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Can Running Improve Weightlifting Performance?

We typically hear and see evidence for the case of runners complementing their running with strength training to improve performance and reduce injury. Let’s flip the script and ask, can running improve weightlifting performance?


Does Running Truly Improve Weightlifting Performance?

The short answer is, yes! Running improves aerobic capacity which in turn improves our ability to recover, both in session between sets and between training sessions! Generally, it’s accepted that the weightlifting athlete that can recover the best can tolerate larger training loads over time. This leads to not just consistency of training but training sessions in which the athlete is able to bring intensity. Putting these two factors together, the outcome is improved performance!

The rest of the article will dive into the details of this concept along with providing education on why choosing aerobic activities that are low intensity for longer durations at a steady-state may be more optimal for improving recovery efforts compared to high-intensity interval efforts!


Benefits Of Improving Aerobic Capacity

Improving aerobic capacity has multiple benefits including; improved immune functioning, elasticity of the lungs, positive cardiovascular changes, moods, and overall fitness levels (Mohamed and Alawna 2020). Before we get into the meat and potatoes, let’s pause and just take a general view of this. If we build a better defense to fight off infections while also improving our daily mood and put the other factors aside, we will already have improved performance! However, we cannot actually put these other factors aside and you will get them all by using some aerobic-based training.

Aside from overall improvements in health, specific to the weightlifter, adding in running is to improve the recovery gains. Recovery from a weightlifting session is an aerobic event and is dependent on increased disposal of waste or by-products, improved circulation to the worked muscles by improvements in local circulation and vasodilation, and replenishing stores of ATP. To understand this further we may have to dive into the energy systems really quick!


Recovery and The Energy Systems

We know lifting creates metabolic and neurological demands on the body. The fuel to feed the energy demand comes from adenosine triphosphate (ATP). We have three different energy systems that deliver and replenish ATP; phosphagen, anaerobic/glycolytic, and oxidative/aerobic systems. Note that during workouts all 3 energy systems are in play, however, depending on the type of activity one may take over as the all-star (Gastin 2001). For example, consider olympic lifts only take a few seconds to actually complete, the time to chalk up, get the belt right, make sure the right song is playing is a whole different story!


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The primary system replenishing ATP in the olympic lift scenario is phosphocreatine which is a single step creatine kinase reaction to rephosphorlyate ADP to ATP. Don’t get caught up in the confusing words just know this system has a high rate of energy supply that comes at a cost because the capacity of this system is very limited! This is why such a long recovery period is needed between power or explosive based movements.

If the lifter decides to hit multiple reps on one set then we will start to tap into the higher capacity system; the anaerobic or glycolytic system. This system takes more than one step and uses glucose/glycogen to provided ATP. The benefit is that it can do so without using oxygen, the trade off is fatiguing byproducts such as lactate are produced which will ultimately limit the capacity of this system.

Want to keep lifting? No worries, the aerobic or oxidative system will step in. This pathway is extremely complicated, if you’re looking for the classic mental pretzel check out the Kreb’s cycle. The takeaway is this system will utilize oxygen through oxidative pathways and sustain ATP production over extended exercise durations.

Three systems, one goal, keep creating ATP to keep us moving! Let’s plug back into an example to make sure we got this. Suppose a powerlifter does 1 back squat, this will typically take less than 10-15 seconds. The primary system providing ATP would be the phosphagen system. A few more reps the anaerobic/glycolytic system is going to kick in. Now our guess here is the powerlifter is not just going to do 2 reps and then call it a day. With repeat efforts we see the aerobic system become more active to sustain energy and improve recovery. In fact, some older research has shown the aerobic system may contribute 10% or less to a single sprint, however with repeated sprints it can contribute up to 49% (Bogdanis et al 1996).


Why Does Fast Recovery Matter?

We are constantly looking for the next bio-hack to improve recovery and may forget about the ones that are the most important; sleep, nutrition, and having a good foundation of aerobic capacity!


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Recovery matters for consistency of training, to decrease risk of overtraining. and for overall well-being. However, if you are reading this its highly likely you have some competitive drive, so let’s talk competition. If you are a weightlifter in competition and you happen to miss a rep, worst case scenario is that you have to repeat the lift within 2 minutes of rest time. As the aerobic system helps significantly in recovery, a better developed system will lead to better recovery in that 2 minute window, allowing you to reset and go hit that lift!


Why Low Intensity Running Over High Intensity Interval Training?

