A Call to Order: Which Comes First?

Find out whether it's better to do indoor cycling or strength training first.

It’s not quite as common as the chicken-or-the-egg question but it’s close. How many times have you wondered whether you should do indoor cycling (or another cardio workout) or a strength-training routine first on the days when you double up? Depending on whom you’ve asked, you may have received different opinions and been even more confused. Finally, there’s a bit of clarity on the subject.

In a new study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, researchers from Western State Colorado University put 24 healthy, active men and women through various patterns of cardio, strength-training, flexibility, and neuromotor exercises (aimed to boost speed, agility, and balance)—with the order of the exercises varying from one workout to another—over a series of 24 sessions.

The results were unequivocal: For optimal results, the researchers found that the best order is to do cardiorespiratory exercise first, followed by a resistance-training component, then flexibility/stretching exercises and neuromotor moves.

Doing the cardio segment first made it easier for people to keep their heart rates in the target zones. Personally, I've noticed that when people participate in an indoor cycling class after doing a weight workout, they seem to get fatigued more quickly. The ACE-sponsored study found that doing the resistance-training exercises second increased ratings of perceived exertion only slightly, not enough to make a difference.

The Take-Home Message

Even though the findings of the study were crystal-clear, it’s important to personalize the decision on this matter so that it suits your needs. For the sake of your health and overall fitness, include both forms of training in your exercise life.

And even if you’re a dedicated cyclist who’s not interested in building muscle strength per se, doing heavy strength training in addition to endurance cycling training can boost the performance of endurance cyclists by 7 percent and improve pedaling efficiency, according to a 2012 study from Denmark.

Depending on your personal goals, here are some general guidelines for how to achieve a proper sense of order:

If your primary form of exercise is cardio: If you do indoor cycling and/or other forms of cardio exercise four or five times per week and you also do light intensity resistance-training on two of those days, your best bet is to lift weights after your cardio workout. A 2015 study from Finland found that when women did cardio exercise before strength training, it helped them optimize their cardiorespiratory fitness at submaximal power outputs. Rest assured: You should still have plenty of energy left for weights and you’ll be able to maximize your cardio workout safely.

If your goal is mainly to build muscle mass and strength: Your best bet is to do a brief cardio warm-up then to do your strength-training workout before cycling or another full-blown cardio workout. A 2015 study from Brazil found that when exercisers lifted weights after running or cycling, they did fewer weight-lifting reps than if they started with their strength-training regimen.


If you like to mix it up: If you can’t stand the idea of sticking with a set routine and prefer variety, feel free to alternate which days you do cardio first on and which you do strength training on. Or consider breaking up your workouts into two separate sessions on a given day.

What’s most important is that you find a routine that suits your preferences and works for you! Save the flexibility exercises for after your cardio and strength-training workouts when your muscles will be warm and pliable. That's when they get the most benefit from stretching.

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