If you’re a fan of combining multiple fitness modalities into your sweat regimen, you may have wondered: Should you run before or after a workout? While you can always hop on the treadmill for a casual jog at any point during your fitness routine, trainers say you may want to plan ahead when it comes to longer runs or tougher workouts, since that’s when the order of your exercises can impact your running performance (and vice versa).
Of course, if you’re just looking to keep things casual, you don’t have to overthink the order of your workout too much. “Most workouts can be paired with a run where the run is at an easy intensity,” says Alan Ladd, a run coach and founder of The Running Rules. “An easy run or jog can be used to warm up the body before going into something that is more strenuous, like lifting weights, or for cooling down afterwards.”
Running also pairs really well with other cardio exercises, like swimming and cycling (think multi-discipline sports, like triathlons, Ladd says). As long as you don’t overdo it, it’s totally fine to run on the treadmill and then get a few laps in the pool on the same workout day. The order doesn’t matter as much here, as long as you feel good doing it.
That said, if you’re looking to build muscle, train for a certain fitness goal, or get ready for a race, that’s when your order of operations in the gym starts to matter. Here’s what trainers have to say about whether you should run before or after a workout.
Should You Lift Weights Or Run First?
Choosing whether to run before or after your workout depends on your fitness goals as well as the other type of exercise you plan to do, says Molly Brown, a NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of Coach Molly Fitness. “If you are training to build muscle — like bodybuilding, lifting weights, CrossFit, etc. — running should be done after a strength-based workout,” she tells Bustle.
If building muscle is your top priority, you’ll want to show up to each strength training session fully rested and reenergized, Brown says. Since a run can quickly deplete your energy and make you tired, it’s best to grab that barbell and get your reps in while you’re feelin’ fresh and strong so you can maintain good form and do the amount of work you planned to do.
Once you’ve finished lifting, doing bodyweight exercises, or attending a strength training class, that’s when you might want to pop on the treadmill to get your cardio. According to Brown, running is an excellent way to cross-train with other forms of exercise like strength training since it helps you build endurance so you can train longer and harder in the weight room.
The intensity of your workout is also a factor. If you’re a casual gym-goer who just wants to focus on improving your general fitness, it’s totally OK to mix things up, try different styles of exercise, and change your weekly routine as needed to suit your schedule, Brown says. Go ahead and do a light, easy jog before or after a fitness class, like yoga or Pilates, or opt for an easy jog before or after weight lifting — the choice is yours.
The only time you might not want to do something back-to-back is if it’s a super strenuous workout that increases your heart rate, like kickboxing or HIIT. It’s best to split those types of exercise up and do them on different days — as Brown says, “Your body needs energy to sustain through those workouts, and that energy comes from food and rest.”
When Should You Run First?
Let’s say running is your main passion or the thing you want to focus on. If you want to get in a longer or more intense run — or if you’re training for a race, a faster pace, or a longer distance — that’s when you should do your run first, Brown says. “If running is your priority, you want to go into that run with the energy you have from proper resting, fueling, and recovering,” she says.
If you signed up for a race day, then it’s definitely recommended to get your runs in first. When in doubt, think of it this way: It makes sense to do whichever exercise is most important to you first, says Jen Steele, a RRCA-certified run coach. “If you're training for a 5K, your run is most important and you should do your run first so it's on fresh legs, and so you get the best performance out of your body.”
The goal is to show up to your main workout with enough energy so you can feel as good as possible all day. Once that’s done, you can move on to your supplemental forms of exercise, whatever they may be.
Balsalobre-Fernández, C. (2016). Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. J Strength Cond Res. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001316.
Jen Steele, RRCA-certified run coach