Discover more from Strong As An Ox
Balancing Running and Lifting
Getting Fast on our Feet While Still Building Muscle
Personally, I am not a huge fan of running. I find it harsh on the knees and lower back and there are dozens of good, if not better, alternatives to running for cardiovascular health.
With that being said, those are my goals and yours could be very different. A lot of you actually seem to enjoy running, and more power to you.
I’ve been hesitant to write something on this since I myself am not a big runner, anymore. However, I have put more running mileage on my odometer than most people and I know a thing or two about it.
Most of the muscle mass on my body was actually put on while running anywhere from 20-30 miles a week, often getting into 50+ miles a week.
Balancing Lifting With Running
Contrary to what an overwhelming amount of people say, we can absolutely build muscle while running - IF we do this correctly.
The BIGGEST thing we have to do is balance recovery—cannot emphasize this enough.
Running can negatively impact our ability to build muscle and even cause us to lose muscle if it is excessive.
By “excessive” this can be mileage or frequency. I cannot give you an exact number on excessive in terms of mileage, but as we get above 60-75 minutes of running is when we will start to see issues in the gym and with our muscular development.
As always, we have to weigh our goals.
Do you want to focus solely on running and be a *great* runner?
Or do we want to become a *good* runner and *good* in the gym?
For the former we largely can ignore this post as you will likely need a running coach and much different advice.
I’m speaking to the latter in this post. The person who wants to run a sub 30 minute 5k while moving impressive weight in the gym and building an appreciable physique.
Key Components of A Successful Program
The first thing we need to be cognizant of is our actual abilities.
Most people could go out and jog a few miles with no issue, then tomorrow feel absolutely trashed in the muscles/joints/tendons/ligaments that are not used to taking the poundage running places on them.
Running and lifting share a very similar progression scheme:
Start with the minimum effective “dose” and progressively increase mileage/speed over time.
Starting right out of the gate at 20 miles a week does not mean you will get better at running than starting at say 10 miles a week. In the same way doing 20 sets of arms a week won’t net you a better result than 10 sets a week.
If we are absolutely destroyed after runs and it starts affecting our lifts and general recovery, then we are simply doing too much and it’s counterproductive.
Yes, as you ease into running, you will have some soreness just as if you were starting a weightlifting program.
How much running is enough vs too much is largely going to be very individual, so this will be something you have to determine for yourself.
Generally the signs will present themselves if you are in fact doing too much volume:
Excessive Soreness lasting more than 2 days
The numbers on your lifts are regressing
Trouble sleeping at night
HRV is down and RHR is up (if tracking with a fitness tracker)
Run times start regressing
Your body will be pretty quick to let you know if you are doing too much, you should listen to it. Your body will ALWAYS win at the end of the day.
Just Getting Started
If you have not started running yet and want to, there is a very easy progression scheme that will allow you to safely get into running and will not hurt your progress in the gym.
It’s called the “walk to run plan” and it’s used commonly in the Special Operations community when getting back into running after a layaway or an injury.
The plan is very simple and works the exact way it sounds - it is a run progression that starts with walking and eventually becomes continuous runs.
Walk To Run Progression
The progression below should require approximately 3 weeks. However, there are no set timeframes – progress using pain as a guide.
Perform at least 3x/wk, but do not load your legs two days in a row (DO NOT ruck on one day, and run the next).
Perform an easy pace on level surfaces – no hills. Use good running shoes that are not more than 6-9 months old.
Execute each phase one time and progress to the next phase ONLY if:
a. You experience NO increased pain, swelling, or stiffness which lasts longer than the time required to complete each “jog” repetition (i.e. Phase 1, must last < 1 minute). AND
b. You experience NO increased pain, swelling, or stiffness AFTER the session which lasts longer than the total session time (30 min).
This progression will NOT keep you “in shape”. You must maintain your cardiovascular fitness with alternate (non-loading) cardiovascular activities.
