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Use A Treadmill Before Or After Weights?

People running on treadmills
Shutterstock.com

By Simon Gould

This is the ultimate question for anyone who starts exercising in a serious way. Most Governments and the World Health Organization recommend adults do 150 minutes of cardio and 2 strength days per week. 150 minutes equates to 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. With this kind of schedule you're going to get days where weights and cardio overlap. So which do you do first?

What the science says

The US National Library of Medicine & Institutes of Health have a few published scientific papers regarding this very question. One paper specifically looked at strength training prior to endurance exercise. They concluded that there was no significant difference in total energy used which ever one you do first.

The same paper said that what ever exercise you do first, will have an impact on the second if done on the same day. So weights first will have an effect on the amount of endurance exercise you can do after. The paper is an intense but fascinating read and cites many other research papers. It's the most thorough I've read on this issue, here it is: Source.

Male doing a back row
Back row, Catalin Petolea/Shutterstock.com

My experience

I love running and understand that strength exercises help my running by working the core and leg muscles. It also gives me a nice body shape as I do the upper body. When ever I've gone for a run after doing strength training, I can't do as much. I will often schedule an easy run day if I am doing strength training on that day also.

If I've done strength work on my legs, then there's no point in doing a run. I find my legs have fatigued enough without doing a run on the same day. Almost all cardio involves the legs, so an elliptical, bike or rowing machine is out of the question. And like the above research paper says, upper body strength routines still affect my ability to get a good run but not as much.

Anecdotal evidence

So I've gone through the most authoritative research paper on the subject, and my own experience. Now to look at what other people think. The Ripped Dude is an expert in the field at BodyBuilding.com and gives a few reasons why strength training is best done first. He says that glycogen stores are better used for the intense strength work, so then fat can be burned on the treadmill.

Male doing a leg extension on a machine
Leg extension, antoniodiaz/Shutterstock.com

The American Council on Exercise have an article but they have mixed views on which to do first. If you look at the bottom of their page you see they propose different aims and which you should do first. They agree with my strength leg day to avoid cardio. It's an interesting read after going through the science paper. They do lean on strength training first.

Summary

It makes sense to me that you do the most intense exercise first. Endurance is hard but the intensity of a strength day needs your energy and focus first. The scientific paper agrees your endurance exercise is not going to be your best by a long shot. The recommended amount of exercise and type adults should get is an enormous amount so some will be done on the same day.

If you're serious about training and have your schedule planned out for each week, I have the miles I will run each day planned well in advance. I think you will probably find what's best for you and find a happy medium. I will continue to follow the idea of weights before cardio on days they overlap, as that seems the best thing to do for me.

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Meet The Author

Simon Gould

I'm Simon Gould. I've been around treadmills my whole life. From running on them at an early age to working in treadmill dept's of national stores. I've run outside and I've run on treadmills and I prefer running on treadmills. I still run on one nearly every day and love it.



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