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Cardio or Weights: Which to Do First?

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When it comes to fitness our natural instinct is to think more is better. “The more cardio I do, the more fat I’ll lose. The more weight training I do, the more lean muscle I’ll add.” This is simply not the case and that’s a great thing if you look at it through the right lens.

We’ve discussed the importance of quick, to-the-point cardio bouts in the article on HIIT so we already know that sprint-like cardio burns more fat than its Steady State counterpart. Even with that knowledge, the common question is when to add cardio into a routine.

Cardio or WeightsThe answer: After. Your cardio routine should always, always be done after your weight training workout and the reasoning is as follows.

Our bodies have a very finite amount of stored energy at any given moment. The primary source of energy are our glycogen stores. The amount of stores built up depends on the amount of rest we get, water we consume and food we eat. The goal with cardio and weight training is to utilize these energy stores to burn as much fat as possible.

Fact: A great cardio workout will burn fat for about 3 hours whereas a great weight training session can burn fat for up to 3 days. With that being said, where do you recommend we spend our energy to train as efficiently as possible? You’ve got it! Weight training burns fat while actually training, stimulates muscle growth and additional fat burn by the release of key hormones and with proper rest, leads to new lean muscle growth. The more lean muscle we have, the higher our resting metabolic rate and the more efficiently we burn fat.

It is very important to understand that less is more here. A lot of clients we see want to go through a weight training session and then a whole cardio session. Again, it’s natural to think the more you do, the more you’ll burn. Once we’ve burned through the initial reserves of energy, the body will turn to burning muscle tissue for additional fuel. Less muscle leads to a slower metabolic rate.

The ideal program for most people looking to burn as much fat as possible is simple and is as follows:

  1. Weight train for 40-45 minutes as intensely as possible.
  2. Cardio for 10 -15 minutes maximum after the weight training session

Fire away with questions. Add this in to your CUT Method today and take another step toward the leaner, meaner you in less time.

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About John Schaefer

John is a professional personal trainer with a degree in Exercise Science from Florida State University. He has trained and counseled hundreds of people over the last 15 years in fitness and nutrition. Founder of Cut Method, John specializes in changing the way people view fitness and nutrition as a whole to create rapid and lasting results both mentally and physically.


  1. After weight training, I’ve been doing (moderate!) speed intervals on the treadmill to build up my endurance (I get gassed pretty easily doing basic cardio). Is that the right type of cardio after strength training? I’m loving all your info, it makes so much sense.

    • You got it! Make sure to keep it short and sweet. On a day like that, weight train for about 45 minutes and do sprint intervals for no more than 10 minutes. Keep us posted on your progress!

  2. I’m usually winging it in terms of how to combine strength and intervals, how much is too much etc. Thanks for setting me straight.

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