How to Incorporate Running Into a Strength Program

There has recently been a trend towards lifters and general athletes alike wanting to add certain endurance aspects to their existing strength training or bodybuilding programs. A lot of this revolving around a desire to create programs that feature both running and strength training.

There are plenty of social media examples of lifters taking on challenges such as a 500lb squat and sub 5 min mile in the same day, some are running full bodybuilding/strength training alongside taking on ultramarathons and extreme endurance events like the Ironman, some need specific training to past military and law enforcement physical fitness tests, others just want to have a well rounded base of training.

Whatever your goal may be, adding running into an existing strength training program can be fairly straight forward. For the sake of this article I’m going to assume your focus is primarily strength training and THEN running as opposed to an athlete who is primarily an endurance athlete but wants some strength training days in their program. Here’s how you can incorporate running into your existing strength training program.

1. Replace all Conditioning Sessions with Running

Adding running into your strength training program doesn’t have to be all that complicated. For starters we are going replace all of your programs existing conditioning sessions with running…your strength program does have conditioning days in it right??

While I let most of you ponder that question strength training programs SHOULD include 2-3 days of basic conditioning whether that be 30-45 mins of steady state conditioning or quick 10-20 min HIIT sessions. In this case instead of doing those sessions you’ll be running.

I’d cap the max amount of running days you have in your program at 3 days a week. Yes, you could add more, but that’s the point where you’ll likely start to notice your running is impacting your strength training to a greater degree.

Shoot for 2-3 running sessions a week of around 30-60 mins. Again, yes you could program longer running sessions, however, it’s again likely that those longer sessions can start to seep into your strength training progress.

2. Utilize Your “Rest” Days

In my experience it’s more manageable to break up your running and your strength training than it is trying to cram both workouts onto the same day.

This is ensures you are prepped to give 100% of your focus to both your running and your strength training. When you schedule both on the same day obviously you’re going to be physically fatigued heading into the second workout for the day. But not only that, mentally that second session is going to be a challenge and more times than not result in you sandbagging the workout more than you would have otherwise if it had it’s own dedicated training day.

With this in mind I will schedule as many of my running days as possible on my off days of my strength training program. For me this works out perfectly as most of my strength training programs are 4 training days a week leaving me 3 open days to fill in with running workouts.

You may be asking won’t this mess up my recovery? Strictly speaking yes you’re increasing the overall stress your asking your body to recover from. Practically speaking I find it doesn’t really matter.

You’ll find that at first the running sessions may cause more training stress going into your following lifting sessions than you like. But overtime this becomes less and less of a problem. In fact you might start to prefer getting in this activity on your “rest” days as some active recovery. I’m so used to having some sort of physical activity scheduled on my strength programs “off” days that I oftentimes feel worse if I don’t do anything at all on those days coming into my next strength training session.

3. Keep Your Bodyweight Up

A lot of lifters worry that they are going to lose all of their gains almost overnight if they add running into their program. This is not the case.

If you are strictly keeping to 2-3 running sessions per week and spreading them out away from your strength training sessions you shouldn’t experience much in the way of performance issues with your strength training.

What I will say is you’ll want to keep an eye on your overall bodyweight. This increased amount of physical activity can result in increased energy expenditure. If this energy expenditure becomes so great that it’s causing you to drop bodyweight, that WILL impact your performance in the gym.

This is easily counteracted by tracking both your calories and bodyweight on a daily basis when you introduce running into your programming, and making adjustments as needed if you start to see your weight on the scale drop.

4. Understand There is an “Adjustment Period”

If this is either your first time getting into running or you have been away from running for a long period of time it’s good to know that there is an “adjustment period” to adding this into your training.

What I mean is your body at the start will likely be more sore than you want it to be from your running sessions, and this in fact may impact your lifting sessions. This soreness however is short lived and shouldn’t be a problem past your first 2 months of introducing running into your programming. You just have to be aware that this may be an issue at the start and you’ll need to ride it out.

Sample Schedule:

  • Sunday: Easy Long Run 60mins (building base mileage/recovery run)
  • Monday: Upper Body Strength Session
  • Tuesday: Lower Body Strength Session
  • Wednesday: Tempo Run 45 min (10 min warmup, 25 min tempo, 10 min cooldown)
  • Thursday: Upper Body Strength Session
  • Friday: Lower Body Strength Session
  • Saturday: Track Interval Workout (sprints, 400m, 800m, 1000m, etc. <interval would depend on running goal)

This example was done with an upper/lower split but you could make running work with any program, don’t be afraid to get creative.

(For more details check out this video I made for Alan Thrall’s YouTube Channel On the Subject!) 

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.