How to Combine Lifting and Running

If you’re a runner, it helps to be strong. If you lift weights, it’s still good to do a little cardio. But sometimes you just want to be good at two things at the same time. Is it possible to train for running and lifting simultaneously? Yes, I’ve done it. But it takes a little extra thought and planning.

Schedule your training around the one that’s more important

Your lifting can support your running, or your running can help you keep your conditioning up while you’re lifting. But you can’t maximise your potential in both sports at the same time. As tough as it might be, you have to pick one to prioritise. Maybe not for forever, but at least for one training cycle.

A training cycle is often a few months’ preparation for a specific race or meet, or a few months of training with a specific focus. Rather than lifting and running haphazardly, pick a training plan for whichever is your top priority. There are some good running plans at halhigdon.com and some good lifting ones listed on r/Fitness, if you’d like a few starter ideas.

Once you schedule your training for your top priority sport, you can work in the other one around it. Let’s say you pick running. How much running do you need to do? Most training programs will have you doing four or more days per week. If you want to train six days in total, that leaves you two lifting days.

You get the idea: once you figure out how you want to train your top priority, that sets a limit on how much you can do for your secondary sport. Don’t be sad that you can’t lift as much as you like; just stick with the plan for now and consider changing after this cycle is over.

And yes, you can try to split things down the middle if you like: half a lifting program plus half a running program. But if you do this, be aware that you won’t achieve what either program promises.

Plan the days of your program carefully

A given training week will usually have one day that is harder or heavier than the rest. The hard days should be your anchor for planning; everything else should fit around them.

If you’re doing any distance running — say, if you’re training for a half-marathon — you’ll have a long run on the weekend. This is your most important workout of the week.

You want to make sure you’re rested going into the long run (maybe not fully rested, but rested enough) and you want to allow yourself some recovery time afterward. So if your long run is on Saturday, don’t schedule leg day, or any heavy lifting day, on Friday. And make sure you have Sunday set aside either as a rest day or a light day.

Here’s a sample schedule from when I was training for a marathon:

  • Monday: easy run
  • Tuesday: full body lifting day
  • Wednesday: medium run or speedwork
  • Thursday: full body lifting day
  • Friday: easy run
  • Saturday: long run
  • Sunday: rest

That Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday block in the middle of the week was rough, but Friday gave me a little bit of a break. By Saturday I was in good shape for a long run. If lifting were my focus, I’d put deadlifts (the heaviest, hardest-to-recover-from lift) on Saturday.

What if you want to do both in one day?

You don’t have to split up your workouts by day, although that’s probably still the best option for most of us. Here are a few other scenarios to consider:

Use one as a warmup or cooldown for the other

When I needed to ramp up my mileage but I wasn’t ready to give up a whole day of lifting, I simply added 20 minutes of treadmill time to the end of my lifting workouts. Sometimes I’d split it so I was doing 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after.

You can also do the opposite, and add a bite-size lifting workout to the end of your run. Bodyweight moves like pushups are good for this, or you can use dumbbells. (I would advise not going for a run and then doing barbell squats with shaky legs.)

Does it matter whether the running or the lifting comes first? There’s a lot of debate about which order is “best,” but it boils down to one simple rule: the one you care about more should come first. Do that one when you’re fresh.

Do two-a-days

There’s no law limiting you to one workout per day, and in fact, most professional and elite athletes do two-a-days. You have to be smart about them, though.

Your first workout of the day should be the more important one, if possible. That’s because your body may not be fully recovered when the second workout time comes around. An alternative, if you can’t make that work, is to make sure that the morning workout is easy — a light jog, maybe — so that you’ll still feel good when it’s time to do some big lifts in the evening.

Either way, nutrition is also important. If you’re doing two-a-days, you must have a meal or shake containing carbs (and ideally also protein) within an hour or so of finishing your workout. Normally the rest of your day’s meals do a fine job of replenishing the glycogen in your muscles, but if you’re going to work out again that day, you need to refuel quickly and efficiently.

In addition to food, you also need to just take care of yourself in the meantime. Don’t finish a workout at 10 a.m. and think you’ll be ready to go again at noon. Rest up, take your time, eat and drink, maybe take a nap if you can swing it. Then you’ll be ready for, say, a 6 p.m. session.

The first few weeks of anything new will be tough

If you’re only lifting now and want to add running (or vice versa), don’t expect to jump right into a new schedule. Your body needs time to adapt to new demands.

I recommend keeping track of some measure of your total workload. For running, you can just count up your mileage each week. For lifting, you can track the amount of time you spend in the gym.

Then make sure those numbers don’t jump too sharply from week to week. If you’re currently lifting three days a week and going for the occasional jog, your first step might be to dedicate one day a week to running. Next week, make it two days. Once you’re used to that, add another running day, or maybe switch one of your lifting days to a running day.

Through it all, remember your priorities. If you have a coach or a trusted mentor in your preferred discipline, talk things over with them as you figure out your schedule. It’s definitely possible to be a lifter and a runner — as long as you make smart choices.

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