Should I Go Running After Lifting Weights?

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If you lift weights as part of your cross-training, you’re on the right track to burning more calories, strengthening your running muscles, and improving your endurance.

But if you need to do both on the same day and within a relatively short time, it raises the question: cardio before or after strength training? The debate has been around for years. Should I go running after lifting weights or before?

What you choose could make a difference to your running. It depends largely on your goals, but here are the pros and cons to help you make a good decision.

Should You Run Before or After Weights?

There’s no specific correct answer to this question. It ultimately comes down to two factors: your fitness level and your goals. Every person is different, but your answers to these two questions will determine the best option for you.

It is important to know that neither is wrong. Whichever one you do, you’ll get some benefits. But keep reading to learn more specifics about choosing the optimal order for you.

Factors to Consider When Deciding What to Do First

Trying to choose between running after lifting weights or before lifting weights? Here’s what you should be considering.

Your Goals

Your best option depends on what your fitness goals are. Before deciding when to do what, nail down your main goal.

Go running after lifting weights if your goal is:

  • Fat burning
  • Muscle building
  • Strength gain

Go running before lifting weights if your goal is:

  • Endurance

Intensity of Your Activity

There are two schools of thought in the weightlifting world. One, people who lift heavy for fewer reps. Two, those who lift lighter for more reps. Your choice here plays a role in your decision to run before or after lifting.

Your body has three energy systems it uses during lifting and running—ATP-PC, Glycolytic Energy System, and Oxidative Energy System. Each one kicks in at a different point in time depending on the exercise you’re doing:

  • ATP-PC: +- 12 seconds
  • Glycolytic: Between 30 seconds and 2 minutes
  • Oxidative: 2 minutes and upwards

Depending on what kind of workout you’re doing, your body will use different systems. Here’s how your body works during cardiovascular activity:

  • APT-PC: Sprints, all-out effort
  • Glycolytic: ¼-mile to ½-mile runs
  • Oxidative: More than ½ mile runs

And here’s how it looks when you perform strength training:

  • APT-PC: Heavy lifting, 1 to 4 reps
  • Glycolytic: Heavy lifting, 4 to 8 reps
  • Oxidative: Lighter lifting, 8 or more reps

What does that mean for your running? Well, regardless of which activity you’re doing first if you exhaust one of your energy systems, you won’t be able to utilize it so well during the next activity.

So if you’re lifting super heavy in the gym, you shouldn’t do sprint work afterward. Or, if you’re doing a long run, you probably shouldn’t do a longer, lighter workout in the gym afterward.

If you can find the right combination, you can easily do a workout and a run one after the other without fatiguing yourself too much.

The Type of Run You’re Doing

If you’re first and foremost a runner and supplementing with weight training, you’re most likely following a running plan that includes different types of runs. If this is you, you may want to choose based on the type of run you’re doing.

Speedwork, tempo runs, and any kind of intervals are higher in intensity, so based on the information above, you’ll most likely be fatiguing your ATP-PC energy system.

On the other hand, if you’re planning on doing a longer, easier run, your glycolytic or oxidative systems will most likely be used.

With this information, you can make better choices about which of your workouts to do first. But more importantly, this information will help you to put together a workout plan that truly works for you by pairing your types of runs and types of weight-lifting workouts effectively.

Your Level of Fitness

The fitter you are, the easier you’ll find it to do both a run and a weights workout one after the other. If your fitness level is improving, you might need to start slowly.

Pair your run and your weights workout smartly, and try doing this once a week until you’re used to it and can move up to more than once a week.

Benefits of Running Before Lifting Weights

There are certain benefits to running before your weightlifting workout. Here’s what you can expect.

Improved Performance

Your running performance will be better before a weights workout, as your legs and your energy are fresh and ready to perform. You’ll also be properly fueled, so if running is your main priority, this is the way to go.

Reduced Risk of Injury

Getting your run done first can lower your risk of getting injured during your run and weight lifting. Provided you warm up properly, your legs will be fresh and strong for your run so you should be less likely to twist an ankle or pull a muscle.

On the other hand, by the time you get to your weightlifting workout, your muscles will be nice and warm, so you’ll be less likely to injure them during movements.

Increased Endurance

When you start a run fatigued, you won’t be able to run as far or for as long. But running before a weights workout means you’ll be full of energy and able to run faster, farther, and for longer. Over time, this increases your aerobic capacity and boosts your performance.

If you’re serious about endurance, pair your runs with lighter weights and higher repetitions. This engages your slow twitch muscle fibers, which are responsible for increasing aerobic metabolism and can significantly boost your stamina and endurance.

Increased Weight Loss

Running before your weightlifting workout can have helpful effects if you’re exercising to lose weight. A run will most likely deplete the glycogen stored in your muscles.

This means you’re training in a fasted state when you start your weights workout. Training fasted tends to have increased weight loss properties as you tap into your body’s fat stores rather than energy stored in your muscles.

Note that this only really works if you don’t have anything to eat or drink containing calories between your run and your weightlifting workout.

Benefits of Running After Lifting Weights

Prefer the thought of running after lifting weights? Here are the benefits you can expect if you choose to do it this way.

Increase in Power and Explosiveness

In other words, you’ll be able to lift heavier and more explosively. Your weightlifting will benefit you, as you won’t be fatigued before you begin. You’ll have more energy and more power behind each lift because you’ll come into the workout fresh.

Aids in Muscle Recovery

The increased circulation you experience during your post-workout run helps to circulate oxygen and nutrients around the body. This, in turn, helps your muscles recover faster, which can be extremely beneficial when exercising twice a day.

Increased Muscle Development

Science suggests that if you go running before your weights workout, the enzyme activity may hamper your body’s ability to build muscle. This means that if you go running after lifting weights, you’ll have a better chance of building muscle.

How Often Should You Do Weight Training and Cardio?

This depends on the person and their specific goals. If running is your main focus, then you’re probably already following a running plan that has you running between 3 and 6 times a week.

You can do weightlifting workouts three to five days per week, depending on your preference. It’s up to you to determine how to mix and match your weights and cardio workout for the best effect.

If weightlifting is your priority, four to five days per week is optimal. You should also include three to four cardio sessions of 30 to 40 minutes each.

Does Running After Lifting Affect Gains?

If muscle gain is your main focus, then running immediately after your workout may interfere with your muscle building. Research shows that waiting at least 24 hours after a workout before doing cardio shows optimal muscle-building gains.

That said, if you plan on doing shorter runs after your lifting, it may not have a huge effect.

How Long After Lifting Weights Should I Wait to Run?

If you have to do your workouts one after the other, it comes down to matching your types of runs and weightlifting workouts smartly.

But if possible, you should aim to separate your weights workout and your running by at least six hours, if not more.

This gives you enough time between workouts to recover and get your muscles ready for the next workout.

While working out, back-to-back can work for you, doing it this way will give you the greatest neuromuscular and aerobic benefits.

We do recommend NOT running immediately after a heavy leg workout. In this case, it should benefit you more to wait 24 hours, as your legs will likely feel weak and painful immediately after a leg workout.

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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.