Colin: Well as always your goals play a huge role in the answer to this question. It also depends if we are talking which weight training exercises to do in order or cardio before or after weights if you are going to do both back to back. For both answers my opinion has changed significantly since researching and writing about exercise-induced hormones. Since hormonal responses to training have not been shown not to make a difference in muscle-protein synthesis or hypertrophy I would say it doesn’t make a big difference. That said, if you want to be stronger during a certain lift, certainly doing it early in your workout is going to give you more energy and allow you to be stronger for it. This is why I prefer compound lifts first and isolation moves last, but what’s wrong with pre-exhausting sometimes and doing the big lifts last when your muscles are already broken down? I think both ways will bring results.

When it comes to cardio or weights first, once again I’d say it depends which you want to be better at. If building strength is your goal, it would make sense to do weights first. If you are training for a run, having the energy for your run would make more sense and I’d do that first.

Dara: Similar to Colin, my opinion on this has changed recently as I have done more research. As usual, this depends on your goals and there are still multiple ways to achieve a similar goal. Based on what I have read recently, the hormonal adaptations to a bout of exercise are specific to the type of exercise performed, ie. weight training or cardio. So, when you are finished your workout, whatever you finished with is what you will have a more prolonged hormonal response from. So if you are trying to lose weight or increase endurance, then finish with cardio. If you are trying to build strength or muscle, finish with weights. Some might say that doing cardio before your strength training will exhaust you too much so you can’t perform your lifts as well, but if you are truly training properly to build strength and muscle then you shouldn’t be doing exhaustive cardio anyways. For those who want both, I advise splitting your workouts up. I always do this when I’m prepping for a show to maximize the hormonal response to each type of exercise.

Matt: I don’t think it makes any difference at all what order you train in. Doing isolation work before doing heavy compound lifts has the advantage of pre exhausting certain muscles and forcing them to work that much harder during the heavy lifting. Focusing on the heavy lifts first offers the advantage of using more pounds and receiving a better overall physical response to the heavy weight.

As far as hormones are concerned, the theory has always been to do the heavy lifting first and then the isolation work later in order to maximize hormonal output. Thanks to a lot of research lately from Colin, I’m going to have to say that you cannot manipulate your hormones through diet or exercises and expect to receive any overall gain. The science says that it is your overall hormone levels that matter, not the ones that surround the training itself.

In addition, I personally would always suggest doing cardio or HIIT at the end of weight training. You likely are already in a fat burning ‘zone’ (not a fan of that word) and this is prime time to add to that physiological response (fat utilization) to exercise with some sprints or even steady state. When used moderately during muscle-building phases steady state cardio offers the benefit of lesser fat storage due to the caloric surplus that accompanies any form of mass building phase.

Dara: I want to clarify my answer, in that I’m not talking about the order of strength exercises like large muscle groups first for hormone manipulation or anything like that. Like Matt said, there are advantages to working both ways for mass and strength gains. I’m talking about endurance gains and fat loss versus mass and strength gains. Different physiological adaptations take place within our bodies during a weight training session versus a cardio session. If you are looking to maximize those adaptations for a specific goal, like endurance for a marathon, then you should do that form of training last (or later in the day or on a different day altogether) so as to benefit from the physiological adaptations as long as possible after a single workout, rather than cancelling it out with changing your type of workout (again, purely talking cardio vs. weights). That being said, for the majority of people, they want a mixture of strength, mass, fat loss and cardio benefits, so mixing it up and sometimes doing weights first and sometimes doing it after would be best for these people. For those working towards a specific goal, do the goal specific workout last, or ideally on its own.

Matt: I back what Dara is saying, in that if there is something goal specific then make that a focused workout of its own. If it’s a combination of many goals, then there is no real benefit to the order that the exercises are performed in. I think you clarified that for all of us Dara. Well said.

Colin: Indeed I agree that keeping them separate is the best way to go. After Dara’s response, I feel like I need to dig further into whether it’s better to do what you are training for before or after. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever done both together but would like to look at some research just to know!

Dara: I’ve been trying to find the article that I read, haven’t found it yet, but I did find another one saying the same thing. For your reading pleasure…

Colin: If we are looking at hormones after training like from this study (not discounting it because these are longer term and not only during or immediately after) based on this information it almost seems to me like cardio before weights would be the way to go regardless of your goals if you are going to do either back to back. Which is interesting because most of the time you hear it the other way around. It shows testosterone much lower for 48 hours doing weights before cardio than it does with doing cardio before weights. It also shows higher elevated levels of cortisol for 24 hours when doing weights before cardio. Regardless of goals, we want our testosterone levels high and cortisol levels low. Of course that’s all assuming I’m reading all the data right. On the flip side if you use up a lot of your glycogen stores doing one, you won’t have much push for the other. This is why I still would lean on doing whichever you have a greater focus on first, and the other one last if you are going to do both together. As mentioned though, I’d highly recommend they be split up.

Dara: I think you are reading it right Colin. It seems that doing cardio after weights “interrupts” testosterone release and thus it’s lower 48 hours later. It also could be something to do with having depleted glycogen stores from weight training first and then doing cardio to burn fat on essentially an “empty tank” which causes the elevated cortisol. That is simply me reading into the data. Again, I think this data supports splitting your workouts.

Matt: Really interesting information. It makes me rethink my answer.

Round 1: The best fat loss method

Round 2: Fasted vs fed cardio for fat loss

Round 3: Fat loss and muscle-building supplements

Round 4: Nutrient timing/meal frequency for fat loss/muscle-building

Round 5: The best 3 exercises

Round 6: The ideal training program

Round 7: How much protein for fat loss

Round 8: The last 10 pounds

Round 9: The ultimate training split

Round 10: Do carbs or fats make you fat?

Round 11: Is it better to lose fat or build muscle first?

Round 12: Low reps or high reps for maximum muscle mass?

Round 13: Muscle-building strategy: bulk-up or lean gain?

Round 14: Is training to failure necessary to build muscle mass?

Round 15: Are cheat meals good or bad?

Round 16: The fastest way to get six pack abs?

Happy Lifting!

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