Fitness Reality Check: Cardio or Strength First?


This debate on whether to do cardio or strength training first has come up a lot recently and even clients have asked me what they should do first.

As if reading their minds, ACE recently put out an article which addressed this very issue. While giving scientific studies on the issue and a handy little chart, I couldn’t help but come away with my own answer to this question after reading this article.

Who cares?!

In a society where we have shown time and again that most people lead a sedentary lifestyle thanks to technology and the workplace, where if you sit like a good little employee you are commended for appearances of productivity. If you walk around for any reason, you’re not getting your job done.

In a society where P.E. has been ripped from the school programs in favor of forcing kids and adolescents to sit more and not exercise out their bottled up energy which I believe not only is contributing to the obesity in kids but also frustrating teachers who are dealing with the effects this has on their students.

As a personal trainer who works with a variety of clients at a variety of levels, I’m just happy to hear my clients tell me they exercised on their own during the week and not just for our session together. In 99% of my clients’  workouts, I infuse cardio with strength training. Where’s that combination in the chart? Honestly, my job at the end of the day is to get people to MOVE.

For the sake of trying to prove the point that exercise is important, I feel the fitness professional community has become a little too complicated and reached a little too far with all these scientific studies. Sure, a fitness professional like myself may want to have this information at my disposal so that I can better design my clients’ programs and provide evidence-based and informed answers to clients. But at the end of the day, when I have clients asking me because they’re afraid they’re not doing their workout in the right order, I have to say it plainly.

It just doesn’t matter.

Understanding that most exercise, especially running, is psychological, a large part of my job is being a psychologist at times. I have to help my clients navigate through tough times when working out is at the end of the to-do list, either because of work schedules, family time, and heavy marathon training schedules. I have to get to the bottom mental line at figuring out how I can help them stay motivated and motivate themselves. Some days I feel like a therapist, priest, bartender and trainer/coach!

I work with real people out there not Olympic athletes. And while I do feel that this information may be valid and valuable, it throws out common sense. Haven’t we confused enough people already? First, eggs were bad for you. Now, they are the perfect food and contain all the nutrients we need. Before, nuts symbolized fat and if you ate one you may as well expect to gain a lot of weight. Now, they are a great snack and source of good fats so long as you don’t have too many. Practicing moderation in consumption is not science. It is common sense.

So, let’s get to the bottom line. I don’t care what my clients do in what order so long as they are doing something to move their bodies and get their heart rate up and keep it up for at least 30 minutes, even if it’s 10 minutes at a time. Got 10? Run around the block a few times or get a mile in. Not all my clients have a solid hour in a day to exercise, and neither do I some days.

Sometimes, workouts are broken up into segments and as long as we’re getting 30 minutes to an hour in each day, there are health benefits. What we should be doing is encouraging movement with a combination of strength, cardio and flexibility.

I certainly don’t want to discourage people by thinking if they are trying to lose weight but they do cardio first that they won’t lose a pound so then they give up or don’t even try. I can assure you that all my clients who began initially working with me and needed to lose weight lost weight because they started to move their bodies and burn calories, regardless of the order of workout.

I also don’t want to break the bad news to my running clients training for their next marathon that they’re going to bomb in their race if they’re not running before they do weights.

So, let’s be real. Whether you run first and do weights later or vice versa, do what you can when you can as long as you are doing something.

Let’s encourage people to just get started, shall we?

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