Phase 1 Walk and Run
Stage 1: Walk 5 Minutes - Jog 1 Minute - Repeat 5 times - Total Time 30 Minutes
Stage 2: Walk 4 Minutes - Jog 2 Minutes - Repeat 5 times - Total Time 30 Minutes
Stage 3: Walk 3 Minutes - Jog 3 Minutes - Repeat 5 times - Total Time 30 Minutes
Stage 4: Walk 2 Minutes - Jog 4 Minutes - Repeat 5 times - Total Time 30 Minutes
Stage 5: Walk 1 Minute - Jog 5 Minutes - Repeat 5 times - Total Time 30 Minutes
Stage 6: Walk 5 Minute - Jog 10 Minutes - Repeat 2 times - Total Time 30 Minutes
Phase 2 Jog
Stage 7: Jog 15 Minutes
Stage 8: Jog 20 Minutes
Stage 9: Jog 25 Minutes
Stage 10: Jog 30 Minutes
How long you remain in each stage, and then in Phase 1 until progressing to Phase 2 will be completely dependent on your own ability to progress with this program.
If you are a little heavier or overweight (which we will get into), then your progression will be much longer (if, as we will go over, you even run—not the best idea).
If you already have a baseline of running history, then your progression will be much quicker.
If you’re already a runner—ignore, this wasn’t for you—lol.
The “Balancing Act”
I’ve reorganized this article about 5 times to make sense, this could go at the top, but flows better here—I digress.
Now let’s get into the meat and potatoes of developing our running abilities while maintaining and building muscle mass.
Again, we have to focus on the recovery aspect. Running 3 days a week and lifting 3-5 days is going to be completely manageable, we just have to play our cards right.
If you breakdown what running is going to affect the most then this leads us directly to leg development.
So, for this it makes sense to either avoid running around our leg days, or keep our easier, less taxing runs around leg days.
My sole suggestion is that the day of and the day after leg day we avoid running so we can maximize our recovery and muscle growth from our leg days and not destroy our performance and intensity in the gym.
A good running program is going to have longer, moderate, and short (sprints or interval) run days.
For this, we should schedule our long runs as far away from leg days and opt for likely our moderate, easier runs a day or 2 before, and then sprints or intervals again away from leg days as these will be taxing as well.
Let’s look at an example week:
Monday is Push Day, and thus (personally) the least taxing - this day I would schedule a long run.
Tuesday is a Pull Day, and we will rest or do a low impact cardio session like stationary bike or incline walking on the treadmill.
Wednesday is a Rest Day, but we will do a short 2.5 mile run at a moderate (conversational pace) - this won’t make us sore and thus won’t affect our leg day the next day.
Thursday is Legs, we will focus on that and nothing else.
Friday is a Rest Day, and we will use this day completely for rest and recovery activities like a 20-30 minute incline walk on a treadmill for active recovery to get some blood flow in the legs (this will promote better recovery).
Saturday is another Push Day, and this will be our sprint day - we’ll do some 800, 400, and 200m sprints/intervals.
Sunday is a Pull Day, and we will do our workout and nothing else.
Then Monday we get a little wrench, another Rest Day (we don’t follow a calendar day split, our split is constantly moving with training, not days of the week), so this will be our moderate/easier run day.
Tuesday is a Legs, so again no running.
Wednesday, again is a Rest day, so active recovery.
Then Thursday, another Push Day will be our longer run.
Friday is Pull Day, since we did our long run the day before we will do low impact cardio.
Then Saturday will be our Sprint Day on our Rest Day.
The point of this was not a specific plan, but rather the thought process that goes into intelligent programming. This is the programming I would use if I were to work on running while utilizing my Push Pull Legs Program.
If following something like the 3 Day Upper/Lower Split it’s much easier, another (shorter) example would be:
Monday: Upper/Long Run
Tuesday: Rest/Low Impact
Saturday: Rest/Low Impact
Sunday: Rest/Moderate Run
Again, you can play with this scheme as you see fit, and how it works with your own recovery capabilities and your programming.
The next biggest thing we have to keep in mind is calorie consumption. If we’re going to be going on longer runs, this is obviously going to burn more calories.
