In today’s modern training age, many runners understand that to train effectively, they must do more than just run.

Cross-training is now accepted as the best universal strategy for improving athletic performance, mobility, and overall feelings of wellness. Taking on a cross-training routine means that your workouts will vary, you’ll target your heart rate, challenge different muscle groups, and engage both slow and fast twitch muscles.

Perhaps the reason the question, “Should I lift or do cardio first?” is not easily answered is because the answer depends on many variables:

  • What are your overall fitness goals?
  • What are you looking to gain?
  • How do you want to improve?

If you scour all of your resources looking for an answer, you’ll likely be left with conflicting information. A recent article by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research even suggests that it doesn’t matter which type of exercise you perform first or last. They say you’ll experience a hormone surge either way.

For many, that may come as encouraging news. You can stop obsessing over the order in which you lift and run. However, it’s always helpful to gain a greater understanding of what your body is undergoing during exercise and what that means for health and weight loss.

Many runners don’t have specific goals. Running is likely a part of your life because you enjoy what it does for you, the health benefits it provides, and how it makes you feel. That said, you’re likely seeking the “best” training plan because you want to get better in some way.

“Getting better” in regard to running means improving your:

  • aerobic capacity
  • stamina
  • muscular endurance
  • leg strength and ability to generate power over a sustained period of time
  • mobility and flexibility
  • your overall sense of balance

It would be unreasonable to assume that everyone’s goal is to be a better runner. Perhaps your goals are to lose weight or trim your waistline of a few pesky pounds you accumulated over the winter months. For you, the best training approach is to keep your body guessing. Plan your workouts so that no two back-to-back days are the same. This is the best approach because it:

  • ramps up your metabolism
  • gives your sore muscles time to recover, avoiding burnout and fatigue
  • keeps you mentally stimulated and motivated to conquer your weight loss goals
  • gives your body the fat-burning and body-sculpting benefits of weight training coupled with the calorie-burning perks of cardiovascular exercise

The short answer that everyone is looking for can be condensed. If you want to build muscle, run first. If you want to build your endurance and aerobic capacity, run last.

Essentially, your body’s adaptive response is greater for the type of exercise that you finish your workout doing. Thus, a workout concluded with weights will trigger muscle growth more effectively, while a workout ending in a run will enhance your body’s aerobic endurance.

If losing weight or toning up is more important to you than performance, then also consider that resistance training first depletes your body’s stored carbohydrates, encouraging your body to tap into fat stores as you jump into cardiovascular training afterward. In other words, doing cardio last will ramp up the fat-burning capacity of your workout.

Another approach is to simply combine both ideals. Losing weight will be accomplished at a high rate if you look to challenge your muscles and heart rate throughout all of your weekly workouts. Plan your workouts by running at the beginning of your workout three times a week and then running last for the remaining two to three weekly workouts.

Incorporating weight training into your routine can help retain muscle mass during a weight loss program. Keep in mind that a calorie-heavy diet is far more responsible for women becoming bulky as a result of lifting, not the actual training itself. Replacing a few pounds of fat with muscle on your frame will actually keep your resting metabolism higher and your physique looking more toned and athletic.

Another effective way to lose weight by combining cardio and lifting is to do interval workouts. This involves alternating back and forth between running and lifting. It will cause your heart rate to skyrocket and keep you stimulated, especially if you struggle with treadmill boredom.

Do your best to ditch the “just run” mentality in regard to running. In other words, accept that to be your best, you need to engage in dynamic exercise that challenges your body in a multitude of ways.

Strength training will make you an exponentially more prepared runner, as it will vastly improve the strength of your running foundation: your legs.

Since your anaerobic pathways (those triggered during resistance training) remain open and active longer when you do weight training last, it’s also crucial to follow up with a post-workout source of protein. It’s during this brief window after a workout that your body is craving protein for growth, thus protein synthesis is happening rapidly at this time.

Your energy stores become depleted during a period of cardiovascular exercise. It’s best to reach for a meal with some kind of healthy carbohydrates to replenish these blood sugar levels.

Though workout planning is vital to achieving your goals, it’s important to pay close attention to your diet. This will help you maximize your results and how quickly your body recovers. A speedy recovery means more functional workouts, which means more growth and progress.