Should I Run or Lift First? (Based on Experience)

You want to become a more balanced athlete so you decided to include strengthening exercises in your exercise routine. But now you’re wondering which one should you do first, running or lifting?

If your main focus is improving endurance and losing fat, you should run first and lift after. But if your main goal is building strength and muscle mass, then you should lift first and run after. The key is to prioritize the activity that will lead you to your goal. 

Ahead, we will discuss the benefits of running and lifting and how they will improve your fitness when you do them together. In addition, I will give you tips on how to start lifting and running as a beginner. 

Running vs. Lifting: Which Will Make Me More Physically Fit?

Before we decide on what makes you fitter, let’s look at the definition of physical fitness. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, physical fitness is defined as “one’s ability to execute daily activities with optimal performance, endurance and strength with the management of disease, fatigue, and stress and reduced sedentary behavior”. 

In other words, you need to have endurance and strength to be considered physically fit. Therefore, the one that will make you physically fitter is working on whatever you lack. 

If You Have Good Endurance But Weak Strength, Lift First

If you’ve been running quite a while not, you’ve probably noticed you’ve lost muscle mass. That’s because running (for very long durations) not only burns fat but also muscle. 

So, if your goal is to build back that muscle mass, I highly recommend you lift first before going for a run. 

This will allow you to use more of your energy stores for the activity that supports your goal of building muscle (lifting weights). After that, you can use your remaining energy to run so you can maintain your endurance. 

I also recommend dialing back your running duration to a maximum of 1 hour and eating lots of protein to support the muscle mass you’re building. 

If You Are Strong But Have Little Stamina, Run First

Along with a lot of positive health benefits including preventing heart diseases, running is one of the best ways to build your endurance. 

Running for as little as 30 mins a day before your lifting session can help build your endurance and make you more physically fit. 

Doing it first assures you won’t skip it when you’re tired after a workout. It also allows you to perform better because your energy is not yet depleted. 

If You Want To Lose Weight, Focus on Running

The idea of losing weight is simple: lose more calories than you intake. Since running burns a lot more calories per min than lifting weights, it would make sense to focus on running rather than lifting weights. 

To see this more in detail, let’s look at a snippet from the resource published by the Americal Council of Exercise. 

Body WeightRunning (Cal/min.)Lifting (Cal/min.)
120 lb11.46.6
140 lb13.27.6
160 lb15.18.7
180 lb17.09.8
This information is taken from the American Council of Exercise

It shows that running burns almost twice as much as lifting in terms of calories per min. 

To put that into perspective let’s look at how many calories a 140 lb person burns in 30 mins and 1 hour of running and lifting. 

ActivityCalories burned in 30 minsCalories burned in 1 hour
Running396 calories792 calories
Lifting228 calories456 calories
Comparison of calories burned in 30 mins and 1 hour of running vs lifting.

That’s a huge gap in calories burned. 

In addition to losing weight, running also brings lots of changes in your physique including toned legs and a toned stomach. 

However, it doesn’t mean that you should forget lifting weights and just focus on running. Lifting weights also have pros that running alone cannot do such as building muscle mass. 

If You Want To Get Bigger and More Defined Muscles, Focus on Lifting

For some of you, you may already have low body fat %. So now you just want to bulk up and get that beach body you’ve been dreaming about. In that case, focus on lifting weights. 

The only way for your muscles to grow is when you put them under stress that is greater than what it’s used to. This is called the “Overload Principle”. To do that, you need to challenge your muscles by adding load or increasing the time under tension. Both can be done by lifting weights or any resistance training. 

Should You Run And Lift On The Same Day?

You can run and lift on the same day, but in my experience, the better approach is to put at least 6 hours of rest in between them. In other words, run in the morning and lift in the afternoon or vice versa. 

This will allow you to perform better in both aspects because you can refuel and rest your body before putting it in another type of stress. 

Another option is to allot days for running and lifting separately. This will allow you to apply the necessary stimuli to both practices that will encourage growth. 

Running and lifting back to back with little to no rest in between may cause you to half-ass your workouts and ruin it. 

Think about it this way. If you know you still have to lift right after you run, would you still go for high intensity and long workouts or would you half-ass to save some energy for the lifting session? 

I’ve been training long enough with a lot of different people to know that most people would half-ass a workout if they knew they still had to lift after a hard session. 

Benefits of Running and Lifting

Both running and lifting is beneficial individually. But if you combine them, you’ll benefit from a plethora of benefits. 

You’ll Become Well-Rounded

I’ve seen a lot of people who can run 50 km without stopping but can’t even deadlift 200 lbs. I’ve also seen lots of people who can lift more than twice their body weight but can’t run a mile without running out of breath. 

If you incorporate both running and lifting into your program, you’ll become more well-rounded which is the real essence of physical fitness. 

You’ll Have an Amazing Body

Want to get that toned arms, rock-solid abs, and wide chest? Running alone won’t get you there. You need to combine the hypertrophic (muscle growth) effect of lifting weights and the fat burning effect of running. 

You’ll Become a Faster Runner

Because strength exercises make your muscles stronger, it allows you to exert a stronger force to the ground to propel yourself forward. That means you’ll become a faster runner when you combine leg strengthening with actual running. 

Does your route have uphill? Having stronger legs will also help you climb it faster. 

It Helps Prevent Injury

Strengthening your muscles can support your joints by helping absorb impact and correct muscle imbalances. For example, developing your quads, hamstring, and gastrocnemius muscles can provide support for your knee joint. 

Also, developing certain muscles like the glutes can help correct your running posture and improve hip strength and stability. 

Tips for Beginners Who Likes To Run and Lift

Don’t Overdo It

Working out is good, but overdoing it can bring more harm than good. 

When you’re starting out, limit your workout to 1 hour and focus on the quality of the workout rather than the volume and duration. Incorporate at least 2 days a week for rest and invest in your recovery. 

Allocate Separate Days For Running and Lifting

Running and lifting on the same day may look cool and badass but the truth is, you’ll be able to get the most of your workout by doing them on separate days. 

That way, you’ll be able to perform better and get the most out of every workout rather than trying to save energy for the next workout. 

Be patient

Success doesn’t come instantly. Don’t expect greatness after a few weeks of running and lifting. 

Sure, you can see a few changes after a few weeks, but impactful change will come in 3-6 months’ time. Be patient and manage your expectations.

Focus On Consistency

When you’re a beginner, it’s easy to be pumped and obsessed with working out to the point that you’d come twice a day every day or do too many high-intensity workouts in a week. I’ve been there. But most often than not, that excitement will dwindle down and you’ll experience burnout. 

Instead, focus on consistency. Follow a training schedule strictly. Then, gradually increase the duration, intensity, or frequency of your workouts. 

Find a Coach

A good coach can help you avoid the pitfalls of overtraining and lead you into the quickest and safest path to your goal. 

If you’re really interested in becoming fit, consider investing in an expert. 

Final Thoughts

Incorporating running and lifting is a great way to improve your overall fitness and elevating your performance. Lifting is great for building muscle mass and strength while running is great for losing weight and building endurance. Whichever you do first will depend on your goal and situation. 

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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