Should You Run Before or After a Workout?

January 23, 2024

Nick Hancock
A man sprinting in a tunnel, illuminated by sunlight streaming through.

Whether you should run before or after a workout depends on your fitness goals. If you aim to improve cardiovascular endurance and burn calories, running before the workout can be beneficial. It warms up your body and primes it for the upcoming exercises.

On the other hand, if your focus is on building strength and muscle, consider running after your workout to avoid fatigue during weightlifting.

In this guide, we break down how to strategically time your runs with your workouts to maximize muscle strength, endurance, and fat loss, so you can prioritize your exercises effectively, without the guesswork.

Quick Advice

  • Cardio’s timing in relation to strength training influences muscle mass and strength gains, with professional athletes often lifting weights before cardio to minimize fatigue and optimize performance.
  • If your main aim is to enhance endurance and target weight loss, prioritize cardio before hitting the weights. Conversely, if your focus is on building strength and muscle, begin with weightlifting and conclude with cardio.
  • Personal trainers can provide customized advice for effectively integrating cardio and strength training into a workout regimen, ensuring it aligns with individual goals, energy systems, and recovery needs.

Determining the Best Time for Cardio: Pre or Post Strength Training?

Person performing cardio exercise

The timing of cardio in relation to strength training can greatly influence your muscle mass and strength gains. Professional athletes typically prioritize lifting weights before cardio to avoid fatigue and maximize their strength gains. But what about those of us who aren’t professional athletes? Can we too benefit from this sequence?

The schedule of your aerobic exercise has a notable effect on your aerobic fitness, which also influences your recovery from high-intensity intermittent exercise. Let’s explore how this schedule influences muscle mass and strength gains, and examine the role of cardio in endurance and recovery.

The Impact on Muscle Mass and Strength Gains

The relationship between cardio and strength training is a delicate dance, often influenced by the ‘interference effect.’ This phenomenon occurs when concurrent endurance training hinders muscle growth and strength gains due to competition between two signaling pathways: AMPK and mTOR.

This might sound complex, but simply put, it’s the body’s way of deciding whether to focus on building endurance or muscle growth.

While cardio before a workout could hinder muscle growth and strength gains if it disrupts strength training or if calorie intake is inadequate, it can also potentially improve muscle gains by:

  • Encouraging better blood circulation, thus delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles
  • Increasing endurance and stamina
  • Burning calories and aiding in weight loss

High-level athletes mitigate any substantial interference effect by prioritizing resistance routine before the aerobic routine or by spacing out their aerobic and weight lifting workouts within a given day.

So, how does one strike the right balance to mitigate the interference effect? Low volume strength training and opting for cycling may help diminish the impact of this effect on muscle growth and strength gains.

Cardio's Role in Endurance and Recovery

Cardiovascular exercise plays a significant role in endurance training by enhancing the strength of the heart and lungs, improving oxygen uptake, and boosting the body’s capacity to sustain physical activity over extended periods. Not just that, but cardio also contributes to post-workout recovery by facilitating parasympathetic reactivation, enhancing cardiovascular health, and promoting improved blood flow.

Furthermore, when you schedule your cardio can have a significant impact on your workout performance and recovery. Scheduling high-intensity cardio and strength training workouts with sufficient spacing (typically around eight hours) allows for adequate recovery and adaptation of the body.

Cardiovascular exercises also help in regulating stress levels during exercise by decreasing stress hormones and promoting the release of endorphins. Studies also show that warming up with cardio can reduce the risk of injury.

Tailoring Your Fitness Routine: Aligning Cardio with Your Goals

Weight lifting for muscle building

The impact of the timing of your cardio workout largely depends on your fitness goals. If your aim is weight loss, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts that integrate both cardio and strength components are advisable. On the other hand, if your goal is muscle building, it’s recommended to limit cardio workouts to three to four times per week with each session lasting 30 to 40 minutes to help maintain muscle mass.

Endurance athletes can benefit from the following sports and training methods to boost their aerobic endurance:

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Squash
  • Tennis
  • Interval training
  • Long Slow Distance (LSD) training

But how do these general guidelines translate into specific advice for those looking to build muscle, weight loss enthusiasts, and endurance athletes?

