Should You Be Running Before or After a Strength Workout?

If you need to clock kilometres on the same day as lifting weights, here’s how to schedule them to your fitness advantage.

valentinrussanov//Getty Images

Even if you already know the many benefits of strength training for runners—like more power and protection from injury—figuring out how to schedule weighted sessions into an already full workout schedule can deter many people from picking up weights. Runners often ask questions, like “How many days a week should you strength train?” “Should you be running before or after a workout?” “How can you avoid soreness and fatigue from resistance training so you perform at your best on the road?”

Here’s the good news: Research helps us determine exactly how to schedule both types of training for optimal performance. In fact, researchers have reviewed nearly 100 studies to figure out the best ways to combine weightlifting and running.

The first step in solidifying your schedule is knowing 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 that resistance training places on your muscles—known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—which can continue for up to 72 hours. Plus, 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.”

However, skipping that leg day workout is not the answer—you just need to find the balance. Here, what to learn from the scientific 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 specific goals. For example, if you’re training for an upcoming race, you probably want your runs to take priority on any given day. If you’re looking to build strength in this off-season, you likely want lifting to take the front seat. No matter what you do, make sure you still get true rest days mixed into your schedule.

1. If you’re running and strength training on the same day and the day before a rest day…

  • Run after you lift if you’re doing both on the same day in the off season. (If your race is around the corner, however, run 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 you’re doing strength exercises at a normal tempo, 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 and strength training on the same day and the day before a run workout…

  • Run prior to lifting with at least nine hours of recovery in between your run and your strength workout.
  • Avoid high-intensity runs the day after same-day lifting and running—make it low-to-moderate intensity instead.

3. If you need to schedule a high-intensity run in the days following leg day…

  • Avoid a high-intensity run the day after a 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 speed run.
  • Allow at least 72 hours of recovery after a moderate-to-high intensity lower-body workout or high-volume lower-body workout (with normal-speed concentric and eccentric moves) before a high-intensity speed run.

The bottom line on running before or after a workout

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 (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 on back-to-back days 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.

Related Articles