Whether training for strength or endurance, running has become a part of most athletes’ repertoire. But most athletes also realize that if you want to train effectively, you must do more than just run.
If you’re looking for optimal performance in any sport, studies suggest cross-training is essential; runners who cross-train have great efficiency and better performance, and even people who do resistance training have better endurance and aerobic capacity 1.
That means changing your workouts to constantly challenge your body and trigger better performance adaptations. There are many benefits associated with running and strength training, but the question still stands: which do you do first?
We’re doing the legwork for you and giving you all the details on the best time to run.
What Are Your Fitness Goals?
Before we can help you understand the best time to run, you must clearly define what it is you want to achieve. Do you want to build muscle? Burn fat? Improve endurance? All athletes will have different goals, and your training program layout will cater to those.
Once you decide what you want to accomplish, warming up with some light cardio is generally acceptable, regardless of the end goal. This is great to get the blood circulating and warm up muscles before putting them under stress to avoid injury or discomfort.
It also helps to increase the flexibility of muscles and joints to prepare them for what’s coming, such as a long run or hitting the weights. Research agrees, suggesting that a short cardiovascular warmup decreases the risk of injury 2.
Remember, warm-up cardio shouldn’t be intense, you want to do it at a low intensity to get your body warmed up and ready to perform. If you’re heading straight into intense intervals, you risk injuring a muscle and interfering with your weight training.
But when is the best time to do it if you’re thinking about high-intensity cardio for a prolonged period? Let’s dive in.
If You Want To Build Muscle
For those looking for muscle growth, hypertrophy training is what you want to focus on. You want to incorporate progressive overload into your training program by continually increasing the weight and the demand on your muscles; when you force your body to work harder than it’s used to, you force it to adapt, and these adaptations cause growth 3.
Progressive overload can be applied in many forms, such as increasing the load, reps, sets, or decreasing rest periods. Lifting heavy and pushing your body results in microtrauma and inflammation of the muscles, and as part of the muscle repair process, muscle protein synthesis kicks in to cause growth 4, 5.
But the reason we want to save running for after strength training is that lifting heavy takes energy - and if you deplete your body of energy on the run, your lifts are going to suffer, which means you’re not going to hit progressive overload to a high enough degree to stimulate growth.
As a result, the all-important hypertrophic process won’t happen, and muscle growth will be minimal.
Running before lifting can deplete circulating energy stores required for maximal lifts. Plus, the repetitive movement of running reduces the efficacy of muscle contractions.
On top of less effective muscle contractions, it could compromise form because of the fatigue and repetitive contractions necessary to sustain running. One study found that the number of reps, average power, and velocity significantly decreased in those doing cardio before weight training 6.
If strength and muscle growth are your goals, aerobic exercise should wait until after your workout.
If You Want To Burn Fat
If fat loss is your goal, alternating between running before and after your workout is ideal. Lifting before running will deplete glycogen stores, which means immediate energy availability to run will be decreased, forcing your body to tap into alternate stores: body fat. Doing so may help accelerate fat loss.
Increasing muscle mass is one of the most effective ways to burn fat. Studies show that having a higher percentage of muscle mass increases metabolic rate, thereby helping you burn more muscle at rest. Ever heard the saying “muscle burns more than fat”? It’s true. So, carve out time to lift heavy if you want to lose weight and burn fat.
That said, running can also boost weight loss, especially during high-intensity intervals, in which you’re your body into the “fat burning” aerobic zone whereby you utilize fat for fuel 7.
You also want to combine aerobic running with anaerobic running, whereby you’re working at 80% of your HRmax or higher; this means your body is performing exercise without oxygen and can only sustain these intensities for short periods.
This type of training is excellent for triggering excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), in which your metabolism remains high for up to 24 hours after you’re done training 8. As a result, you’re still burning calories after you’ve stopped working.
If you’re on a calorie deficit diet—optimal for weight loss—your energy levels may be lower than usual. That’s why it’s a good idea to alternate between running and weight lifting to ensure you don’t overwork your body while still reaping the benefits from each.
If you’re trying to burn fat by dropping your calories, chances are your energy may take a bit of a hit - that’s where having a solid pre-workout can come in handy. A low-caffeine pre can naturally boost energy and sustain it to help you easily power through your workout.
If You Want To Improve Your Endurance
Lastly, lifting weight is still important to improve running economy and overall performance if your goal is to improve your endurance. Still, you’ll want to prioritize running to increase endurance and stamina.
But if you need energy for a run, starting your workout with it is the best way to go; the last thing you want is to start a run feeling fatigued. If your glycogen stores are depleted from a lift, you won’t be able to sustain a good running pace, and you’ll likely tap out halfway through your run.
Research finds that low glycogen levels hurt endurance performance, which is why you often see runners carb-load before a marathon or big training day - they’re maximizing their glycogen stores to maximize performance. Although you may not be running a marathon, you can still apply the same principle to training.
Once you’re done with your run, hit the weights for a light workout to work on muscular endurance. Higher reps help to type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers that support running performance, especially over long distances.
Type 1 fibers can sustain work for extended periods, as they have high concentrations of mitochondria and myoglobin to increase aerobic metabolism.
The Verdict: Run After Resistance Training
If your goals are maximum muscle and strength gains, compromising your lifts by running beforehand probably isn’t the best idea.
If you’re keen on getting a bit of cardio done after your workout but don’t quite have the energy, taking a bit of pre-workout can help re-energize your body and get you pumped up for a quick run.
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If that’s not enough, Pre Lab Pro® extends into the post-workout window to kick-start muscle recovery. And when you’re packing it in, you’re also getting a good dose of essential to help you perform at your peak, maintain hydration and electrolyte balance, resist stress, accelerate recovery, and feel great after your session.
It’s the ultimate way to fuel your workouts - regardless of what you’re doing.
- Balsalobre-Fernández C, Santos-Concejero J, Grivas GV. Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(8):2361-2368.
- Fradkin AJ, Gabbe BJ, Cameron PA. Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomised controlled trials?. J Sci Med Sport. 2006;9(3):214-220.
- Geantă VA, Ardelean VP. Improving muscle size with Weider’s principle of progressive overload in non-performance athletes. Timisoara Physical Education and Rehabilitation Journal. 2011;14(27):27-32.
- Fortunato AK, Pontes WM, De Souza DMS, et al. Strength Training Session Induces Important Changes on Physiological, Immunological, and Inflammatory Biomarkers. J Immunol Res. 2018;2018:9675216.
- MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995;20(4):480-486.
- Ratamess NA, Kang J, Porfido TM, et al. Acute Resistance Exercise Performance Is Negatively Impacted by Prior Aerobic Endurance Exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(10):2667-2681.
- Carey DG. Quantifying differences in the “fat burning” zone and the aerobic zone: implications for training. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(7):2090-2095.
- Moniz SC, Islam H, Hazell TJ. Mechanistic and methodological perspectives on the impact of intense interval training on post-exercise metabolism. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2020;30(4):638-651.