We need to be even more cognizant of changes in the mirror, on the scale, and our numbers in the gym.
If we see steep declines in performance and drops in weight, it’s probably a sign we need to eat more.
Luckily, most TDEE calculators can account for this with the exercise and activity level selectors, but we still need to keep track of how we react to this as TDEE calculations are simply just an estimate.
When in comes to our running sessions, we want them as far away from our training sessions as we possibly can with a minimum of 1-2 meals separating them for recovery and fuel purposes.
Running is going to burn a lot of glycogen—we need to ensure we are getting enough carbs to offset this loss.
If you’re going to be going on longer runs, anything over 5 miles or 45 minutes, it’s wise to have some intra-workout carbs (energy chews/carb powder/gatorade/etc.) to help replenish glycogen and improve performance both on our runs then subsequently in the gym.
It’s also not a bad idea to consume some Essential Amino Acids before our runs to stave off muscle catabolism. 10-15g of EAA before or even during our runs will be both beneficial for preventing muscle breakdown, but also improving recovery.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY BE SURE TO PROPERLY REHYDRATE!
Immensely important we wear proper running shoes. Do not skimp out on this, you will pay for this. You need to get fitted and find a shoe that fits your arch. Any running store will likely have a run coach who can properly fit you.
Nike shoes look cool but are typically not good running shoes. Hoka, Brooks, and Asic— just to name a few—make very good running shoes.
If you experience the shin splints, this could be a sign you are pushing too far too quick, or you have weakness in the front part of your calf in the tibia and it’s attachments.
You can use resistance exercise to strengthen these muscles/tendon/ligaments. Things like this:
If you are experiencing shin splints it’s very important you identify what is causing it and remedy properly. Left unattended, these can turn into stress fractures and this will put you out for a while.
Do You Need To Run?
To be completely honest, you abosutely do not *need* to run for cardio. There are other methods that are more effective and much less taxing on the body.
With that being said, running is a very natural movement pattern and you should be able to do it.
I am not an advocate, for the average gym bro, to incorporate long/moderate distance running into your program; however, I AM an advocate for sprints and believe everyone should do some form of sprinting.
There are plenty of good alternatives for other low-intensity steady cardio. Things like:
Incline Walking On Treadmill
These will get your heart rate up while not putting a ton of stress on your knees and lower back.
If you are overweight, running should likely be avoided. The excess weight will cause tremendous stress on your body and one of these alternatives will more than get the job done while saving your body.
I would suggest laying off the pavement until you are a healthy weight - your body will thank you.
Putting It All Together
There is much more we could get into with running, and we will eventually, but to avoid information overload - this is more than enough.
Less is often more with most things fitness, so do not try to start right off the bat with an unsustainable program. Ease into it and you will save yourself a lot of unneeded pain and potential injury.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to run, but it’s not going to keep you from building a fantastic physique.
As long as you can balance your recovery from both your runs and your lifts then you will be more than okay in both departments.
The Book, “Eat Guilt Free With Ox & Octopod” is out and available for purchase!
Dieting and eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring, and these recipes will show you how—no more flavorless, bland meals.
Around here, we eat like royalty in a macro-friendly, cost-efficient way. Save time, money, and get shredded? It sounds like the most incredible trade deal in history to me.
With Eat Guilt Free, Learn How To Make Meals That Have:
17 Gourmet Recipes
No Inflammatory Seed Oils
Easy To Track Macros
You will have to use NO brain power to make these meals. Simply follow the book, cook your meals, and eat.
All the recipes were tested and vetted to fit your fitness goals. The macros are broken down per serving, and as a competitive bodybuilder, I can eat these meals all the way into a show. This gives me an edge because I have no urge to cheat on my diet—my meals are delicious.
For my substack subscribers I am offering 20% off with the discount code “BowTiedOx”—please don’t share.
I appreciate anyone who buys and will be holding a Q/A for all subscribers Sunday. Typically I only do these for Paid Subscribers, but I want to get to any and all questions health and fitness (or whatever other questions you might have).
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.