How to Combine Running and Weightlifting for Better Results

Running and weightlifting can be a hot-button topic. We know lifting and strength training can transform your running for the better!

How to Combine Running and Weightlifting for Better Results

Running or weightlifting? Why not both? At The Run Experience, we believe that combining strength training with your running regimen isn't just beneficial – it's essential.

This approach might raise some eyebrows in the running community, where the debate over the role of weightlifting in a runner's routine is often lively and divided. Yet, we stand firm in our conviction that integrating weightlifting isn't just about building muscle—it's a strategic move to enhance your running performance and safeguard your body against injury.

Why merge these two seemingly different worlds of fitness? It's simple.

Runners equipped with stronger, more resilient bodies don't just run—they excel. They enjoy better form, higher power output, and a lower risk of injury. This synergy between running and weightlifting is not just theoretical. It's a practice backed by science and proven by experience.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll navigate through the most pressing questions and provide practical advice on how runners can effectively incorporate weightlifting into their training.

Whether you're a seasoned marathoner or a casual jogger, understanding the symbiotic relationship between running and weightlifting could be the key to unlocking your full potential. So, let's dive in and explore how this combination can elevate your running experience to new heights.

Why Incorporate Strength Training?

running and lifting

To begin, strong, stable, coordinated athletic bodies do not break down as much. They produce more power output, and they are more resilient in their training. In general, runners who lift weights have better running form and are less prone to injury, because their bodies are stronger.

This is largely because strength training improves your run form. Also, putting more muscle on your bones can help lessen the impact of your running and give your bones a break. If you are someone who suffers from stress fractures, weight training will definitely help you out.

After all, running is a limited, repetitive motion. But as most runners know, running often requires stability and balance that you will not get by only running. This is why cross-training is all the rage now-a-days.

Just ask Coach Nate, who has been a member of both camps in this debate. When Nate was devoting all of his time to running, he lost a lot of athletic coordination he had when he was cross-training, and his body broke down more frequently.

How to Build a Running and Strength Training Routine

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you integrate these two critical elements of fitness into a cohesive and effective training plan.

1. Assess Your Current Fitness Level and Goals

Start by evaluating your current fitness level and running goals. Are you training for a marathon, looking to improve your 5K time, or running for general fitness? Your goals will dictate the intensity and frequency of both your running and strength training sessions.

2. Understand the Synergy Between Running and Strength Training

Recognize that running and strength training complement each other. Strength training bolsters muscles and joints, enhancing running efficiency and reducing injury risk. Meanwhile, running can improve cardiovascular fitness, benefiting your overall endurance during strength workouts.

3. Plan Your Weekly Schedule

Allocate specific days for running, strength training, and rest. A balanced week might include three days of running, two days of strength training, and two days of rest or active recovery. Ensure that hard running days don’t follow intense strength training to allow adequate recovery.

4. Focus on Runner-Specific Strength Exercises

Prioritize exercises that strengthen the core, legs, and hips, which are crucial for runners. Incorporate movements like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and planks. These exercises enhance stability, power, and endurance in your running muscles.

5. Tailor Strength Training to Your Running Phase

Adjust your strength training based on where you are in your running cycle. During the off-season or early in your training cycle, you can focus more on building strength and muscle. As you approach race day, shift towards maintenance workouts to keep muscles strong without causing fatigue.

6. Integrate Injury Prevention Exercises

Include exercises that target areas commonly injured by runners, like IT bands, knees, and ankles. Incorporate lateral movements, balance exercises, and flexibility routines to address these areas.

7. Gradually Increase Intensity

Start with lighter weights and fewer repetitions, gradually increasing the intensity as your body adapts. This approach helps prevent injury and ensures consistent progress.

8. Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to how your body responds to the combination of running and strength training. Fatigue, prolonged soreness, or decreased performance can be signs of overtraining. Adjust your routine accordingly, prioritizing rest and recovery when needed.

9. Consider Cross-Training Options

In addition to strength training, consider other forms of cross-training like cycling, swimming, or yoga. These activities can enhance your running performance by improving overall fitness and reducing the risk of overuse injuries.

10. Monitor and Adjust Your Routine Regularly

Regularly assess your progress and how your body is responding. Be prepared to tweak your routine, adjusting the balance between running and strength training to align with your evolving goals and fitness level.

Running + Weightlifting FAQs

Now that we know we can and should lift weights, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions surrounding weightlifting and strength training.

Should runners lift weights?

Yes, runners should lift weights. Weightlifting for runners helps with injury prevention, and it can also help you build running-specific muscles.

For example, stronger calves will lead to more explosive propulsion, helping with sprints and faster efforts. And building single-leg balancing can help prevent imbalances (also helping prevent injuries).

Do I need to do runner-specific strength training?

In general, no. You are incorporating this strength training to build up general strength, which you will then use for the specific purpose of running. And after all, we’re all human. There is no such thing as a runner-specific squat or a runner-specific deadlift.

Some of Coach Nate’s favorite exercises include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead shoulder press
  • Front squats
  • Forward lunges

To get a visual and a how-to on these, check out this video:

Should I lift heavy?

