For years, I have struggled with the internal debate of how strength training fits into my routine. In the beginning, I had concerns that strength training and running didn’t mesh well. Most of these weren’t based on anything other than “fitness rules” I had read in magazines or online. If I weight lifted too much, I worried I would be too sore for my run the following day or wouldn’t feel up to it. After strength training, I worried that by going for a run, I was diminishing the muscle I was trying to build. I found myself stressing about it and thinking about whether I needed to stop doing one of them. I could never decide which one to give up, though, because I enjoyed them both.
Finally, one day on a longer run, I realized that I needed to stop worrying about how the two meshed together and accept that they both brought me happiness. After having that revelation, I found a way to incorporate both into my fitness regimen. I put my leg day at the beginning of the week, further away from my long run day, which is typically on Saturday. I made my other weekly runs between 30 minutes and 60 minutes so that I wasn’t overly fatiguing myself for my strength training. And I listened to my body. On days when I am supposed to run but my body is extra tired from a lifting session, I walk instead. Some weeks, if I’m particularly into running, I might make the runs a bit longer and do one less strength training session. I adjust week to week, and I stop stressing about how they fit together or what will happen if I continue doing both. They both make me happy, and I can still run semi-long distances and improve my strength.
That’s my personal experience. When I started this blog, I promised to bring you scientific research, so you could make informed fitness decisions. So, this is what science says about combining endurance activities (running, cycling, etc.) with strength training:
Endurance and resistance training use different types of muscle fibers – type I and type II. Type 1 is used for endurance exercises, such as distance running, swimming, cycling, and power walking. Type II is used for activities such as weight lifting, sprinting, and plyometrics. A study reviewed type I and type II muscle fibers in two groups over seven weeks (Kazior, 2016). One group focused on a resistance exercise only, the leg press, while the other group combined leg presses with an endurance exercise, cycling. The study wanted to see whether a combination of endurance and resistance training would positively or negatively affect muscle fibers. Guess what? The study found that endurance training does not negatively impact type II fiber growth.
Research shows that combining resistance and endurance training led to a higher increase in muscle fiber area and enlarged both types of muscle fiber. Simply put, following a routine that includes strength and endurance training will not compromise muscle hypertrophy and type II muscle fiber growth. Not only will it not harm muscle growth, but incorporating both endurance and strength training into your routine will ensure that you are working both muscle fiber types and improving heart health.
A fitness routine that incorporates weight lifting and aerobic activity can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, more so than a routine that only does one or the other (Schroeder, 2019).
In addition, multiple studies have found that pairing distance running with either a weight lifting program or plyometric training regimen will improve running speed (Beattie et al., 2017; Li et al., 2019; Lum et al., 2019). Adding weight lifting can give distance runners who weren’t previously lifting weights an advantage in their next race. It can become increasingly challenging for experienced runners to improve their race times, but this is a way to do it!
So, what are the benefits of a fitness routine that has both endurance and strength training?
- It will make you strong.
- It will increase your cardio tolerance (your ability to run, cycle, or walk further without tiring as quickly), which means you’ll have more energy.
- It will increase your muscle mass.
- It will improve running speed.
- It will improve your heart health.
If you add up all of those great benefits, this powerful combination will result in helping you to feel your very best!
Beattie, K., Carson, B. P., Lyons, M., Rossiter, A., & Kenny, I. C. (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(1), 9–23. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001464
Kazior, Z., Willis, S. J., Moberg, M., Apró, W., Calbet, J. A. L., Holmberg, H.-C., & Blomstrand, E. (2016). Endurance exercise enhances the effect of strength training on muscle fiber size and protein expression of Akt and mTOR. PLoS ONE, 11(2), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149082
Li F., Wang R., Newton R. U., Sutton D., Shi Y., & Ding H. (2019). Effects of complex training versus heavy resistance training on neuromuscular adaptation, running economy and 5-km performance in well-trained distance runners. PeerJ (San Francisco, CA), 7, e6787–e6787. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6787
Lum, D., Tan, F., Pang, J., & Barbosa, T. M., (2019). Effects of intermittent sprint and plyometric training on endurance running performance. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(5), 471–477. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2016.08.005
Schroeder, E. C., Franke, W. D., Sharp, R. L., & Lee, D. (2019). Comparative effectiveness of aerobic, resistance, and combined training on cardiovascular disease risk factors: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 14(01), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210292