Review and Tips: Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?

Which Comes FIrst Cardio or Weights Book Cover

I remember my early days as a new member in gym that I had no idea where to start to understand about health and fitness. How often and how hard should I running on a treadmill? How many times weekly that I should hit the strength-training section? If I am so busy and have to take some time off the gym, how long does my fitness get back like before I workout regularly?

I find “Which Comes First: Cardio or Weights?” by Alex Hutchinson is an impeccable book that I highly recommend, specifically to people who just commit their journey on wellness. This book is in questions and answers (QnA) form that the readers can easily relate and immediately create strategies on how to build a healthy lifestyle. Hutchinson clarifies the most frequent questions from the uncomplicated ones to myths and hot debates related to health and fitness based on hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles. This book is publish about a decade ago and research in sport science has been progressed since then but I believe this book give us the appropriate basic-intermediate knowledge.

Some statements in this book surprise me, such as stretching is actually not significantly reduce injury risk and has short-term after effect that decrease our performance. There are many more clarifications are well-written supported by scientific explanation that I write down some of them below.

Practical tips


  • Don’t forget to stand up, stretch, and walk away every 30-60 minutes when we are busy working on a desk (explanation).
  • Switch desk chair to exercise ball or even use a standing desk if you can. Be caution for people with lower-back pain when using exercise ball.


  • Exercise as short as 10 minutes improve our health but more is better.
  • It would be good to do at least half an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise five times a week
  • Stretching
    • do it after workouts
    • start with slow jog or bike or swim followed by ten repetitions of each squats, arm windmills, or skipping. Finish specific motions to prepare for our workout. If we are going to lift some weights: lift a few repetitions with a lights load. If you are going to do a tennis match: hit easy ground strokes or run a relax sprints before a hard run.
    • avoid stretching before exercise or competitions (explanation).
  • The first hour or two after workout: eat 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight and 0.3 g of protein per kg of bodyweight. However, if our goal is losing weight, post-workout snack can be skipped and focus on eating protein to prevent overeat few hours later.
  • When we are in holiday or highly busy and think to skip our exercise routine, think again (explanation). Try the best to:
    • work out few times per week or and with shorter workouts; maintain or even increase the intensity
  • Overdoing exercise much more than our limit → weaken our immune system

Cardio or weight first?

  • We cannot have big muscle and improve endurance at once, we have to pick one (explanation). Which one we do first decides the outcome for our body:
    • weight first → bigger power
    • run first → upgrade endurance
    • mix of both and variability → challenges body and metabolism → drop off surface and abdominal fat + gain muscle mass + lose weight


  • Muscle development after training for certain period of time:
    • Strength has been increasing from day one of training
    • After 2 weeks → muscle fibers get bigger.
    • After 2 months → biggest increase in strength.
    • After 3 months training → biggest boost in muscle size.
    • After 6 months → significant sculpting of the body.
  • Progress our workload to keep improving our muscle.
  • The accurate details of what equipment and how to use it don’t matter much.
  • No matter what weight we use, we should struggle to lift it again at the end of the set—no matter how many repetitions you are doing.
  • Reaching failure when we lift the weight is more critical in building muscle than how heavy the weights are or how many repetitions we do.
  • Do 8-12 repetitions of weight that we are able to lift → good results after 3-4 months.
  • If we want to be as lean as cyclist:
    • lift lighter weight in more repetitions with less than ninety seconds between sets
  • Protein intake for muscle building:
    • For serious endurance athletes: 1.1 g/kg body weight daily.
    • For serious strength athletes: 1.3 g/kg body weight daily.
    • An hour after finishing workout (optimal post-workout dose): 20 gram of protein OR 4 medium eggs OR 20 ounces of skim milk OR 3 ounces of cooked beef.
    • Caution: do not take too much protein that you forget your body still needs carbohydrate that are essential to performance in endurance and strength athletes.

Weight management

  • Diet and exercise are important. You cannot pick one and ignore another.
  • Your weight might not change because of workout but the health benefit in cardiovascular and stress relief are much more worth it.
  • Do some exercise harder than longer to maintain weight loss (explanation).
  • Healthy waist circumference:
    • Men: <102 cm
    • Women: <88 cm
  • Eat enough protein to lose weight while gaining or maintain muscle.
    • 2,3 g/kg body weight per day maintain muscle mass better than 1 g/kg/day

Aerobic exercise

  • significant health and performance improvement has shown before we can see them in the mirror as weight loss.
  • Mitochondria is our cellular power plants. More aerobic exercise → the farther and faster you run → our muscle capability to burn fat escalate.
    • After 48 hours of aerobic exercise → muscle will be consuming more glucose than usual → decrease blood-sugar levels.
    • After 6 weeks of regular aerobic exercise → 50-100% mitochondria boost.
    • After some workouts → better insulin sensitivity → controllable blood sugar.