We can choose to achieve aerobic capacity in other methods such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Let’s face it, if you’re a weightlifter, going for a jog can be pretty boring whereas HIIT can be be more engaging. Research has also shown HITT to have the same if not greater effects on positive cardiovascular changes compared to low intensity running (Wisloff et al 2009). So why choose running?

The biggest reason is that we want to develop aerobic capacity to improve recovery without over-taxing the nervous system. When we engage in HIIT we add a significant amount of load onto the nervous system which then may affect our actual weight training sessions. Running can improve weightlifting performance as it will build the aerobic system without adding too much extra load onto the nervous system!

Furthermore, running can improve weightlifting performance by sprinkling in the principle of variability. Olympic lifting and powerlifting involve movements with simultaneous contractions in a bilateral fashion to be successful whereas running relies on alternating or reciprocal contractions allowing the movement system to be used in a different way. Remember, injuries tend to happen from doing the same thing for too long or from doing too much too soon.


Implementing Running Into Your Lifting Routine

Hopefully, we at least got you thinking about adding in 1-2 sessions of light jogging a week but the tricky part is, how? How do I add this into my training without my weightlifting suffering? We know that there is a point of diminishing returns if we over do it with training the aerobic system (Elliot et al 2007). The end goal is not to rack up mileage or break a 5 minute mile. The goal is to improve the aerobic system in a way that allows your lifting to improve via enhanced recovery mechanisms.

To begin running we have to first make sure we are actually ready to run! If you are feeling like guidance is needed check out the [P]Rehab Running Program.

Improve Running Performance With [P]Rehab!

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Our running program also incorporates resistance training, which is an important component of programming often missed, especially for distance runners. A lot of people think that you can just grab a pair of shoes and start running, which can be true. However, failure to prepare may set you up for failure. โ€œYou donโ€™t run to get fit, you have to be fit to run.โ€ Without proper training, education, and an understanding of healthy running hygiene habits, issues may arise that can keep you from running. The Running [P]Rehab Program will teach you the best cross-training routine for runners and education to help you maintain optimal running health. Learn more HERE!ย 


Start Slow and Focus on Efficiency

The key is to start slow and to be efficient. The main focus is weightlifting, running is a supplement to help improve the main goal. We want to keep the heart rate between 60-70% of max and work up to about 20-30 minute sessions 1-2x per week. If you have not run regularly, then start slow! For example, start at 5 minutes the first week and make sure your lifts have not suffered, then add a few minutes on the next week and keep progressing up to that 20-30 minute mark at the max. Another tip is to be efficient and improve your running economy by building up some elasticity in the tendons of the legs! Below are some excellent exercises to incorporate into your routine that can benefit running!


Pogos – Sagittal

  • HOW:โ€ฏGet set up in a standing position. Begin this exercise by bouncing on the balls of your feet moving forward <> backward. Think of yourself as a rubber band or a spring loaded coil. Be bouncy!


  • FEEL:โ€ฏYou should focus on maintaining a rigid/stiff foot/ankle as well as your legs, think of this exercise like youโ€™re bouncing on a pogo stick. You want to keep your legs stiff so that you โ€˜bounceโ€™ like youโ€™re bouncing on a stiff spring.


  • COMPENSATION:โ€ฏDo not let your knees excessively bend or your heels touch the ground, stay strong with your quad’s and bounce on the balls of your feet.


Continuous Lateral Jump


The Secret Exercises To Running Faster


Continuous Rotational Jump – Half Turn, In Place


Looking To Learn Some Of The Best Exercises For Runners?


Closing Thoughts

Weightlifting can benefit runners and runners can benefit from weightlifting. Running and strength training, they seem like opposite ends of the spectrum but maybe both worlds have something to learn from each other! Recovery is crucial and is an aerobic event. By building the aerobic system you will recover better allowing improved training sessions, ultimately leading to improved performance!



Dillon Caswell, PT, DPT, SCS

[P]Rehab Audio Experience Host
[P]Rehab Writer & Content Creator

Dillon is a Sports Physical Therapist, performance coach, and adjunct professor residing in Syracuse, NY whose passion is providing holistic solutions to improve all aspects of human performance. Along with working with clinical athletes across the lifespan, he provides on-field coverage for youth and semi-professional teams. After his undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, he earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from SUNY Upstate Medical University. He practices wellness, prevention, and solution-based health care out of Goldwyn & Boyland, PT, and Core Fitness. In his free time, he enjoys family dinners, playing with his dog, and competing as a fitness athlete. Dillon honors the opportunity to join the [P]Rehab guys to influence and educate in a people-first system!




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