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Work it Out: Lifting vs. Cardio

When it comes to your workout, getting on the treadmill versus pumping iron first can seem like a chicken/egg scenario: which comes first? Proponents of both may swear that their favorite exercise of choice is the better way to get your sweat on and see results, but which is the best way to get fit?

According to Mind Body Green, if you are looking to gain strength, going to lift in the weight room first will pay off in dividends. Since you have more energy and glycogen available at the top of your workout, there is a reserve to draw upon when you need to get more reps in. If you are looking to work in a circuit workout after a long run, it might mean you have to lower your reps, lift less weight, or take long breaks in between.

Strength training before cardio also has the added benefit of weight loss as it revs the metabolism while also preserving muscle mass. In turn, muscle helps burn calories more efficiently, which makes it a fat-burning cycle you don’t want to break free from. This aftereffect of a revved metabolism is also known as EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. You can get some EPOC from cardio if you are at 80% of your maximum heart rate, according to Verywell Fit, but generally, the best afterburn reaction is connected to lifting weights.

If shedding pounds is the goal, Fitness Magazine states that lifting before cardio is the way to go. The American Council on Exercise discovered that a study group that completed 24 training sessions burned more calories when lifting before busting a move. Of course, cardio is nothing to shy away from. If you are new to the fitness game, getting physical is key. According to CNN, the National Weight Control Registry states that 90% of weight loss success stories include participants who do an hour of cardio per day, usually by simply walking.

Cardio definitely shouldn’t get a bad reputation, especially for those who are trained runners. Speed freaks, marathoners, and even C25Kers take heed:  if running is the main event for you, then hit the road first. Those who are training to hit their personal best should make that part of the workout the priority. Doing a leg workout with squats or bench presses before a run, whether it be speed intervals or a recovery run, could slow you down and affect your time. It can also cause injury if you are pushing yourself when your muscles are fatigued.

If you are looking for a quick calorie burn, Healthline states that cardio torches more calories per session right off the bat, depending on how much you weigh at the outset. Running for a half-hour versus lifting weights for the same amount of time can burn approximately a hundred to two hundred more calories. However, building muscle via weight training cam keep your fat-burning going when you stop your work out session. That way after your cool-down session, you can keep melting calories while you sit surfing the net or your favorite cable channels.

Even if weight training doesn’t move the needle on the scale, it can improve how you look. That is, it can change your overall body composition as it increases muscle definition and rids your body of fat. While muscle may not show an improvement on the scale, and may even show an increase in pounds, it will make you stronger and give you more tone and definition overall. In a study from the National Institute of Health, a group was divided into three categories: those who just did cardio, a group who did cardio and weight training, and those who only did weight training. The group who had the most success with weight loss were those who did cardio or combined cardio with weight lifting. The group that combined their exercise had the biggest overall body change. So for an overall body overhaul, a combination is your best bet.

Both types of exercise can be equally important and they do complement each other: Strength training improves strength and power and cardio improves endurance and burns fat. Fitness Magazine found that you can get long and lean if you give your attention to both exercises.  According to personal trainer Michael Berg, suggests you need to dedicate yourself to both types of exercise on different days to give your body the ability to recover and respond properly.  Ultimately the best exercise program or routine is the one that you will show up for and have the capacity to stick with, so choose what works best for you.