  • More mile in average daily run → reduce glaucoma risk by 8%.
  • Faster 10K time by 1 meter per second → degrade heart attack risk by 50%.
  • Dynamic stretching is recommended instead of static stretching, such as high knees, heel kicks, or walking lunge (explanation).
  • Three basic zones:
    • Easiest/aerobic zone
      • spare 70% of workout in this zone.
      • marker: able to talk in full sentence out loud, not short of breath.
    • Threshold zone
      • spare 20% of workout in this zone.
      • marker: able to speak in short phrases.
    • Hardest/anaerobic zone
      • spare 10% of workout in this zone.
      • marker: only gasp out a work or two at a time.
  • Run in various and mix surface (dirt and gravel, concrete, asphalt, grass, and synthetic track) → body prepared adequately to run on any surface.

High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

  • risky to sedentary and elderly → ask doctor first
  • still have to do cardio and weight training to have healthy heart and muscle


Specific Adaptation to Impose Demands

  • when the body is exposed to stresses and excess of differ intensities → the body will adapt and cope with any kind of demands (back to tips).

AMP kinase

  • called a “master switch”
  • enzyme to control endurance
  • the switch is either to “bigger muscle” or “better endurance”; our body can’t alter from one to another immediately → which one you do first specify the outcome (back to tips).

Exercise vs heart attack?

  • Some people stay away from exercise because they are afraid of heart attack—a highly rare case where autopsies investigation has shown that there are pre-existing heart abnormalities in 94% of cases. Being sedentary and do not having exercise is actually more harmful for our heart.
  • The benefit of exercise is outweigh the risk of heart attack—as much as 50% (back to tips)..

How long does our body back unfit after losing exercise routine?

  • After 2-3 weeks of decreased physical activity → worse insulin sensitivity + reduce body’s ability to burn fat
  • Exercise break vs weight management:
    • Women have to run at least 10 miles a week to start reversing weight gained over exercise breaks
    • Men had to do twice more than women.
  • Endurance training:
    • After 2 weeks without endurance training → we still retain our performance
    • After 4 weeks → back to baseline
    • If you are a newbie in exercise routine: the performance drop-off soon
    • If you are a “gym bro”: structural adaptations to bring oxygen to muscle will endure for few months
  • Strength-training:
    • Taking a break → increase in explosive power for a few weeks as newly strengthened and rested muscles take benefit of elongated tendons. BUT:
      • If you have been trained for 3 months then you take a rest for a month, your muscle will shrunk back to pre-training size (back to tips).

Stretching vs Injuries

  • Muscle injuries most likely happen when we pull our hamstring while sprinting or changing direction or eccentric contractions. Meanwhile, most stretching is static—we hold a position at the very edge of range motion → stretching is not related to a reduction in total injuries.
  • Stretching is based on intuition rather than scientific evidence.
  • However, the lack of evidence that stretching reduce injuries doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work (back to tips).

Stretching vs Performance

  • Mild stretching → damage unprepared muscle fibers
  • Theories behind “temporary-after effect that make you weaker, slower, and less efficient for an hour or more”:
    • stretching → “loosing” muscle → can’t transmit force to the bones effectively
    • individual muscle fibers can’t exert more force
    • disrupting signal of brain-muscle (called neuromuscular effects (back to tips).

Warm up recommendation

  • Five minutes of jogging or swimming or biking → low-intensity, rhythmic activity → elevate heart rate and body temperature
  • Squats, arm windmills, skipping → a few minutes of dynamic drills → muscle under range of motion you’ll be using (back to tips).

Workout when sick?

  • Symptoms above neck (runny nose, sneezing, scratchy throat) → free to do some exercises.
  • Symptoms below the neck (fever, aching muscles, chest cough) → be careful to do some exercises (back to tips).

Healthy while I am fat, is it possible?

  • Weight is not essential as long as we keep our lifestyle healthily (back to tips).

Why is it hard to maintain weight after losing some?

  • Losing weight → muscle become 15% more efficient → muscle burning less calories → harder to maintain the low weight. On the contrary, when we gain some weight → muscle become 25% less efficient → pushing back toward starting weight (back to tips).

Losing weight and gaining or maintaining muscle at once

  • Foods with high protein
    • satiating foods → make us take fewer calories
    • maintain triiodothyronin → fight the proneness of resting metabolism to reduce when we lose weight
    • burn 25% of energy to become the usable form
    • produce leucine → to build more muscle in our body (back to tips).

Sitting too long counteract fitness gains

  • People who are sitting down more than 6 hours per day lose the benefit of exercise, no matter how much exercise they do (back to tips).

Author: Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Publication date: 24 May 2011

Publisher: Mariner Books

Number of pages: 317 pages


  1. Thank you for your articles. They are very helpful to me. May I ask you a question?

  2. Hello administrator, Your posts are always well-structured and logical.

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