#35: Weight Lifting and Cardio...Which One First?

#35: Weight Lifting and Cardio...Which One First?

Our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully made...designed to adapt and change to any demand placed on them. This is the principle of Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands, also known as the SAID principle. Meaning, any physical demand we place on our bodies, our bodies will change to become more efficient.

Want to run faster? Start sprinting.

Want to be strong? Start picking-up heavy things and putting them down.

If we want to be a good endurance athlete, we will spend much of our exercising or training time doing “cardio” or “aerobic” activities like running, cycling, and rowing. Knowing this style of training will result in positive cardiorespiratory adaptations that will make it easier to run, cycle, or row longer distances at faster speeds.

If we want to be a good strength athlete, we will spend much of our exercising or training time lifting heavy things. Knowing, that when we lift heavy things repeatedly, our nervous system will fire faster and our muscles will hypertrophy (get bigger). This will result in our muscle’s ability to produce greater force resulting in a bigger and stronger body.

But what if we’re trying to take care of our heart and have what some like to call “good cardio” but also be strong?

Then we have to do both endurance training and strength training. We call this concurrent training. We’re doing strength and endurance training concurrently with one another. But, if we want to maximize our physiological adaptations to this style of training, meaning we want to make sure we’re improving our endurance and strength to the utmost capacity, then we have to be careful how we order these exercise modalities in our training session.

Most of Us Do Concurrent Training Already

What exactly is concurrent training? As somewhat alluded to earlier, concurrent training is doing both endurance/cardio and strength training in the same exercise session or within a few hours of one another. This is a style of training that is very common for many who want to make sure they are in overall good general health.

It’s very common to see someone hop-on a treadmill or bike when they get to the gym for 20-30 minutes and then go lift some weights and have everything done all in an hour. Or, those that do High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT), we will notice that an hour long class consists of a strength movement followed by a metcon. Both have the same concept in mind of training both strength and endurance.

But, before we get too much into the details of concurrent training and all the benefits it has to offer, we have to make a couple things clear.

If we’re really looking to improve our endurance performance, then most of our training should consist of aerobic exercise/cardio. So, lots of running, cycling, rowing, etc. with some lifting weights thrown in there. We can mix-up our weekly aerobic training with various styles such as long slow distance training, high-intensity interval training, or Fartlek training.

On the flip side, if we’re really looking to get stronger, then endurance training should be minimal...if at all. To improve strength we have to create adaptations at the neuromuscular level. Meaning, we want to improve the frequency, firing rate, and synchronicity of our motor units to stimulate more muscle fibers to contract as well as increase the size of our muscles. A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. So, we should be lifting heavy weights, focusing on improving strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Going back to the SAID principle, we will see the greatest physiological adaptations and improvements occur when our training is specific. So, if we want the GREATEST improvements in our endurance performance, we will do more endurance training than resistance training or lifting weights. If we want the GREATEST improvements in strength, then we will do more lifting weights and minimal endurance training.

But most of us want the best of both worlds. That’s where concurrent training comes in. But we need to be strategic as to how we order our aerobic and resistance training in a single workout session to make sure we are maximizing the benefits of our training.

Which One First, The Cardio or the Strength?

Most of us work out for about an hour when we go to the gym. We walk-in, maybe do some stretching, and then hop on a treadmill or bike or another piece of cardio equipment and spend the first half of our workout doing some endurance training/cardio. Then we wrap-up with lifting some weights and then we jet back out to our busy lives.

It’s nice working-out like this because then we’re all nice and warm and we feel ready to start lifting weights. Now, this isn’t bad...but it may also not be the best. In all reality though, if people are just exercising (forget about the order) that’s great! Because in our society right now there’s about 80% of people who don’t.

We have to ask ourselves, what are our goals? Do we want to improve our endurance or strength performance? Answering these questions determines whether cardio or strength comes first.

If you’ve answered these questions and said that you want to improve your endurance performance the most, then you will want to start your workout session with endurance training and wrap-up with lifting some weights. Adding weights is essential as we’ve seen that doing concurrent training in this order, as opposed to just endurance training, significantly improves time trial performance and aerobic capacity!

However, if you’ve answered those questions and responded that you want to improve strength the most, then you will want to start your workout session by lifting heavy things and wrapping-up with some cardio. Again, if we want to get the maximal benefits of strength training, we won’t be doing much aerobic/cardio training. However, we still see very similar improvements in strength and motor unit activity when doing strength plus endurance training when compared to just strength training. And the perk on top of that is that aerobic capacity may improve up to 20% still.

If we are aiming to improve our overall human performance, concurrent training is a must! Now, our goals will determine the order of our training. Either way, concurrent training is a great way to maximize both strength and endurance performance.

How to Use PowerDot to Maximize Performance

Your PowerDot is an essential component to maximize your performance from concurrent training.

Before we start any type of exercise we want to make sure we do a warm-up. Now a warm-up is not static stretching (touching the toes and counting to ten). By static stretching, we may actually be hindering our performance during a workout as the goal of the warm-up is to heat up the body.

When muscles contract, they produce heat. Adding PowerDot to your warm-up can help to enhance your standard or dynamic warm-up… and we take the guesswork out of it for you! As part of the PowerDot family, you get direct access to our scientifically designed warm-up protocol so your body is primed for optimal performance.

By being properly warmed-up, our body system is now ready to perform at the highest capacity. But after the warm-up, it’s not time to take off your PowerDot. Keep it on for your strength training. Adding PowerDot to your strength training enhances the benefits of your strength training more so than if you were to train without it.

Improving strength is also essential for improving endurance performance. Improving strength increases time to exhaustion and improves running economy and power. PowerDot also has the potential to aid in improving functional aerobic performance related to ventilation threshold and aerobic capacity which are key physiological indicators of endurance performance. A greater ventilation threshold and aerobic capacity, the better endurance athlete someone is or will be. By utilizing the PowerDot endurance protocol, you may delay the onset of fatigue during workouts and in competition, enhancing your endurance performance.

You have nothing to lose and only everything to gain by utilizing PowerDot for your training and becoming the best functioning version of you possible.



Joshua D. Dexheimer, PhD, CSCS, USAW, PES

Ready to take the next step? Explore more below