How to balance running and weightlifting
Finding a perfect balance between running and weightlifting is hard. Often it confuses runners because they assume both sports don’t work together.
But how can you work on your endurance and speed and build lean muscle mass at the same time without being sore all day and not getting injured?
Balancing running and weightlifting has been a part of my routine for years now. I have gained some serious muscle mass over time, even though I was running long-distance events. Are running and weightlifting a good combination, though?
Many female runners don’t want to look bulky and are afraid of getting too heavy. Scratch those thoughts ladies! Strong is sexy nowadays. And also, a routine at the gym that works your entire body won’t make you look bulky at all.
Can you build muscle while running?
Absolutely! The truth is though, you aren’t actually building muscle 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 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 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, lighter, and only had one focus which would be running only.
It’s not that I’m slow. Actually, I’m making great progress! But I am balancing strength and speed on the road now. If you only focus on speed, it’s a lot harder and takes longer to get stronger.
But weightlifting and running mean you will be burning a lot more energy. You’re basically performing two separate sports at the same time now. That can be extremely tiring.
One of my strengths, though, is running hills, bridges, and 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 workouts, 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.
Long-distance running leaves you especially 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 under.
Running on an empty stomach is not recommended while trying to build more muscles.
Running and weightlifting schedule
When it comes to the ideal running and weightlifting schedule, 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 (Please also read: Supplements for runners)
Like I said running and weight lifting are 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 for doing both sports, you will have to give your body some time to adjust. It’s double the stress on your body when you combine both.
How to combine weightlifting and running: The details
Is it okay to run and lift on the same day? Most runners are already busy with their running programs. 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 running and weightlifting 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.
Just like sprints, runs that are shorter and 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.
FAQ about weightlifting and cardio
Does running burn muscle mass and is running bad for weight lifting?
Will I lose muscle if I run? 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.
For this to happen you would have to get to a level of catabolic activity where you’re running 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 the offseason, this is when I 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 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.
What are the best 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. To successfully do this, it is important to pay close attention to your caloric 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 at all!
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 to 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. They definitely have enough nutrients and vitamins for runners.
This includes 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.
Are running and weightlifting a good combination?
Both sports are completely different. Most runners lift weights to become stronger. Most bodybuilders run to lose body fat. I enjoy doing both bodybuilding and running at the same time with the same intensity.
But how often should runners lift weights? I’d recommend 2-3 times per week.
Best shoes for running and weightlifting
One of the most frequently asked questions is this one: should I train at the gym in the same shoes that I use for running?
The answer is no. 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 if you wear them during squatting or deadlifting.
They have to cushion 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. Afterward, search for a rigid sole for workouts in the gym.
This type of sole is best so that the heels can drive into the floor during exercises such as squats and deadlifts. I hope this article could clarify some of your questions about running and weightlifting.
Leave me your thoughts in the comments if there is more you would like to know about this topic. If you’re interested in a running and weightlifting program, contact me today about your personal goals and we can work on your individual plan for running and weightlifting.
Last Updated on 6. January 2022 by Sabrina Wieser and Lunden Souza
Sabrina Wieser is a running expert based in New York City and the founder of Runningbrina - She is a USATF Level 3 and IAAF Level 5 Endurance Certified Coach and experienced marathon runner. She completed over 35 long-distance races and helped over 200 clients to cross their personal finish line. Her expertise in enhancing running performance through training and nutrition has been recognized by many within the running community and different media outlets such as Huffington Post, the Dr Oz Show and adidas running.
Lunden Souza is a Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Nutrition Specialist based in California. She has her bachelor's degree in Psychology from California State University, Long Beach. Her main goal in life is to motivate others to live a fit and healthy lifestyle fueled by positivity.
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