You don’t have to be a runner or a lifter. You can be both. If you’ve picked up a new running hobby during lockdown that you don’t want to abandon when you get back in the gym. Or if you’re a runner looking to make more of your overall fitness. Here’s what you need to know.
What happens to your body when you run?
Running is classed as cardiovascular exercise. The dreaded cardio. This means it involves taking in, transporting, and using oxygen. You can expect to see your heart rate increase and your breath quicken when you run.
The effects of cardiovascular exercise on the body are mainly to do with your cardiovascular system, surprisingly. As you improve your aerobic fitness, you can expect to see improvements in the function of your heart, lungs, and blood. Your joints and ligaments are also benefited by cardio.
Long term changes to the muscles are better associated with resistance and weight training, than cardio. But cardio will still help to improve your muscular efficiency to an extent.
The most well-known thing about cardio, running in particular, is that the activity burns one of the highest number of calories per hour of exercise. On average, running burns about 300-400 calories per 30 minutes.
What happens to your body when you strength train?
Strength training is the process of actively trying to increase the amount of force your muscles are able to exert. This comes in the form of resistance training or weight training.
Resistance training is about improving the condition of the muscular system. Strength training in particular causes an increase in one type of muscle fibre that’s likely to cause hypertrophy. A fancy term for growth in muscle mass and size. It also causes neuronal changes, a better connection between your brain and your muscles, helping you to lift heavier.
Strength training burns less calories per 30 minutes of active exercise than cardio, but building more muscle increases your metabolism in the long term. This means you would need more calories to maintain your weight and muscle.
Can you build strength and run at the same time?
If this is actually your question, the answer is yes. In fact, it’s encouraged.
But sometimes, the question is actually: can you build muscle and lose weight at the same time? The answer for this is more complicated.
To build muscle mass efficiently, it’s better to be in a caloric surplus. This is essentially the bulking part of the infamous bulk and cut you often hear about. To lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit. Being in a caloric surplus and a caloric deficit at the same time, is impossible.
The difficulty people face when combining strength training and running, is that a core part of strength development is muscle mass growth, which is better stimulated by a caloric surplus. Running burns calories. So getting in the adequate calories to offset what you burn, in the right macronutrient breakdowns, can be tricky.
Away from the calorie thing, strength training and running can compliment each other really well. Testing two different types of fitness, it’s important to get the variety in and look after your body in a well-rounded way by developing both.
How can runners benefit from strength training?
Runners need to rely on their muscles to prevent injury often caused by this exercise. The act of running can play havoc on your joints if your muscles aren’t strong enough to support the impact. Most training programs will incorporate weight or resistance training alongside getting the miles in.
Without spending time strengthening your muscles, you’ll soon find yourself with niggles in the knees, the calves, or the glutes. Pain and tightness in these areas is common when clocking up the kilometres and is typically caused by weak muscles.
Strength and resistance training for runners is a no brainer. The question isn’t ‘should you’ but is often ‘how can you’?
Tips for combining the two
Fitting it all in
When combining two types of fitness training into your routine, the concern is usually fitting both in without feeling like you’re slowing your progress with one.
The frequency at which you train is always up to you. There’s no golden rule. It all depends on your goals and focuses.
If you’re main goal is to progress with running, you might want to aim for 3 runs per week and 1 or 2 strength sessions. If that all seems a bit much, aim for 2 runs a week and 1 strength session. Frequency always depends on where you are now and where you want to be. But a split like this will let you progress with running and support your efforts with strength training.
If your main goal is strength or muscle mass, you might want to aim for 4 strength sessions per week and 1 or 2 runs. Again, if that seems a lot, bring it down a bit.
Also remember that if 5 or 6 training days a week seems excessive for you, you can strength train and run on the same day. A 40-minute upper body session followed by 20-minute fast paced run on the treadmill is one brilliantly well-rounded session.
What will dictate your routine more than anything is understanding and abiding by your rest days.
Recovery and rest days
Resting and recovering is just as important as the activity itself. Your body needs time to relax, repair, and re-energize. For strength training, rest days are vital. The work you do in the gym will cause exercise-induced damage to your muscles which they need time to rebuild and repair from in order to get stronger. This needs to be factored into your training plans. Don’t hammer the same muscle groups day after day. Split your workouts to give muscle groups enough time to recover.
For running, you’re not damaging your muscles in the exact same way, But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to take it easy on some days. As a repetitive exercise, your joints and muscles will be at risk of overuse if you don’t give them a break. New runners also need to be careful not to do too much, too quickly. Otherwise you can be sure you’ll feel it the next day. Slow and steady is best for progress.
The most important thing is to listen to your body. It’s pretty good at telling you what it wants and needs.
Get your macronutrients right
Make sure you’re taking in enough of the right things to fuel and recover from your workout.
If your runs are feeling weak and low energy, make sure you’ve taken on enough carbohydrates. Your body uses carbs as its primary source of energy when running and if you don’t have enough, then it’ll need to work harder to convert other sources and that will lead to a reduced performance. This is especially true for longer distances over 90 minutes. If you like running first thing before breakfast, that’s fine. But if you’re feeling too weak to make it through, you might want to revisit your fuelling strategy.
For strength training, it’s protein you want to pay attention to. In order to ensure your muscles are rebuilding and repairing, your intake of protein needs to be sufficient. Your body needs protein to carry out most of its daily functions. You then need enough left over to repair exercise-induced muscle damage. The average sedentary adult needs around 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day. If you exercise, this will increase to around 1.2g. Elite athletes need closer to 2.0g. Wherever you’re at, make sure you’re getting enough.
Stretching and mobility
The underdogs. Stretching and mobility are going to help you in all areas of fitness. But they probably get the least attention of all.
Make time for tending to your muscles. Not once in a while when you’ve got DOMs. Every day. After you exercise. Or before if you want.
Mobility work is important for maintaining adequate range of motion and means keeping your muscles and joints in good health so you can do all your exercises with the right form.
Stretching aids your flexibility. It’s not a quick fix for tightness. Stretch after every session to make sure your flexibility remains high after repetitive exercise like running. That way you’ll help reduce muscle tension in the long run. Pun intended.
Make time for hill sprints
They sound horrendous. And they are. But hill sprints are an efficient and effective way to develop aerobic fitness and muscular endurance at the same time.
By sprinting you’re testing your cardiovascular fitness and stamina. By sprinting up a hill you’re increasing the resistance for your leg muscles and testing your strength and endurance too. Two birds, one stone.
Even if short distance or sprints isn’t where you’re looking to progress, this type of training and the addition of variety is key to well-rounded physical fitness.
Now you know. It’s time to put it all into action. With flexible gym access that lets you workout when and where suits you.