Run Before or After Workout to Maximize Gains

Running before or after workouts has a drastic effect on training effectiveness. Running before a strength workout can compromise strength training gains or cause injury. On the other hand, doing a strength workout before running could cause running form to deteriorate, which can also lead to injury or compromise strength training gains.

Athletes only have so much time. Sometimes that means doing cardio workouts (like running) and strength workouts (like lifting weights or bodyweight workouts) on the same day. Find out if it’s better to run before or after workouts and how to maximize same-day training benefits.

The Interference Effect

The interference effect is a physiological phenomenon that states that cardio or endurance exercise (like running and cycling) interferes with the cellular adaptions elicited via strength training (namely, muscle size and overall strength).[1, 2] However, it also states that strength training does not appear to necessarily adversely affect endurance adaptations.[3]

The keyword here is: necessarily. More on that later on.

Running Before or After Workouts Depends on Workout Goals

Athletes engaging in concurrent strength training and running need to prioritize goals[4]. This should happen on an individual workout basis as well as overall athletic goals. For example, someone looking to build muscle mass and overall strength must concede that cardio training will–to some extent–inhibit strength gains. On the other hand, a runner is unlikely to be a very successful bodybuilder.

Good to remember

At some level maximum strength and endurance are on opposite ends of the physiological spectrum.

Athletes considering strength training and cardio training need to decide which is more important for their athletic development: muscle mass or endurance. This is not to say that strength-based athletes should stop all cardio. Likewise, endurance athletes like runners should do some strength training.

The careful blending of strength and endurance training is what is known as concurrent training. Strength training–such as with weights or bodyweight–is an important component of endurance performance. Sports like running and cycling do not stress all the necessary muscles in the body. For example, simply running or cycling can leave one with hip, lower back pain and upper body issues due to underdeveloped muscles. 

In short, most athletes should do a bit of strength training and a bit of cardio. The ideal blend of each will depend on the athlete’s goals: muscle mass or endurance.

Cycling as cardio alternative

Run Before or After Workout as a Strength-Focused Athletes

Athletes whose primary goal is to build muscle and overall strength should try to avoid doing cardio and strength training on the same day. If this cannot be avoided, strength-focused athletes should do their cardio workouts after strength training. This will help minimize the interference effect (i.e., the body will prioritize strength adaptations over endurance adaptations).

How long should cardio workouts take place after strength workouts? The longer the better. At least six to nine hours is ideal. Spacing strength and cardio workouts as far apart as possible will help maximize strength adaptations. Again, if pure strength is the primary goal, strongly consider doing cardio and strength workouts on entirely different days. Don’t do a hard strength workout and a hard (e.g., HIIT) running workout on the same day. 

Alternating Lower-Body and Upper-Body Same Day Workouts

Cardio exercises like running and cycling are lower-body dominant. Performing upper-body workouts on the same day as running will have no meaningful effect on the strength workout. However, performing lower-body strength workouts shortly after a running workout will likely lead to diminished strength gains.

It follows that doing lower-body strength workouts should then only take place on non-running days.

Alternating workouts with upper-body strength days during running days and lower-body strength workouts on non-running days will help minimize or even eliminate the interference effect. The only caveat to this is if the athlete can handle the higher training load. This means having an optimized nutrition plan (here’s the 9 best foods for runners and the 9 best foods to build muscle), resting and being sensitive to their body’s injury or overtraining signals

Follow along with this stretching workout to kickstart the recovery process:

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Running Before or After Workout as a Runner

Strength training could be a key component to unlocking running performance. It may be the only way advanced runners can even achieve further progress. Beginner runners benefit from strength training by working muscles that help promote running economy and efficiency, which will ward off injury and promote total body fitness

If running (or any endurance activity, such as cycling) is a primary goal, do cardio after strength training. However, if the cardio session will be shorter and low intensity (like a simple endurance run of 30-90 minutes), doing high-repetition, low-weight or bodyweight strength training  AFTER running can help build muscular endurance and improve running stamina.

Muscular endurance is different than absolute strength. Whereas pure strength is about how much force one can produce quickly (e.g., during a squat), muscular endurance is about training muscles to resist fatigue over long periods of time. One can easily see how muscular endurance is beneficial to runners: running longer distances like half-marathons, marathons and even ultramarathons. Muscular endurance will allow runners to retain their running form longer, which means not only maintaining running economy for longer but also decreasing the risk of running-related injuries.

Sound worth it? Here’s how to do it:

Do an easy run. Try to avoid running hills. Don’t do intervals. Just do a basic endurance-paced run anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes. It should feel almost boring.

After the run and while the body is still warmed up, do a strength training session that focuses on high repetitions and low (if any) weight. Repetition ranges should be 20 to 30 per set. Cool down with light jogging.

Combining running and strength training back to back is a serious session. Make sure to fuel properly before, during and after (like with a hot cocoa recovery drink). Don’t finish the workout starving. The recovery demands from this type of training are huge–but so are the benefits. Don’t do these big sessions every day–twice a week is plenty and should likely be followed by a full recovery day or an easy run (for advanced athletes).

Woman working out outside

Running Before or After a Workout if the goal is to Lose Weight

It is often recommended to do strength training before running to empty carbohydrate stores. The idea is to force the body to get its energy primarily from fat rather than carbs during the run. However, the problem with this strategy is that it is very difficult to finish a long-distance run on empty carbohydrate stores. While it is true that a much higher percentage of fat is burned for energy, the calorie burn, on the other hand, is relatively low because of the low intensity or low duration of the workout. 

On top of that, perceived exertion of the workout will be much greater when continuing to workout with depleted glycogen stores. This can cause athletes to prematurely quit the workout; therefore, reducing maximal calorie expenditure. Additionally, athletes who choose to work out this way will finish workouts extremely hungry. This can lead athletes to massively overeat after a very tough workout, which will likely result in weight gain and developing unhealthy nutrition habits.

If weight loss is a goal, a negative energy balance is key: If one burns more calories than they consume, they will lose weight. In the end, what matters is how many calories are burned in total through the workout. Spread your workouts out over several days. That way one can train at a high intensity and burn a lot of calories, and at the same time give the body the time it needs to recover properly before the next workout.

Running Before or After a Workout if the Goal is to Improve Overall Fitness

In this case, basically do cardio and strength training in whichever order. Still define a specific training goal for each session. Just be careful about doing too much and getting injured. Start slow, add a little bit of training each week, take a day off if aches and pains start to creep up. Once the gains stop coming, consider reexamining training structure to focus on more specific goals. Try this workout after a run for a great cardio and strength session

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This workout focuses on neglected leg muscles and glute strength (i.e., a firmer butt). It’ll also help improve posture. Learn and do the following movements: Curtsy lunge, kneel & stand, side lunges, single-leg deadlift and wall sits.

In general, avoid doing two workouts back-to-back. Spacing running and strength workouts far apart will allow the body sufficient time to adapt and recover before the next session. If running before or after a workout is the only option, follow the training schedule recommendations above to elicit maximal adaptations. If all of that is too complicated and the goal is to just get fit, do whatever is most convenient.

Check out the following video for a detailed explanation of setting up a your own training schedule for best results:

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