Finding a perfect balance between running and weightlifting is hard. Oftentimes it confuses runners because they assume both sports don’t work together. But how can you work on your endurance and build lean muscle mass at the same time without being sore all day?
Balancing running and weightlifting is part of my routine for years now. I have gained some serious muscle mass over time even though I was running long distance events. Is running and weightlifting a good combination though?
Especially female runners don’t want to look bulky and are afraid of getting too heavy. Scratch these thoughts ladies! Strong is sexy nowadays and a routine at the gym that works your entire body won’t make you look bulky at all.
Can you run and gain muscle at the same time?
Absolutely. The truth is though, that the muscle mass is not building during your runs. You have to have a running and weightlifting schedule that allows you to achieve the best results in both sports. And that’s already where the tricky part starts.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you are a runner already and want to start weightlifting, you have to understand that the weightlifting affects your running results and performance. I know for a fact that if I only ran and did not have 2-3 leg days per week, I would be much faster.
It’s not that I’m slow, I’m making great progress, I become faster and stronger on the road, but the way there is a lot harder and takes more time than for someone who only runs. You’re basically having two sports that you’re performing at now. That takes a lot of energy from you.
One of my strengths though is running hills, bridges and the speed work. That’s where your leg days will pay off.
Many factors come together for weightlifters who want to become a runner: previous running experience, distance, speed, frequency, intensity, timing with your weightlifting workout, and finally, your goals.
Timing: Should you lift weights before or after running?
Timing is everything when it comes to how to combine weightlifting and running. If you aim to build lean muscle mass and you are running in the morning, make sure to have a light breakfast like a banana or some oatmeal. Especially long distance running leaves you depleted and you really want to avoid that while working on your muscle mass. There should always be enough fuel for the intensity that you are putting your body into. Running on an empty stomach is not recommended while trying to build more muscles.
If you can, try to run in the morning and then lift weights at night. The running session should be set at submaximal intensities. Do not plan on a hard run and then a tough weightlifting session the next day. If manageable do both on the same day and recover the next day.
It’s the same the other way around: If you know you will have to tackle a long run the next day, do not lift heavy or even work on your legs the day before.
If you have only one workout that you can do per day, work your muscles at the gym first and then go for a run right after. Not the other way around. As far as workouts, short, fast runs, interval training, and sprints have positive effects on building muscle in your legs and upper body. Longer runs are tricky and have to be fueled before during and after just right.
Like I said running and weight lifting is all about the perfect timing and finding the right balance that works great for your body. I had clients that didn’t like the fact that they had to run and work their legs the same day. It’s hard. Especially when you’re in the transition process to doing both sports you will have to give your body some time to adjust. It’s double the stress on your body from now on.
Combining strength training and a running program
Most runners are already busy with their running program. After all, strength training is supposed to help, not detract from your running. So how in the world are you combining strength training and a running program at the same time? I’m getting a lot of respect from fellow runners for being able to combine strength training and a running program even during marathon training. But again, my body is already used to it. Don’t feel weak or bad, when things don’t work out the way you want them to in the beginning.
Depending on your goals interval training is a great way for weightlifters who want to get more into running. It is great for developing your cardiovascular fitness, which then helps your recovery from weightlifting workouts.
Same as sprints and shorter faster runs are great for someone who is more experienced in the weightlifting world.
For runners, strong hips, back and core muscles are essential for efficient form and for avoiding serious injuries. Here are some strength training exercises for runners that will help you to balance your weightlifting and running program.
Does running burn muscle mass?
Most bodybuilders won’t start running because they are convinced that running burns muscle mass. Is that true? Yes and no. Running doesn’t break our muscles down as fuel. That this happens you will have to get to that level of catabolic activity where you would have to run a tremendous amount of mileage combined with a diet entirely void of protein.
This is why during marathon training, for example, it is really hard for me to actually build more muscles. During marathon training season, it is all about maintaining what I have already gained throughout the year. When I’m training for shorter races, or during offseason, this is the time to put on muscle mass.
At the end of the day running will only reduce your muscle size if you stop going to the gym completely and start running significant mileage. There are a few supplements like BCAA’s and of course whey protein that support your body in building, protecting and maintaining existing muscle mass. Read more about that in my supplements for runners article.
In a nutshell, a clever mix of nutrition, supplements as well as endurance and strength training makes it possible for runners to boost their performance and build muscle, too.
Running and weight lifting diet tips
Most importantly your diet is key to ultimate success. If you’re looking to gain muscle mass, you want to start lifting and run at the same time, it is important to pay close attention to your calorie intake and proper diet.
With that being said, most runners eat too little when trying to build muscle mass while working on their running performance. That’s why most newbie runners slim down fast and lower their body fat percentage drastically.
Make sure that you’re not in a calorie deficit while doing both running and weight lifting. Your body needs fuel to grow muscles, recovery from your runs and adapt to the workouts you’re doing. Imagine driving a car without gas. You won’t go far with that.
So instead of burning fat, your body resorts to energy from burning energy-demanding muscle mass. Not good when your goals are to tone muscles, or even build muscle mass as a runner.
If your goal is to build and tone muscles while being an active runner, you need to keep this in mind. Definitely have enough nutrients and vitamins for runners including food that is high in protein such as fish, chicken, and eggs. But also have your vegetables and carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and oats.
Best shoes for running and weightlifting
One of the most frequently asked questions is if I train at the gym in the same shoes that I run in. The answer is no. Why? There’s no point in wearing your running shoes at the gym because they aren’t designed for heavy lifting. It can even lead to injury wearing them at the gym if you wear them during squatting or deadlifting. They have cushioning and you really don’t want that for your shoe while working out at the gym.
When you are looking for the best shoes for running and weightlifting get one pair of running shoes that you run in and then search for a rigid sole for your shoes for the gym. This type of sole is best so that the heels can drive into the floor during exercises such as squats and deadlifts.