadvantage.

It is true that when muscles are tired, intermuscular coördination is less efficient. In other words, the muscles coöperate less efficiently. In resistance training this is especially detrimental for exercises which target multiple muscle groups. Fatigue causes synergistic muscles (muscles assisting or stabilising a movement) to lose force and therefore the exercise can not be performed at the intensity to really train the muscle involved with the exercise. Ans since the larger Type IIa and Type IIx muscle fibers are only active at only the higher resistances, optimal training is prevented by already exhausting the muscle by cardiovascular exercise. Moreover, when there is little energy available for a muscle, it is hard to activate it sufficiently to train it optimally. In other words, fatigue before starting resistance exercise, prevents an effecitve workout.

On the other hand, performing a resistance workout before cardiovascular training reduces exercise capacity as well, so it generally is a bad idea to perform a squat exercise before running a marathon. Exercise speed or power suffers as a result from resistance exercise so it should be avoided when exercise performance in endurance events is important. However should it also be avoided when cardiovascular training is not aimed at improving running or cycling performance, but aimed at losing fat, improve VO2max and/or health in general? Most of these beneficial effects of cardiovascular exercise do not depend on how fast someone is running, but on energy depletion of the muscle. When energy is running low, different metabolic systems are stimulated to work more efficiently, heart and lungs have to work sooner and harder when the muscle does not have energy in its’ own energy stores but depends on blood supply for energy. In other words, exhausting the muscles beforehand sooner causes energy depletion in the muscles and other systems
and therefore better training results and adaptations in the involved systems.

In conclusion, the more a muscle can be activated during resistance exercise, the larger the training effects. Reaching these effects while performing cardiovascular training beforehand generally results in less effective resistance workouts. Secondly, resistance exercise before cardiovascular exercise fatigues the muscles beforehand which results in a shorter exercise duration with the same health related effects, because the muscles are exhausted sooner. Finally, when training for endurance events, proper technique at the intensity one aims to exercise at during the event is paramount, so exhausting the muscles beforehand is not advised. When only health related effects are important, resistance exercise is best performed before cardiovascular training.


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