For Muscle Building Enthusiasts

Including cardio after weight training can boost muscle growth by enhancing endurance, boosting stamina, and facilitating the lifting of heavier weights and the performance of more repetitions.

Some evidence suggests that starting with aerobic exercise might hinder muscle development and strength gains during resistance training. So, flip the order for optimal results: strength first, then your run.

High intensity interval training, walking lunges, sled drags/pushes/pulls, loaded carries, and sprints, or low intensity, long duration cardio such as walking, can effectively complement strength training while maintaining size and strength for individuals interested in building muscle. Ideally, muscle builders should incorporate cardio into their routine approximately three times per week, with each session lasting around 30-40 minutes.

It’s safe to participate in both cardio and weight training on the same day, as long as cardio does not precede the strength training to avoid potential adverse effects on muscle gains.

For Weight Loss Warriors

If your main objective is to lose weight, initiating the workout with strength training can enhance fat burning. This happens as glycogen reserves deplete faster, prompting your body to begin converting fat into energy. Numerous studies have demonstrated that performing weightlifting before cardio can notably enhance fat burning during the subsequent cardio session, particularly when there is a 20-minute interval between the two activities.

While the sequence of cardio and weightlifting is not pivotal for weight loss, initiating with strength training offers additional advantages and has been shown to increase fat burning.

For Endurance Athletes

Endurance athletes reap numerous benefits from cardiovascular exercise, including:

  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Better blood pressure control
  • Improved blood lipid profile
  • Calorie burning
  • Reduced resting heart rate

All of these contribute to enhanced physical performance and endurance in sports.

Strength training is also essential as it enhances muscle stiffness, improves maximum and explosive strength, and increases exercise capacity, ultimately leading to improved endurance performance. Exercises like box jumps, abduction, Bulgarian split squats, pull ups, squats, push ups, step ups, deadlifts, and heel raises can enhance strength and endurance.

For endurance athletes, a recommended ratio of cardio to strength training is 5:2, ensuring an appropriate balance that maximizes endurance benefits while still incorporating beneficial strength training sessions.

Performing Cardio and Strength Training on the Same Day

running outside on a grassy hill

Combining cardio and strength training on the same day might seem like a challenge. However, with strategic scheduling and an understanding of your body’s energy systems, it’s possible to harmonize these two forms of exercise for optimal results.

However, it’s crucial to exercise caution as conducting strength training, such as when you lift weights, before cardio may result in heightened muscle fatigue, thereby increasing the risk of injury during subsequent cardio if preceded by an intense weightlifting session.

So, how can you strategically schedule these workouts for optimal performance, and how do you balance high-intensity and low-intensity workouts?

Strategic Scheduling for Optimal Performance

Proper recovery, prevention of overtraining, reduced risk of injury, maximization of the benefits of each type of exercise, and optimal performance are some of the many advantages associated with scheduling cardio and strength training sessions at least six to nine hours apart.

Scientific studies suggest that separating cardio and strength workouts by more than six hours is optimal for enhancing neuromuscular and aerobic improvements.

This allows for sufficient recovery time for the body before subjecting it to additional stress. So, the recommended time interval between cardio and strength training sessions for enhancing performance is at least six hours.

Balancing High Intensity and Low Intensity Workouts

High-intensity workouts like HIIT are proficient in burning calories and facilitating swift fat reduction, whereas low-intensity workouts assist in enhancing cardiovascular well-being, promoting sustained weight management, and bolstering overall fitness.

Unbalanced workout regimens, which may excessively prioritize either high or low-intensity exercises, can result in heightened cortisol levels in the bloodstream, potentially leading to cortisol imbalances, especially in endurance exercisers. To avoid overtraining and enjoy the health benefits of running, consider the following:

  • Schedule regular rest days
  • Avoid sudden spikes in training intensity
  • Integrate diverse training activities
  • Ensure appropriate nutrition
  • Get sufficient rest
  • Take care of your mental wellness

By following these guidelines, you can maintain a balanced workout routine on a busy schedule and prevent cortisol imbalances.

Personalized Advice from Certified Personal Trainers

Personal trainers or an online running coach like myself can offer expert advice on the most suitable order of exercises tailored to your specific goals and needs. I can assist in customizing your workout routine by:

  • Assessing your current regimen
  • Facilitating the achievement of your fitness objectives more efficiently
  • Engaging in dialogue with you to comprehend your goals and incentives.

