Curating and maintaining a healthy running and strength training schedule can be difficult. But carving out time in your schedule to lift weights can help decrease your risk of injury and build muscle to improve your overall performance on the road or trails. In some cases, the hardest part isn’t showing up, it’s figuring out whether to run before or after a workout to maximize gains.
Thanks to research published in the journal Sports Medicine, it’s easier to figure out how to balance both types of exercise so that you can get the most out of them—and still be able to walk. Researchers reviewed almost 100 studies to figure out what the best ways to combine strength training and running.
But first, it’s important to know that your run performance can take a nosedive when you don’t smartly pair the two forms of exercise. According to lead author Kenji Doma, Ph.D., your running performance is impaired in between resistance training sessions due to the stress resistance training puts on your muscles—known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—which can continue for up to 72 hours. Not to mention, a hard leg day can take as much as a day or two more to recover from than a high-intensity run.
“Resistance training-induced stress can hamper the muscle’s ability to contract optimally, which is vital for any type of movement, including running,” he tells Runner’s World. “Therefore, undertaking any form of endurance training during periods of resistance training-induced stress can prevent endurance athletes from reaching their session goals, such as covering a particular distance or maintaining pace.”
But skipping leg day is not the answer—finding out how to balance it with your running routine is the better goal to chase. Here, what to learn from the review that can help you do just that.
Keep in mind, these guidelines are just that—guidelines. How you schedule your running versus strength training will come down to your goals. Focusing on training for an upcoming race? You probably want your runs to take priority on any given day. Targeting a strength build? You likely want lifting to take the front seat. No matter what you do, make sure you get true rest days mixed into your schedule.
1. If you’re running and strength training on the same day before an off-day...
- Run after you lift if you’re doing both on the same day. (If your race is around the corner, that’s when you might want to consider running first.)
- If your strength session includes fast concentric contractions (when the muscle shortens—like the “up” motion of a squat) and slow eccentric contractions (when the muscle lengthens—like the “down” motion of a squat), it’s best to wait six hours before going for a run. Your run should be at low-to-moderate intensity.
- If your strength session includes normal-speed concentric and eccentric moves, it’s best to wait nine hours before going for a run. Your run should be at low-to-moderate intensity.
- Avoid running at a high intensity if you’re lifting on the same day.
2. If you’re running the day after same-day running and strength training...
- Run prior to lifting (on the day you do both) with at least nine hours of recovery in between if you’re running at a low-to-moderate intensity the next day.
- Avoid high-intensity runs the day after same-day lifting and running, regardless of whether you ran or lifted first the day before.
3. If you need to schedule high-intensity runs in the days following leg day...
- Avoid running at a high-intensity level the day after a low-intensity strength workout. Instead, run at a low- or moderate-intensity pace the next day.
- Allow at least 48 hours of recovery after leg day (with fast concentric contractions and slow eccentric moves) before a high-intensity or speed run.
- Allow at least 72 hours of recovery after a moderate-to-high intensity lower body workout (with normal-speed concentric and eccentric moves) before a high-intensity speed run.
- Allow at least 72 hours of recovery after a high-volume lower body workout (with normal-speed concentric and eccentric moves) before a high-intensity speed run.
The bottom line
While the optimal amount of time to spread out workout types is different for everyone, the general rule of thumb according to Doma is this: The higher your resistance training volume is (more reps and sets), the more recovery is needed before higher-intensity runs. But you can opt for lower-intensity runs the day after resistance training. Pairing high-intensity strength and high-intensity runs back-to-back is what you want to avoid.
“Overall, it is important for endurance athletes of all levels to monitor how their body recovers following a resistance training session, and figure out what type of running session is most affected during resistance training-induced stress,” he said.
Of course, the best runners don’t neglect their upper body in the weight room, either: Here’s how to balance the rest of your strength-training with your running, too.