You live for that exercise-induced adrenaline rush when you’re on top of the world. Although you know that as you come back down to earth that you’ll feel the effects of your workout, sometimes you wonder if you should go running when your adrenaline is that high. Is it a good idea to run after exercise or should you do it before?
Deciding whether to run before or after a workout depends on what you want to achieve. If you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight, then you need to strength-train first, then run. To increase endurance, do the opposite.
In this article, we’ll shed some light on these two methods of exercising, examining the pros and cons associated with both. More than likely, on some days, you might run and then hit the gym and on other days, it will be vice-versa, so it’s good to know what you’ll be in for either way. Make sure you keep reading!
The Pros and Cons of Running Before Your Workout
You usually like to keep your cardio and strength-training days separate, but your schedule is jam-packed this week, so you’ll have to combine the two exercises. If you decide to run before you lift weights, here’s what you can expect.
The biggest benefit of starting your fitness routine with a run is that you have the most energy to dedicate to this activity. Perhaps you ate something this morning or maybe you didn’t, but your body is primed and ready to go. If you did eat, then you can use this morning’s meal to provide glycogen to your body.
Here’s a quick lesson on how your body processes food. Everything you eat becomes glucose, but some foods have more glucose than others, such as carbohydrates. When foods enter the body as glucose, they undergo the process of glycogenesis in the liver, which is the conversion from glucose to glycogen.
Glycogen is your body’s usable form of energy, so it’s like converting your American dollars to euros or vice-versa. That glycogen is what keeps you fueled and able to run with your usual stamina.
Running and then transitioning to strength training within the same day demands a lot out of your body, but it’s a great way to build endurance.
Runners usually have a hard time gaining muscle on the upper half of their bodies compared to their lower half. Although you do use your arms when running, those muscles aren’t worked to nearly the same extent as your leg muscles.
If you’re trying to build stronger, larger muscles through your strength-training routine, running first can hinder that. The reason? It has to do with how you build muscle.
The way your muscles get bigger is by causing damage to the muscle fibers, which then heal through fusion and grow. This concept has a name: muscle hypertrophy. Yet when your energy is already not at 100 percent–such as after a run–you might not have the stamina necessary to induce muscle hypertrophy.
In other words, you’re wasting your time at the gym, sweating and straining, but without the results you desire. You’re also putting yourself at an elevated risk of injury.
The Pros and Cons of Running After Your Workout
Perhaps your schedule worked out in such a way that you decided to go to the gym first and then run afterward. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of organizing your fitness routine that way.
Knowing what you do now about glucose, you only have so much you can use for either running or weight training. If you start your day at the gym, then you’ll spend the bulk of your energy there. Your body will be in great shape to push your muscles to the point of hypertrophy, which will lead to muscle gain if you commit to a regular routine.
What some runners have found is that by doing their strength training first and then running that they might be able to burn more fat. How does this work, you ask? When your body uses glycogen, it still needs to provide you with energy, but it’s out of glucose. The belief is that you then switch to fat-burning mode.
This has its own pros and cons. First, even if you’re out of usable glucose right now, the liver usually stores more for just this occasion. It usually takes several days of fasting to burn through all the glucose in the liver and then start fat-burning. You would have to really have exercised hard to achieve this feat.
Even if you were able to burn fat by strength training and then running, you’re not torching calories as plentifully as you are fat. Thus, you could look trimmer by losing body fat, but you might not weigh that much less.
Since you’re not working on building muscle on a run, you don’t have to worry about being so drained that you can’t achieve muscle hypertrophy. However, strength training before a run is still going to have its effects on your running ability. Your stamina might be shot or close to it. This will prevent you from being able to run as far as you typically do.
You might also find that you’re running a bit slower because your body is already fatigued and your glucose stores are running low. If you’re trying to beat your own speed record or run the extra mile (quite literally, in this case), then running after going to the gym is not the way to do it.
While running and then strength training is a stellar way of building endurance, the opposite does not work the same way. Also, we have to mention the potential of injury just as we did before. Since your body is tired and your muscles are sapped of energy, overstraining yourself becomes more likely, which can sideline you for weeks or longer.
Building a Fitness Schedule That Works for You
The last two sections prove that whether you want to run first or lift weights that there are upsides and downsides to both. This has you carefully thinking about your fitness routine, perhaps more than ever before. How can you sort out a schedule that includes both running and strength training but in such a way where one activity doesn’t impede the other?
Here are some suggestions.
Doing One Activity Earlier in the Day and Another One Later
If you don’t mind a lot of exercise in one day, then you can schedule what’s known as a two-a-day.
Maybe you wake up very early, put on your running shoes, and jog around your favorite trail for an hour or longer. Then you’d come home, shower, eat (if you didn’t eat already), and go to work. After work, you’d get changed into your exercise clothes and lift some weights. Then you could go home, shower again, and have dinner.
You can also do the opposite provided your gym is open that early in the morning. If you have a home gym or if your gym is open 24 hours, then you can do your strength training whenever you want, whether that’s in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.
Two-a-day workouts are very beneficial. Since you’re exercising twice, that’s twice the calories you can burn and twice the fat as well. The break in between helps you conserve your energy from one activity to another.
Eating throughout the day will provide you with enough glucose that your weight-lifting performance shouldn’t suffer even if you ran this morning. This might allow you to push yourself to physical excellence during both activities.
The two-a-day workout isn’t without its downsides though. This kind of routine is pretty demanding. You’d have to wake up early so you have enough time to eat, exercise, and shower before work. Then, after a day at the office, you’d have to jazz yourself up to exercise all over again. If you had a particularly long day or if you’re just tired, you might feel like skipping that second workout.
Running and Strength-Training Back to Back
Many people might not have enough time to exercise, shower, work, and then do it all over again after their day ends. For them, running and strength training on the same day is best. If so, then doing the two activities back to back might be more palatable.
You’d dedicate about 20 minutes to the first activity, be that running or weight-lifting, and then 40 minutes to the second activity. This adds up to just over an hour of exercise, which should be enough to maintain your weight. That said, you’re not necessarily in a great position to lose weight.
That’s not the only issue with this schedule. Let’s be real, 20 minutes isn’t a lot of time to put into either running or strength training. You won’t be able to push your endurance through so little exercise, and you certainly won’t gain muscle. You’re just not working your muscles long or hard enough for muscle hypertrophy to occur.
To maintain your energy between both activities, we recommend lifting first and running second anytime you schedule both in one day. The higher the intensity of your gym session, the lower the intensity your run should be. You also want to give it at least six hours from the time you lifted weights to when you lace up your running shoes. Some runners wait nine hours.
Scheduling One Activity Per Day
If there’s room in your schedule, one of the best ways to plan your fitness regimen is with running or weightlifting being your only exercise for that day. You can go on an hourlong run if that’s something you usually do. You’ll feel less stressed because you know you won’t have to squeeze in a strength-training session right after you’re done.
When you go to the gym, you’ll also be able to dedicate more time to building muscle on your upper half so your body is balanced and less injury-prone.
There’s no one right answer to whether you should run before or after a workout. If you’re more interested in burning fat, then you might take care of your strength training first, then focus on running. This regimen also allows you to build muscle.
When you schedule two exercises in one day, you have to remember that you only have so much energy to use. Whatever your second activity is, you might not be at 100 percent like you usually are.
Whichever schedule above works best for you, please always listen to your body. Pushing yourself too hard can result in injury. Then, instead of debating whether you should run first or strength-train, you won’t be able to do either.