Personal trainers assess an individual’s fitness level and requirements through methods such as body composition analysis, evaluation of different fitness components, and analysis of posture and movement. So, if you’re unsure about how to best combine cardio and strength training, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Cross-Training: Integrating Running into Your Workout Regimen

Integrating running into workout

Cross-training, which involves including running in your workout regimen, is an excellent strategy for enhancing overall fitness and lowering the risk of injury. Integrating running into a workout routine involves:

  • Assessing your current fitness level and goals
  • Understanding the synergy between running and strength training
  • Planning your weekly schedule
  • Incorporating intervals into your running and resistance training

Cross-training offers several benefits, including:

  • Mitigating the risk of injury by preventing overtraining and overuse injuries
  • Facilitating muscle rest and recovery
  • Enhancing skill, agility, and balance

For effective cross-training, the duration and intensity of the session should align with an average easy to moderate run to maintain your running performance. For instance, if a typical training run is 5-6 miles at a 10-minute pace, a suitable cross-training substitute would be 45-60 minutes of activities like aqua jogging, spinning, or swimming.

The Science Behind Exercise Order and Energy Systems

The order in which exercises are performed significantly influences the use of metabolic energy pathways, specifically the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative pathways. Studies show that pathways are key in energy generation during exercise, hence affecting an individual’s strength endurance and overall performance.

During strength training, the body predominantly utilizes the phosphocreatine, anaerobic, and aerobic systems to supply ATP, enhancing the activity of enzymes that support muscle energy demand. On the other hand, cardio workouts have a positive impact on cardiovascular endurance by:

  • Elevating heart and breathing rates
  • Increasing energy levels and stamina
  • Assisting in blood pressure management
  • Enhancing the blood lipid profile.

The order of exercise can significantly impact the body’s depletion of carbohydrates and burning of fat. Intensified and prolonged activities result in higher glycogen depletion and carbohydrate usage, whereas lower intensities are associated with increased fat oxidation.

Practical Tips for Combining Running with Weight Lifting

Though the combination of running and weight lifting might appear challenging, a proper approach can make it feasible and efficient. Alternating upper and lower body workouts provides numerous benefits for individuals integrating running with weight lifting. When scheduling both running and weight lifting in the same day, it’s advisable to prioritize the main exercise based on the focus of that day.

Diet also plays a crucial role in this combination.

Proper recovery is also paramount. It is advisable to allocate specific days for running, strength training, and complete rest or active recovery. A balanced week may include three days of running, two days of lifting, and two days for rest or low-intensity activities like yoga.


In conclusion, the best time for cardio - before or after strength training - depends largely on your fitness goals. Whether you’re a muscle building enthusiast, a weight loss warrior, or an endurance athlete, a well-balanced, strategically scheduled routine tailored to your specific fitness goals is key. Remember, the synergy between cardio and strength training is a delicate balance, and with the right approach, you can harmonize these activities for optimal results.

Author: Nick Hancock is a UESCA Certified Ultrarunning coach and UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and has coached many busy professionals and parents to achieve finishes, top-10s and podiums in events such as London Marathon, Manchester Marathon, Amsterdam Marathon, UTMB, UTS, Centurion events, Endure24, Backyards and many more. Host of the Maximum Mileage Running Podcast and author of the Ultimate Cookbook for Runners

He can be found on Instagram @runwithnick

Now go run hard! And remember, if you ever want to talk about the potential you can reach with an online running coach then do get in touch by hitting that enquiry button.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to run before or after the gym?

It is better to do cardio before weights if your goal is better endurance, and to do cardio after weights if your goal is burning fat and losing weight or if you want to get stronger.

Should you do cardio before or after a workout?

It depends on your fitness goal: For better endurance, do cardio before weights. For building strength and muscle, do weights first, then cardio. On upper-body strength training days, you can choose either option.

Should I run before or after leg day?

Yes, you should run after leg day as it can aid in recovery, improve performance, assist in muscle growth, and help maintain a lean body composition. This is recommended for optimal results.

How does the order of exercises impact energy systems?

The order of exercises impacts the utilization of metabolic energy pathways, affecting strength endurance and overall performance during exercise. It plays a crucial role in energy generation and can influence the effectiveness of your workout.

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