My gym is really crowded this time of year and I often have to wait for a free cardio machine. Is it OK if I do my strength training (usually a weight machine circuit) while I wait? I've heard it's better to begin with cardio first but that isn't always possible.

ask the trainer, jim beatty

A lot of people want to know the answer to this question, and may be surprised by the answer. But once the information is presented it makes perfect sense. The ideal way to train would be to spend 5-10 minutes in a whole-body warm-up first. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you do to warm-up, just use your whole body and be sure to start to break a little sweat.


A good warm-up is important too as your body functions better when warm. Then because of the way your body uses stored energy, it’s best to strength train next. Due to the nature of strength training, short bouts of high intensity, your body can only use sugar as fuel. It can use sugar in the blood stream, as well as sugar stored in your muscles and liver. After you’re finished with your strength training it’s best to then perform your cardiovascular exercise, as this can use sugar and fat as fuel. If there's less sugar to use for fuel, your body is more likely to use stored fat to fuel your aerobic activity, especially if the intensity is correct. The ideal intensity is to work around 65-75% of your maximum, and intersperse short bursts (10-15 seconds) of 90-95% intensity. Plus, because you’re strength training first, when you’re fresh, your training will be better and the results better.


As far as your weight machine circuit, while it’s better than no strength training at all, machine training is often not the best option. It just doesn’t make sense to break the body up into its different parts when it performs as a unit in the real world. For optimal results, both how you look and how you function, I encourage you to learn how to use your own bodyweight in exercises as well as some dumbbells and kettlebells to challenge your body in other ways. Often times, there’s no waiting for free weights like this either. If you’re not sure how to do this effectively and efficiently it would pay to ask a professional.