Does order of exercise matter?
If you are like a typical gym-goer you probably work out three times per week. If you are a woman, you probably head straight for the treadmill or the elliptic machine.
After spending a major portion of your workout time there, you do some resistance training. If you are a man, you head straight for the weight machines to be followed by some cardio training.
These gender based choices arise because women and men have different exercise goals in mind. Men generally want to look buff; women, on the other hand, generally want to look slim and they fear looking too buff.
Of course, not everyone fits into these neat categories, but anyone who visits the gym regularly cannot fail to notice this natural division of the sexes that takes place.
But are these gender based choices of the order of exercise the best? First of all, women’s fear of developing huge muscles is irrational. Women’s bodies naturally have a higher body fat percentage. For most women, building muscles is an arduous enterprise. You have the most energy for the task you do first; so if you do weightlifting after a lengthy cardio workout, you are not going to have sufficient energy left to do weightlifting with the intensity required to build strong muscles.
There is another important point. Strong lean muscles raise your resting metabolic rate. So although you might expend less energy during your exercise session, you could actually burn more overall calories by doing weight training first. For that reason, doing strength training first makes more sense for most women.
On the other hand, not a few gym going men are too preoccupied with building massive muscles. Their cardio fitness is often lacking so that simply running around the block leaves them gasping. If you are exercising for health, cardiovascular fitness is just as important. And aerobic exercise is very effective way to strengthen your heart and lungs.
To sum up: The exercise you do first is determined by which part of your fitness needs the most improvement. That way, you bring the most energy and apply the highest intensity and focus to that activity. If that leaves you too depleted to perform the second activity with sufficient intensity, consider increasing your workout sessions from, say, three to four per week. Alternate between cardio and strength training with two sessions per week of each.