Faster Fat Loss: Cardio Before Weights or Weights Before Cardio?

Find out the latest news on which works best for fat loss: is it cardio before weights, or weights before cardio?

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #261

Now, let’s look at the latest study: The effect of concurrent training order on hormonal responses and body composition in obese men. In this study, thirty obese young male students were randomly divided into three groups: weights before cardio, cardio before weights, and a control group who didn’t exercise. Training was conducted three times a week for eight weeks, and consisted of running at 70–75% of maximal heart rate for ten minutes, which gradually increased over the course of the study to 80% for 21.5 minutes. The weight training consisted of three sets of eight repetitions at 80% of one repetition maximum using five different exercises: leg extensions, lying leg curl, triceps pushdown, bench press, and lateral pull down. Five minutes recovery duration was set between weights and cardio. The researchers measured serum leptin (a marker of appetite and fat burning regulation), testosterone, cortisol, and body fat.

The results showed that there were no significant differences for testosterone. Cortisol significantly increased with training (no surprises there). There were significant decreases in leptin and testosterone:cortisol ratio after eight weeks training intervention in both experimental groups, both signs of an enhanced fitness response. Both training groups also had a significant decrease in body fat, however, the “weights before cardio” group came off slightly better in every single tested study outcome, including the fat loss.

What the research tells us so far is that, for women seeking fat loss and just getting started in an exercise program, weights before cardio or cardio before weights doesn't really matter. And in men, it matters slightly in the favor of weights before cardio.

Which Workout Burns the Most Fat?

Weight training requires a great amount of attention paid to proper biomechanics and form...

So how about if you’re an experienced exerciser, and not an “inactive college female subject” or “young obese male student”? In that case, I’d still recommend weight training first. Why?

First, weight training requires a great amount of attention paid to proper biomechanics and form—so if you lift improperly because you’re all tuckered out from that treadmill jaunt prior to your weight training, you’ll have an increased risk of injury.

Second, weight training can actually count as cardio! I discussed this in Does Weight Training Count As Cardio?, in which you found out that if the weight training is of adequate intensity, and is performed in a controlled way that places stress on the muscles (e.g., your heart rate goes up and your muscles are burning), then you get a very similar cardiovascular response and cardiovascular benefit to cardio training.

Finally, if you have time to spare, you can also do cardio. As I describe in Fat Loss: Cardio vs. Weights?, a combination of cardio and weights is ideal for fat loss because you receive the calorie burning benefits of cardio combined with the metabolic and lean muscle-boosting benefits of weight training.

Of course, one important consideration here is the option of mixing strength and cardio together throughout the entire workout, which is what I personally do for most of my workouts. If you can still maintain good form during your weight training exercises, this option involves doing brief bursts of cardio in between each weight training set, making for a very effective time-saving and metabolism-boosting strategy. This is ultimately an extremely effective and prove fat loss method, and I talk about this approach in What Is the Best Workout for Fat Loss?

If you have more questions or comments about cardio before weights or weights before cardio, then head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy and join the conversation there.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.