I love running. I love weight training and bodybuilding. By trying to do both, am I destined to be ineffective at both?
Many of you are runners too. And if you subscribe to this blog, you are no doubt into weight training. I keep hearing and reading on other blogs that you can’t do both. That’s bull. Here’s their theory: pumping iron builds muscle mass that will add weight to your body; that added weight will slow you down and add stress to your knees and other soft tissue ultimately leading to injuries if you run. And on the other hand, steady-state cardio (medium or long distance running) will burn more muscle than it burns fat. [Some experts even go so far as to say "give up cardio totally". I've got an upcoming post to dismiss that, but back to today's post...]
Bottom Line: They’re partially right – yes, it presents big challenges to try to do both, and their theory is correct. But their conclusion is wrong – of course you CAN do both! I say – forget the science. Do what you love!
Did He Just Say To Ignore Science?
Well, sort of. I’m not saying ignore it – I’m just saying that life is too short to live in fear. So a more pragmatic (but less pithy) way of saying is: learn the science so that you can compensate for the hard realities and still do what you love.
What is “Running”?
For simplicity, let’s break running into two categories (yes, I know there are a million ways to slice it, but stay with me here for my point):
a) steady-state, medium- to long-distance (like jogging or at the high end, marathons); in this running you are keeping your pace and heart rate pretty constant
b) interval-style, short, with intense bursts (like sprinting); in this running, your pace and heart rate vary considerably throughout the run
This post isn’t talking about high-intensity burst running, like sprints or hill intervals. Lots of science has shown that type of running to be very effective for burning fat and only needs 20-30 minutes of it a few times a week. It works well (and even complements) a hard-core weight training regimen and I’m not arguing about that. And most bodybuilding/weight training gurus also don’t argue with that.
I’m also not talking about competitive runners or bodybuilders. Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a top marathoner or on-stage bodybuilder, I can’t attest to how doing both might affect the upper echelon of athletes. But know this:Tom Venuto, champion bodybuilder, is not one of those people who poo-poo running. He’s got an entire chapter on cardio in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (that’s an outstanding book, weighing in at 341 pages – yes, 341!). And even Arnold typically ran 4 or 5 miles several times a week during his show prep (though he doesn’t mention, in his outstanding Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, at what intensity level he ran).
I’m talking about 20 to 40 mile a week, subscribe-to-Runner’s-World, “looking for the runner’s high” kind of running. The science is pretty conclusive that you will be burning muscle after about 60 minutes or so of steady-state running. But I don’t care, because I love it. And there are ways to mitigate the downsides (see below).
Now, you don’t want to have running be your only exercise: if you’re fat, you’ll take too long to lose it, and if you’re normal-weight, you’ll turn into that “skinney-fat” you see in many marathoners that is antithetical to what the WFN community is striving for.
How To Be a Runner and a Bodybuilder
Here’s how you CAN be gaining lean muscle mass through weight training AND do medium to long-distance running:
1. Eat. Eat lots. Eat often. Eat slow carbs (for example, oats) and lean proteins. If you are lifting weights 3-4 times a week and running 3-4 times a week, you need calories. But don’t go for sugary calories.
2. Stagger your running distances on different days. For example, I run 3 times a week: 6 miles, then 8 miles, then 10 miles. Once in a while, my 10 miler goes to 13.1 (a half marathon).
3. Pick one run to be an interval run. Why? This recruits more fast-twitch muscles, burns more fat, and increases your overall speed. For me, it’s usually my 8 miler. I turn this into an interval run as follows: first 5 minutes is steady state, then I alternate with roughly this sequence: sprint for about 1 minute at about 90% of my max effort, then slow to shuffle (about walking speed really) for 1 minute, then get back to regular pace for about 2 minutes. Repeat until you are done, but make sure your last minute is a full-on 100% sprint. You’ll be astonished how quickly you tire out!
4. Never run on the day after your leg-training day for weights. You need a day to rest after maxing out on squats. If you don’t, your leg muscles are not going to grow.
5. Never run before weights. You need maximum focus and strength to get the most out of your weight training sessions. If you don’t believe me, try it each way for one week and you’ll see what I mean!
6. Weights, Refuel, Run. After your weight training session, take a 30 minute break or so and get some protein and good carbs before you run. But make your refueling light so you don’t upset your stomach.
7. Watch our stretching. Don’t do too much static stretching beforehand. There is some mixed science on this issue, but I recommend you do dynamic stretches before your weight training, and before your running, but do static stretches on your off days or after your workouts.
8. Pay really close attention to your body. If you notice the start of any injury, back off a bit. I personally suffered from plantar fasciitis several years ago because I tried to keep running for weeks after it started. By then much damage was done. Remember – you’re trying to do two things you love (weight training and running) while improving your health and physique. Don’t be bullheaded and think you are superhuman.
8.5 Change your socks. Always change your socks before you start a run. Your feet will appreciate it!
If you are running simply to “get in your cardio”, and you hate running, then absolutely go for the aforementioned sprints or hills. And read Mike Geary’s The Truth About 6-Pack Abs, p. 89 to 92 (that book is so much more than a book about abs, by the way, as my critique of the book highlights).
But if you love running, for the joy of running, don’t give it up. And don’t give up your weight training either.
If you are a “runner” who is also dedicated to weight training to build lean muscle mass, please share your own tips by commenting below!