I don’t normally make it a point to respond to every misguided piece of training information on the web. If I did, people would just think I hate everything, everywhere. Not to mention that I could fill up 25 hours a day doing that. That’s no fun. But for some reason, if I read something from a major publication that I disagree with, or find misleading, and then find a bunch of popular people praising its inifinite training wisdom, it sticks with me. And when that happens, I have to respond…

Yesterday, Outside Magazine posted a question from a reader, which was then answered by their Fitness Coach, Q: Does the Order of My Workouts Matter?

Based on a study he links to in the article, he determines that it is better to do your cardio workout before lifting weights. There’s a caveat that he appears to be missing. Or maybe we’re just interpreting the reader’s question differently. But either way, he is basing his conclusion (and that of the study he refers to) on a set of assumptions that may or may not be accurate. In my world, that kind of throws out his, and the study’s, conclusion, regardless of results.


The study suggests that a short, moderate cardio session lasting 20-30 minutes and then lifting weights increases the positive hormonal responses of testosterone (test.) and human groth hormone (HGH) while stunting the production of cortisol.

This is true. But. Are increased blood markers indicative of increased performance?

The way I see it

My interpretation of the reader’s question is that they wanted a cardio “workout” and a weight training “workout” in the same session. Maybe I’m too “hardcore” as a former gym rat and a current Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (AthleteCreator.com), but to me, a “workout” should be strenusous enough to leave you feeling somewhat exhausted.

In that regard, a short, moderate 20 min. jog is NOT a cardio “workout”. And if you’re really going to chase increased hormonal responses (which may be in vain anyways, more on that in a bit), ANY short, moderate warm-up will induce the same responses prior to your strength training session. Furthermore, a specific warm-up is better than a general warm-up.

What it really comes down to, is your specific goals for that particular session. The contradiction they make is that in their final paragraph, they primarily say that exact thing: do the thing that matters most, first.

Do you want to get the most out of your strength training, or do you want to get the most out of your cardio session?

Physiologically speaking, there are roughly 3 energy systems utilized by the human body: phosphagen, glycolitic, and oxidative (aerobic). Strength training relies heavily (almost solely) on the first two. “Cardio”, if doing steady-state, utilizes all three.

If the emphasis is on strength training, doing an actual cardio “workout” would exhaust your phosphagen and glycolitic systems before you ever touch a barbell, decreasing your ability to strength train at your optimal levels for that day. Kind of defeats the purpose if your goal is to strength train, right?

However, if your emphasis is actually cardio, go for it and lift whatever you can afterwards….though it will probably hurt your recovery more than it will elicit any actual, real strength gains. Thereby, netting you a negative gain. Kind of defeats the purpose of buidling muscle, right?

This should lead you to believe that the order of your workout matters, just as the Fitness Coach states. However, I want to clarify that with the CORRECT order:

Specific warm-up for primary emphasis > Primary emphasis > Secondary emphasis > food and recovery

But what about the hormonez??

There is no wildly accepted theory that exercise induced hormone response is actually beneficial in any way.

Yes, that is a link to an online forum. It shows perfectly the differing opinions. Even MORE surprisingly, is that it is civil and EXTREMELY scholarly for an online forum. I can say that the information the people discuss is accurate to all of the research I have done on my own.

Yes, our body will respond positively to exercise, but is that response enough to elicit muscle growth or speed up recovery a noticeable amount? Not in my opinion. The amount of test. and HGH needed for that type of response is much, much, much greater than what the human body can produce naturally…..which is why steroids and synthetic HGH exist on the black market.

In the end, I don’t think the Outside article is wrong, just highly misleading. When a publication with that much readership makes a swooping statement like “if you want to do cardio and strength training in the same session, you should always do cardio first”, there’s going to be a lot of people struggling to meet their goals and have no idea why since they listened to the expert.

As a human performance junky and knowledgeable trainer, I just can’t stand to see people doing things backwards and NOT achieving their goals. I hope this helps!

Don’t Miss Your Chance

I was stuck in Corporate America for 9 years. I was miserable.

Then I took control.

You can too, and it starts right here.