Last updated on September 19th, 2022 at 03:27 pm
It’s the age-old question that we all want an answer to, “Should I Do Cardio or Abs First?”
You know as well as me that in order to produce a great set of abs you’ll need to get your body fat percentage quite low.
So, this typically means that you’ll train certain compound exercises, cardio, and abs.
With that being said, it’s usually best to separate your weight training days from your cardio and abs days.
However, for the best results, should you be training cardio or abs first?
Allow me to reveal the ideal order of exercises to produce the best results.
Should I Do Cardio or Abs First?
It is generally better to train your abs first. Pretty much every exercise you do, whether it’s cardio or weights, will have some ab and core involvement. Therefore, your abs could in effect be fatigued by the time you come to train them, which may mean that you don’t train abs with the right intensity. You could also turn an abs session into cardio by performing circuits or focusing on particular cardio-intense ab exercises.
1. Train Your Abs First
Personally, I’ve converted to a “train abs first” kinda person.
For me, I found that whenever I trained abs last, I wouldn’t perform the exercises with as much intensity.
Furthermore, as the end of my workout approached I would often cut my abs session short.
Basically, training my abs had become an afterthought.
However, since I’ve changed things up I’ve seen some great results, not only in terms of my abs, but also my cardiovascular fitness.
I often think that many of us, much the same as the previous me, typically train abs as an afterthought.
You complete your main workout and then throw in some sit ups and crunches at the end.
And then you wonder why you don’t have got a ripped and chiselled six-pack.
Realistically, if you don’t put in the effort to train abs then you can’t expect glorious results.
I truly believe that you should train abs with the same intensity as any other muscle group.
Let’s face facts, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if it was between cardio and bench pressing.
You know as well as me that you’d bench press with full intensity first and then turn to cardio.
So, why treat another extremely important muscle group any differently?
For me, perform your warm-up first and then get straight into training your abs and core.
Ensure that you focus on proper form and completing every single rep with the required intensity.
Much the same as any other muscle group, you’ll achieve the best results when your abs are completely fresh.
Plus, as ab and core training isn’t particularly demanding on the Central Nervous System you’ll be able to perform cardio afterwards with just as much intensity.
Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, if you choose to do cardio first you may find that you don’t have the required energy or time to give your abs a truly meaningful workout.
2. Is Cardio or Abs More Important to You?
The only time I would recommend doing cardio first is if it is more important to you.
However, even then, I see no issue with doing abs first, as it’s unlikely to have that much of an impact on your cardio training.
This is typically how things work with “specialization” training.
By this I mean, if you have a specific area of strength, hypertrophy, or fitness that you want to focus on then it’s always better to train that first.
So, as an example, let’s say that your biceps are lagging behind other body parts, and you want to train them 3 times a week.
But, you still want to train other body parts on those particular days as well.
It would be better to train biceps first and then focus on the other body part afterwards.
With that being said, you wouldn’t want your bicep training interfering with the body part you;re going to train straight after.
So, you wouldn’t usually train your back straight after biceps.
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Well, the same can be said for training cardio or abs.
Train whichever one is more important to you first.
So, if you really want to focus on your cardiovascular fitness, or you’re looking to shred body fat with some high intensity cardio, then obviously focus on cardio first.
But, as I’ve mentioned, training abs first won’t affect your cardio training, but the same cannot be said the other way around.
3. Turn Abs into Cardio
Something that I have done quite often is to turn my abs and core workout into a cardio session.
Basically, kill two birds with one stone.
There are a vast array of ab and core-focused exercises which also happen to get your heart rate up.
So, I see nothing wrong with focusing on these specific exercises or even performing them one after another circuit-style.
A prime example of this would be to perform mountain climber varieties in a circuit with moving planks, bird dog varieties, etc.
So, you could let’s say put the following exercises into a circuit:
- Standard Mountain Climbers
- Plank to Push Up
- Spiderman Mountain Climbers
- Plank With Shoulder Taps
- Cross-Body Mountain Climbers
- Plank With Toe Taps
- Russian Twists
- Bird Dog Single-Arm Row (see video below)
You could perform each exercise for 60 seconds and take 15 seconds rest between exercises.
Rest for 60 seconds after the first circuit and then repeat the circuit twice more.
This would give you a great ab and core workout, plus your cardiovascular system will definitely be put through its paces.
And best of all, this workout should be completed in around 30 minutes.
Additionally, you could also try a form of cardio-abs hybrid training.
Admittedly, the intensity of your cardio may impact your ab work, but it’s still a great way to workout.
Personally, I would choose a cardio exercise that allows me to perform an all-out sprint and then follow this with a specific ab exercise.
Then repeat for the desired number of sets.
An example of this could be 250-metre sprints on the rowing machine, followed by 10 reps of hanging leg raises.
Depending on your fitness levels, repeat for a total of 5-10 sets.
Bird Dog Single-Arm Row
4. Keep an Eye on Your Nutrition
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how important nutrition is, but I will anyway.
I would hazard a guess that your focus is on cardio and abs because you’d like to lose body fat.
Basically, you want to strip any excess fat away from your frame and produce a fantastic looking midsection.
However, in truth, your nutrition is probably more important than exercise when it comes to seeing your abs.
For most women, you’ll want to get to around 22-24% body fat, and for most men around 15-17% body fat, before you start to see your abs.
This will typically involve eating at a calorie deficit, plus ensuring you eat the right types of food that will keep you full and stop you from snacking.
Realistically, your diet will need to be focused around whole, natural foods.
Plus, you’ll want to ensure that you’re consuming a good amount of protein, while fitting your healthy fats and carbohydrates around your daily calorie allowance.
But one thing’s for sure – regardless of your body composition goals, nutrition will always be just as important (if not more so) than your training.
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So, as you can see, it’s usually better to do abs first.
Depending on the intensity of your cardio you may find that you are fairly fatigued by the time it comes to training abs.
This will usually mean that training abs isn’t done with the right intensity, and it’s more of an afterthought.
However, you can certainly train abs first while you’re fresh without affecting your cardio workout.
Additionally, you could actually turn your ab and core training into a cardio session.
This will depend on the specific ab-focused exercises you choose, plus you can also perform the exercises in a circuit.
Finally, when it comes to cardio, abs, and losing body fat, don’t forget to keep a very close eye on your nutrition.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.