It's the million-dollar fitness question: Cardio before strength training or vice versa? And where do flexibility training and neuromotor exercise—which focus on skill-related components of fitness such as balance, speed, and agility—fit into your workout equation? The American Council on Exercise (ACE®) enlisted the help of the research team at Western State Colorado University to get to the bottom of how to sequence your workout sessions to maximize results.
Researchers crunched the numbers of people who did different workouts, each of which was sequenced in a different way, and found that if you want more bang for your workout buck, it's best to perform cardio before resistance training, with flexibility and neuromotor exercises coming in behind at third and fourth (whichever order you prefer). Why does cardio come in at No. 1? The researchers think that focusing on it first allows you to perform at your desired intensity while lessening your chances of unknowingly training at too high of an intensity, which could in turn increase your risk of injury.
Performing resistance training exercises second was found to maximize the effectiveness while not leaving participants feeling as though they had to put forth a great deal of effort in order to complete the exercises. From a physiological standpoint. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course. The results of the study do offer valuable science-based insight into the importance of proper structuring and sequencing of workouts, notes Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. “The order determined by this research stems from purely physiological findings, and it’s essential to know, for example, how sequencing affects cardiorespiratory performance and can account for that effect in the workout design.”
Assistant professor and researcher at Western State Colorado University Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., notes that while structure of your workout is important, at the end of the day, your personal preferences and fitness goals should always be taken into account when structuring your own personal approach to exercise while also keeping the science on how to maximize physiological responses to training in mind.