What should be done first: Aerobics or Weights

From a reader:
"While working out at my gym, I overheard one of the fitness trainers telling a client that doing aerobics should always be the first activity, and that weight training should only be done after aerobics. He went on to say that if you do weights first, then follow it up with aerobics, all the jumping around in aerobics will just negate the benefits of the resistance training you did earlier.

Is that true? Is there indeed a sequence in which these exercises (resistance training and aerobics) should be done in order to maximize the benefits? This is my concern because, due to time constraints, I try to work around the scheduled aerobics classes. Hence, should my desired aerobics class be a little later in the morning, I do weights first. I would really like to know the facts on this, lest I be wasting both my time and energy doing things the wrong way."

Depends on fitness goals.
The sequence of activity, whether aerobics or weights first, depends on your fitness goals. This is an example of a fitness principle called "specificity of training". This principle states that the body adapts specifically to whatever kind of training you give it. Therefore, the method of training needs to match the desired goals. Otherwise, you will not fully achieve the results you want.

If you want larger muscles.
If your primary goal is increasing muscle mass (getting larger muscles), then lifting weights should come first so that most of your energy is concentrated on lifting. Someone who desires larger muscles should spend more time lifting weights and less time doing aerobic type activity. This doesn't mean that aerobics (walking, running, etc.) is not important because it is necessary to keep the cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, blood vessels) healthy. The individual just needs to keep the aerobic duration to the minimum (fifteen to twenty minutes excluding warm-up time) required to achieve a healthy heart. If aerobics is kept to a minimum, then it can be done first because not too much energy will be used. In fact, it can serve as some sort of an extended warm-up.

If you want defined muscles.
If your goal is to tone and define rather than build your muscles, you can lift weights either before or after your aerobics because you won't be lifting weights that are that heavy. This is assuming that your aerobics session is of moderate intensity. If it is a high intensity super "killer" of a class, then it might be wiser to lift your weights before the class because you may not have the energy to finish the desired number of repetitions that you need to define those muscles.

If you want aerobic stamina.
If your primary goal is to develop aerobic stamina (for example, you are training for an aerobic marathon), then aerobics should come first.

If you want to burn calories.
If your primary goal is to burn as many calories as you can in a single session, do your aerobics first, and then your weights after.

If you have mixed goals.
If your goals are divided between muscular toning / definition and aerobic stamina / calorie burning, then it really doesn't make much of a difference whether you do your weights first or your aerobics first. If you want to get the most from both types of workouts, you may also find it effective to do aerobics on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and lift weights on Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday.

Body rhythms.
Now, this doesn't mean that your body does not prefer an "ideal" sequence. Each of us has a particular body rhythm and energy flow. Some people feel they perform better if they do aerobics first and then weights after, while others prefer it the other way around because they just feel better doing it that way. Personally, I prefer to do my weights after my aerobics even if I have to lift heavy weights for my upper body.

Work around your schedule.
Since lack of time is the number one reason why people are not successful in sticking to their exercise program, the most important thing is that you are able to squeeze exercise into your daily schedule regardless of whether you do weights first or aerobics first.

From a reader:
"I was wondering if I would be able to lose weight by just lifting weights without doing aerobic exercises."

Yes, it is possible to lose weight by just lifting weights without doing aerobic exercises because you also use up calories when you lift weights. In addition, a heavier muscle mass means you burn more calories throughout the day because muscles are metabolically active or "calorie hungry".

However, adding aerobic activity to your exercise program will help you achieve your weight loss goals faster. Aerobic exercise (walking, running, aerobic classes, etc) usually burns more calories per exercise session than lifting weights. I say "usually" because I am assuming that we are comparing moderate intensity aerobic exercise with moderate intensity weight lifting. This assumption would not be true if we compared low intensity aerobic exercise with high intensity weight lifting (doing many exercises per body part with very heavy weights).

From a reader:
"I was thinking of going to a gym but a friend of mine advised me to lose weight first. I don't feel comfortable with people looking at me in the gym (I'm fat) and I'm worried about the physical effects of gym exercises on me." If you can find a good reputable gym that has a safe weight lifting program for previously sedentary individuals, I would highly recommend that you join it. Weight lifting, done properly, safely, and progressively will help you lose weight by increasing your muscle mass. Muscles are the most metabolically active part of your body. In other words, they gobble up the most number of calories. Part of the reason why people put on weight as they age is that their muscles atrophy from lack of resistance type exercises. Weight lifting will also help to tone, shape and strengthen your muscles including the muscles around your middle section.

I encourage you not to pay too much attention to the other people you will encounter in the gym. Most of the time, they are only looking at themselves. There is a misconception that gyms are filled only with people who have "beautiful" and super-fit bodies. Yes, there are some individuals with unusually attractive or unusually fit bodies but the majority of gym participants, including the instructors, are just normal people with normal bodies - each having their own physical assets and limitations.

Obviously all exercise programs for weight loss should be accompanied by a change in eating habits. Analyze what you eat on an every day basis. Ask yourself what you can limit, substitute or eliminate altogether. For example, limit yourself to three soft drinks a day instead of five. Substitute fruits for cake for dessert. Eliminate all fried food. Try to lessen the amount you eat by one-fourth or one-third so won't feel deprived and can continue with this new habit for life.

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