As a general rule, runners certainly should not be afraid to lift heavy. Lifting heavier weight is a great way to break your body out of its traditional movement patterns so that you really see change.

Lifting heavy also better enforces proper form. Heavy lifting heighten the importance of form, so lifting heavy is a great way to practice that.

Having said that, be sure you understand proper form when lifting these heavier weights. If you are new to lifting weights, start with just 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps per set. Over time, you can build up to 4-8 reps. But start small to acclimate your body and allow it get out of its comfort zone safely.

How many days a week should I strength train?


It depends. If you are far out from a race, or if you are dealing with an injury that keeps you from running as much as you’re used to, you can and should strength train 3-4 days per week.

For runners closer to their race who are fully engulfed in their running training, incorporate strength training twice a week and you will still be able to reap the benefits.

And feel free to find yourself somewhere in between these numbers. If you have the time and energy to squeeze in a small bodyweight strength training workout after one of your running workouts, do it. It may not be a full weightlifting session but it will pay off in the long run.

What does a weightlifting session look like?

Your weightlifting session should begin with a dynamic warm-up. This should get your hips and shoulders moving and more open.

For an example of a dynamic warm up, check out this one:

From there, you will move into your main strength piece. Depending on how heavy your weight is, your rep count will vary. But in general, you will choose a series of exercises. For each exercise, you will choose how many sets you want to do, and how many reps you want to do per set.

You can also make a circuit out of your exercises, meaning you switch exercises every set. Maybe you go from your deadlifts into a set of pull-ups or assisted pull ups to get your upper body going, and from there you go to forward lunges to reignite the lower body, and then start all over. Aim to vary the muscle groups you are working on.

Between each set or circuit, give yourself the rest of anywhere from one to two minutes. Remember, strength training is not intended to be an aerobic workout; that’s what your running workouts are for.

After your main sets or circuit, consider adding some “nook and cranny” strength exercises. Maybe you spend a bit of time working on one-legged deadlifts, or box jumps, or any exercise that requires individual focus for you.

Lastly, finish off with some mobility work. Get out your foam roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or whatever other tool you like to roll out with and start working into those muscles you just worked.

When should I lift? Run before or after weights?

As a general rule, some strength training is always better than no strength training. So if scheduling concerns make it tough to incorporate weight lifting, just work it in where you can.

If you are tackling both a running workout and a lift in one day, plan strategically. Typically, whichever we do earlier in the day is going to get the best of our effort and focus.

This means that if you have a race coming up, try to schedule that run before your strength training. If you’re coming back from an injury, reverse them and lift first.

On another note, aim to keep your strength days on your easy run days if the two overlaps. This will keep your recovery days manageable the next day so that you’re not too sore to continue on with your training plan. Try to keep your long-distance runs on days where you have nothing else planned training-wise.

Should I do lifting and running on the same day?

If you run every day (or close to it), you’re likely going to need to do lifting and running on the same day. We recommend incorporating lifting into your easier run days.

Throwing heavy leg training onto your schedule on your speed day is a recipe for disaster. However, doing some leg work on your easy run day should give you a healthy balance.

Isn’t weightlifting expensive?

It’s true that gym memberships can be pricey, especially compared to running. However, it might be worth the investment if you live in a place with inconsistent weather, as now that membership fee will cover running and cardio costs if there is a treadmill, and it will give you access to heavier weights.

Running Bodyweight Workout

core work

If cost is a concern for your strength training, consider investing in a few pieces for your home that will go a long way in a full-body workout. Resistance bands for resistance training and dumbbells are great options that you can do a lot with.

And there are plenty of effective bodyweight exercises that you can do to improve strength. Push-ups are a great way to build your triceps, air squats help build the lower body, and there are plenty of other examples.

In fact, strength training with bodyweight is a lower impact way to strength train, and might be a preferable option if you are nearing race day.

For a good running bodyweight workout, try the one in this video:

What’s the best running and strength training schedule?

There’s no one-size-fits-all running and strength training schedule. You’ll need to find the one that works best for you. Ideally, runners should be adding in strength training every week, and they should avoid doing it on (and before) hard running workouts.

For example, if you’re planning to do sprints or a tempo run, you won’t want to do heavy weightlifting exercises the day before. Nor would you want to do it after. You want to go into your weightlifting fresh, and you also want to be fresh for your hard runs.

That’s where you need to mix in easy runs and recovery runs on the right days. For example, when you do a heavy strength training session, you might want to follow it up with an easy run or recovery day.

Should you do running and weight training on alternate days? It depends. Sometimes, depending on the volume and intensity, you can do them on the same day. If your training schedule isn’t too jam-packed, it’s more ideal to give them each their own day (but not necessary).

Start a Running and Lifting Program

As you can see, weightlifting for runners is a good thing. Stronger runners exert more power and have a leg up in the injury prevention game.

Strength training can be a great way to break up your running training. Add it in and see for yourself! Not sure how to get started? Download our mobile app, and we’ll walk you through the best running and lifting programs to get you stronger and injury-free.