Cardio Before Or After Weights – Which Is Better?

Our time-crunched worlds mean we sometimes have to schedule cardio and strength workouts too close to each other... here's how.

By Keira X Carter |

Yes, cycling requires endurance, but to push those pedals with max efficiency and power, it also requires strength. That’s why combining weightlifting and riding is so important—even if deciding whether you should do cardio before or after weights can seem confusing.

“In the simplest terms, gaining strength means becoming better at applying force to an object, and cycling is about applying force to the bike pedals,” says Brian Hammond, USA Cycling certified coach, as well as head coach and lead bike fitter at TruFit Solutions. Becoming better at applying force also means you train your brain to recruit necessary muscle fibres to ride harder, faster, and longer, he adds.

Now, to figure out exactly how to incorporate weightlifting into an already-packed riding schedule can seem complicated, the basics are simple. To best optimise the timing of your lifting and cycling workouts, and whether you should do cardio before or after weights, or on separate days, you need to take a good look at your priorities and where you are in your training cycle. Here’s your easy guide to putting strength training and riding seamlessly together.

Do cardio and weight training on different days if you can

Whenever possible, Hammond says to strength train and ride on different days. “You want to start each workout recovered, so you have the best chance of meeting the challenges for that session,” he says. Do a heavy lower-body session before you ride, and your legs will be tanked for the miles; but ride first, and you’ll probably be drained for your lifting workout.

Of course, splitting up your lifting and your cardio workouts might not be possible if you can’t work out every day, in which case, you need to consider your priorities. “If you’re like most people balancing training with work, life, and family—and need to do both workouts on a given day—then it depends which workout is more important [for your goals],” Hammond says.

Yes, both cardio and lifting are important, but which one is more important given your goals? If you have a race coming up, then cycling should be your number-one priority. “But if it’s the off-season, and you’re more focused on gaining strength, then weight training takes preference over cycling,” Hammond says.

Alternatively, if you have a very easy ride on the agenda, spin easy and do your strength training workout after (more on that below).

Lift weights first and more often during the off-season

That brings us to the off-season—which is typically during the winter for most people—when your strength sessions are more important. “I’m not as concerned about my athletes’ cycling workouts during the off-season, so it’s fine if their legs are a bit sore or tired going into their ride,” Hammond says.

The goal is more about building strength to sustain you through your cycling season and maintaining your cardio without going crazy. “During the off-season, cycling workouts are more about technique and low-intensity rides,” Hammond adds.

As for what to include in those strength workouts, Hammond likes compound lower-body movements (involving multiple joints) such as squats, deadlifts, step-ups, leg press, and lunges, plus core work. “It’s important to work on stabilizing your core muscles [via moves like planks] so your lower-body has a solid base,” he says.

Do cardio first when you have an upcoming race

“When cycling workouts are your priority, your other workouts need to support your cycling gains,” Hammond says. That means—you guessed it—you should do your cardio before weights if they’re happening on the same day.

Plus, at this point, you’re just maintaining the strength you already built during your off-season, so your lifting workouts don’t need to be super intense, and you can add them to the end of your cardio workouts pretty easily. “Strength workouts no longer need to be so stressful that they’re breaking down the muscle,” Hammond says.

Lift once or twice a week during your racing or peak season, Hammond suggests. “Lift in the 10-rep range, heavy enough to feel like work but not so heavy you will be sore the next day,” he explains.

The bottom line on combining cardio and weights

“The key is to make sure that your secondary workout doesn’t negatively affect your priority workout,” Hammond says. So even though it’s best to do your cardio and strength training on different days, do the more important workout (or the workout that supports your main goal) first if you do need to combine them.

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