Running Before or After a Workout – Which Is Better?

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One of the best things about getting fit is the variety of options you have. Put strength training together with cardio, and you’ve got a power combination for weight loss, strength gain, and excellent performance.

But should you run before or after a workout? Does it matter? The truth is, it does make a difference, but both ways have their advantages and disadvantages.

Here’s a detailed comparison of the two so you can decide which would work best for you.

Should You Do Cardio And Weightlifting Together?

If you’re short on time and want to do your cardio and weightlifting workouts one after the other, you can. It’s not optimal, but it can work if you do it correctly.

This is a good option for those who have time either in the morning or afternoon but don’t have enough time to split their workouts into separate cardio and strength sessions.

The key is to do them in the right order. Do you run first, or do you do your weights workout first? There’s no clear right or wrong answer here—the right choice depends on you and your goals.

Factors to Consider When Choosing

Every person is different. The right combination for you will depend on a number of different factors, including:

Your Goals

Are you planning on running a race in a few months? Or do you want to build muscle and use cardio to strip away excess body fat?

Your most urgent goals will indicate which of the two exercises you should prioritize, helping you choose which one to do first.

Your Priorities

If you’re first and foremost a runner who just works out for the enjoyment of it or who likes having some muscle, it makes more sense to prioritize your running over lifting.

On the other hand, if you’re a committed weightlifter who does cardio for fat loss, then prioritize lifting.

Your fitness

If you’re already fairly fit, you may be able to chop and change between running and weightlifting quite easily. However, if your fitness levels are still on the lower side and you’re working on building them up, you may need to take it quite slow in the beginning.

Instead, prioritize the thing that you feel will get your fitness levels up the fastest—usually cardio.

Running Before or After a Workout: Which Is Better?

Let’s take a quick look at the advantages of running before a workout and the advantages of running after a workout. Each one has its pros, which may help to make the choice easier for you.

Pros of Running Before a Workout

If running before a workout sounds right to you, here’s what you expect to experience during your exercise session.

Better focus on your run

Runners will appreciate that they’ll have a higher level of focus during their run. The mind-muscle connection will be stronger, your mental stamina will be greater, and you’ll be able to push through when it starts feeling tough.

Increased energy levels

You’re starting your run fueled up and ready for action. Your glycogen stores are at capacity and your body is ready for exercise.

That energy is easily accessible and will see you through your run well. By the time you reach your weightlifting session, you’ll be running on body fat… But lower on energy.

Faster reaction times

When your muscles are fueled with glycogen and ready to go, your response times will be faster. This is the perfect time to run. Weightlifting is slower, more mindful, so these faster reaction times are wasted on those movements.

Increased weight loss

You’ll burn through your glycogen stores faster on a run, so you’ll get more weight loss benefits from weightlifting. Doing your lifting first means you might still have some glycogen left when you begin your run, which is great for a bit of energy but doesn’t help much for fat loss.

Reduced chance of injury

By the time you get to your resistance training, your muscles will be warm and ready to go. That means you’re much less at risk of injuring yourself during your movements. Of course, it’s still important to warm up properly before you go for your run, to lower the chance of injury on the run.

Pros of Running After a Workout

Prefer to run after your workout instead? Here are some of the benefits you can look forward to.

Better muscle recovery

Running after a heavy weights workout can give you a recovery boost thanks to increased circulation. As you run, your heart pumps blood around your body faster and stronger, sending oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the muscles, where it begins the healing process.

Less muscle soreness

This extra blood flow through the muscles also has an analgesic effect, reducing muscle soreness as it clears lactate out of the body much faster. While you might not be feeling muscle soreness immediately, it can help to prevent DOMS from setting in severely, which is a bonus.

Improved workout performance

If lifting is your main focus, then you’ll be pleased to know that running after your workout means you’re highly likely to lift heavier and for more reps.

Whether you’re fueled or not, your muscles won’t be fatigued by a pre-workout run, so you can look forward to a better workout performance.

How to Decide Which Is Best for You

Still wondering if running before or after a workout is better? Here’s how to make the best decision based on your fitness goals.

Goal: Building Muscle

If building muscle is your main goal for your exercise, then weightlifting should take priority. You can add a run at the end of your lifting workout, but lifting should definitely come first.

Research shows that running before your weights workout can inhibit muscle gain, due to the enzyme activity that happens during the activities. Studies have shown that lifting power and number of reps decrease noticeably when cardio is done before lifting.

You’ll be better off doing your weights first, but take it light on the cardio afterwards, especially if you’ve done a hard leg workout.

Goal: Losing Fat

If losing fat is your biggest goal, then you can actually be fairly flexible. Whichever exercise you do first will deplete your glycogen stores, so by the time you get to the second workout, your body will be using its own fat stores for fuel.

The key here is not to eat or drink anything high in calories between workouts. Your body will use those calories instead of your own fat stores, reducing the extra fat loss benefits.

A big part of losing fat is being in a caloric deficit. However, this means you may have lower energy levels than usual, so alternating between exercises might help to prevent you from overdoing it.

Goal: Boosting Endurance

While lifting weights does improve your stamina and endurance, running is the better choice between the two to build endurance. If this is your goal, prioritize running over other workouts.

Running after another workout has you starting at a disadvantage. Your glycogen stores are already depleted, which means you’re in prime fat-burning mode but not in the right place for building endurance, as per scientific studies.

If you run first, you’ll be fueled up for a great workout, which will push you further and harder, building endurance.

Goal: Training for a Race

If you’re training for an upcoming race, doing your run before any other workout makes much more sense. Your running training should be prioritized and any other workout should take a back seat.

Working out before your run will hamper your performance, as your muscles and cardiovascular system will be fatigued before you begin.

Focus on the running first, and match your second workout carefully to maximize your running performance. If your run happens to be speedwork or high-intensity training, it would pair better with a lighter-weight, lower-reps workout afterward.

On the other hand, on the days you’re doing longer, easier runs, you can go for heavier weights and lower reps. This will help you build power and endurance, which can have a positive impact on your running performance.

Either way, doing your run first will be the better choice if a running race is your final goal.

The Optimal Way to Train

If you’re a runner who enjoys the gains of weight lifting, or a weight lifter who prefers running as cardio, there is an optimal way to split your resistance and cardio training.

Studies show that separating your cardio and weight lifting by at least 6 hours will give you better gains on both exercises. That means you could do one in the morning and one in the evening, effectively giving your body enough time in between to rest.

However, other research indicates that separating your cardio and resistance training by 24 hours can give you better muscle gains, so if building muscle is your goal, this is something you may want to look into.

Ultimately, what works for you will depend on your fitness, your end goals, and your own daily schedule. For some, separating workouts by 6 hours may not fit easily into a daily routine, and if that’s you, then trying to make it work might be more stressful than simply doing them together.

Either way, if you’re getting three to five lifting sessions and three or four cardio sessions per week, you’re on the right track to excellent fitness and performance.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.