In collaboration with expert runners and our friends from the running blog Pace Passion, we explore how to effectively balance running and strength training. The author, Oleksandr Zagrebelny, is a runner, coach, and member of Nike Run Club.
Choosing between a set of heavy squats or running 5 miles can be a tough decision for many beginners. However, understanding how to balance running and strength training efficiently can yield the best results, regardless of your goals.
The primary goal in balancing running and strength training is to ensure that you don’t fatigue the body to the extent that you cannot perform your exercises at 100%, whether you run first or do strength training first. It all comes down to focusing on the right order and giving your body time to recover.
To ensure that your running or strength training does not interfere with the other, this guide will show you how to effectively structure your workout. We also debunk one of the biggest myths in the world of training to add some peace of mind to your workout routine.
How to Balance Running and Strength Training Effectively
It is essential to revert to basics when balancing your workouts. With the advice of a great trainer, you can have a knowledgeable workout routine that is easier to follow. However, it can be expensive for many, leading to the need to follow the routine that suits you best. For many people, the goal is not to be the biggest person in the gym or run an ultra marathon but to look and feel good.
Fortunately, you can easily structure concurrent forms of training, meaning you need to give your body enough of a break to ensure optimal performance for both. Here are a few things to do to make this possible:
1. Find a Good Exercise Order That Fits Your Goals
Performing a tough leg routine followed by a 5k run will quickly drain your body, making it challenging to complete the 5k. On the other hand, those running 5 kilometers followed by a solid leg workout routine will find it impossible to reach their optimal weight lifting targets. The key is to focus on your primary goal and which one you want to improve. If running is your primary goal, you should stick to running before training, or vice versa for those looking to gain size and strength. Someone aiming for the best of both worlds might need to separate the workouts with a good quality meal added in between. A 2018 study reviewing concurrent training found that the “Concurrent Training Effect” (CTE) will kick in, but athletes may struggle to make gains in what is not prioritized first on the list. It will be impossible to reach your full potential for running and strength training if done concurrently, but spreading them apart for about 3 to 5 hours, with good nutrition, will be helpful.
2. Intensity Depending on Your Goals
For most people, either running or strength training is more important for their goals. If you are on the offensive line in the NFL, you would probably prioritize strength. However, a tennis player will focus on mobility and speed, making running more important. If you struggle to balance the two, you can still incorporate both, but your priority should be the one that best benefits your goals. As you become better at either strength training or running, you can slowly increase the intensity of the other.
3. Focus on Recovery and Nutrition
If your day consists of a massive 20-set squat session and a 5-mile run, the most crucial factors will be your recovery and nutrition. You will burn plenty of calories, and your body will need replenishment for recovery, especially a good quality protein source. Spreading out your workouts can be helpful, and having a meal in between can aid the body in recovery and replenishing lost energy. However, recovery can take time, and doing this day after day could lead to extreme fatigue and even injury. Another 2018 study shows that strength and run training with repeated maximum efforts to elicit fatigue would require up to 72 hours of recovery to fully resolve.
The Myth of Running Eats Away Your Muscles
If you’ve ever entered the gym or talked to someone with a hatred for running, the first thing they will tell you is that running will destroy all your gains from your strength workout. Alternatively, runners will tell you that strength training will make you too bulky to run for miles and get the best results. However, a study published in The Journals of Gerontology in 2013 found that isometric grip and knee extensor strength significantly increased in individuals who performed aerobic activity. It also suggests that aerobic exercises like running can prevent strength loss while increasing muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy.
While it may seem daunting if you don’t know how to balance running and strength training, it is possible. Through better exercise structuring and improved focus on recovery, it should be much easier to see maximum results. Now, we would love to hear some of your comments on which elements of balancing a workout you struggle with. Let us know in the comments.
Justin D. Crane, "Long-Term Aerobic Exercise Is Associated With Greater Muscles Strength Throughout The Lifespan," The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, January 9, 2024
Spyridon Methenitis, "A Brief Review On Concurrent Training: From Laboratory To The Field," MDPI, January 8, 2024
Thomas K; Brownstein CG; Dent J; Parker P; Goodall S; Howatson G, "Neuromuscular Fatigue and Recovery after Heavy Resistance, Jump, and Sprint Training," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, January 9, 2024