Does Running Build Muscle? Yes, so does Weightlifting!

Does Running Build Muscle? Yes, so does Weightlifting!

Striking a balance between running and strength training isn’t easy and often leads to confusion among runners. How can one boost endurance and build muscle mass at the same time? 

In summary, this is how:

  • Varying your run intensity, duration, and frequency
  • Adding or subbing strength training exercises into your workout schedule
  • Eating well
  • Sleeping well

The simplified checklist above hides much of the nuance involved. Read on for specific details, workout splits, meal plans, and general advice.

Does Running Build Leg Muscle Naturally? Yes, so does Core!

Running is a natural muscle-building activity for your legs, core, and back. The largest muscles in these regions are strengthened with running: quadriceps, gastrocnemius and soleus (calves), quadratus lomborum, and spinal erectors (lower back). The hamstrings and glutes work to a lesser extent if your run involves hills. Smaller muscles are activated around the ankles, knees, pelvic floor, upper back, biceps, and shoulders. 

Running is bodyweight resistance training. Every time we take a step, we push the ground away. Every time we lift a knee, we pull against the downward force of gravity.

Running Form Tips

Get stronger while running by practicing great running form. Here’s a guide.

How To Combine Running And Resistance Training

To maintain muscle built from running, gain new power throughout the body, and ensure proper recovery, you’ll need to mix running workouts with strength training workouts.

Running Advice

Based on your personal goal when it comes to growing muscle mass, reducing your weekly runs’ mileage might make sense, especially in the early building phase of your strength training. Short, fast runs and sprints have positive effects on building muscle in your legs.

Varying your workouts’ intensity, duration, and volume is a great way to ensure that every muscle gets a workout. Here are some examples of varied runs that engage unique muscle groups and contribute to hypertrophy:

  • A casual jog
  • Climbing stairs*
  • Hiking or trail running
  • Long, endurance-based runs
  • Running a different distance every day
  • Running uphill and downhill
  • Sprint workouts

*Need a cognition boost or an uplifted mood? Try climbing stairs! This study shows that a short stair climb increased the speed of understanding and positive energy in men.


An increase and growth of muscle cells.

  • Function: increased strength, speed, energy storage, and endurance
  • Benefits: longevity, bone mass, metabolic effectiveness
  • Perks: a more toned, lean physique

Strength Training Advice 

When it comes to resistance training, a little goes a long way. You don’t even need heavy weights: resistance band workouts are enough to trigger muscle growth.

If you have access to dumbbells, a barbell, kettlebells, or weight-training machines, you should pay attention to training volume and frequency. Many studies show that high-frequency strength training (3+ days per week) yields the same lean muscle mass development as low-frequency strength training (1x per week).(1, 2, 3, 4, 5) But, studies have also found that a higher volume of repetitions and sets increases overall muscle growth. Specifically, three or more sets of 8-12 repetitions show the best results.(6, 7, 8)

Better, Not More

If you’re already exercising four or more hours per week, you do not need to exercise more to see results. If you exercise again before adequate recovery, you may see a drop in running and strength performance. The diagnosis: short-term over-reaching or long-term overtraining (skip to the last section for more information on overtraining).(9, 10

Here are wiser ways to train:

  • Substitute one or two runs with strength training sessions
  • Cut an hour-long run in half and spend 30 minutes strength training
  • Do a short, high-intensity run with a strength training session
  • Run in the morning, hit the gym in the evening (or vice versa)

Before or After?

Here is a blog post full of advice about running before versus after a strength training session: When To Run.

Training Volume

Workout programming matters! Running and weight lifting tax muscles in different ways. Therefore, you can exercise daily so long as you vary strength training with running. As time goes on, your metabolism and fitness levels will increase. Then, you can start doing back-to-back or twice daily sessions with 2+ rest days per week.(13)

Nutrition: Your Secret Weapon

Exercising without proper nutrition is like a car trying to run on an empty tank. If your goal is to build and tone muscles while being an active runner, you need to consider this. Ensure your nutrition provides your body with at least the calories you burn when running. 

Being aware of your macronutrient and micronutrient intake is key to restoring your body’s glycogen and promoting muscle protein synthesis. 

Muscle Protein Synthesis

The process of turning amino acids into muscle proteins. Basically, how your body builds new muscle.

Ignore hyped ideas about changing your eating patterns dramatically to match your workout (like “carbo-loading” before a run or “protein bulking” after a heavy weightlifting session). The best thing to do is eat well every day, so your body always has what it needs. Furthermore, your metabolism will recognize that it doesn’t need to store fat in case of starvation. It will use what you give it when you give it! 

Protein: Which and Why?

Skeletal muscle is 80% protein.(14) When you’re trying to increase muscle mass, getting enough protein is pertinent. Amino acids build protein. Educate yourself on how protein forms to make intelligent decisions about diet and supplements.

Amino acids are the building blocks of molecules, like protein, and are transportation devices within the body. Twenty standard amino acids create chains to form proteins. There are nine limiting amino acids not found in the body. We must get them in our diet. The easiest way to get all essential amino acids is by eating animal products. However, when given particular vegetarian food complements, the body can produce all essential amino acids.(15, 16)

Here are examples of vegan food complements that help the body to generate essential amino acid development:

  • Lentils with flax seeds
  • Quinoa with almonds
  • Black beans with rice
  • Wild rice and cashews
  • Kale salads with chia seeds
  • Corn and pinto beans
  • Spinach salads with sesame seeds
  • Zucchini with buckwheat
  • Whole grain bread with nut butter
  • Oats and pumpkin seeds

We have tons of protein-packed recipes on our blog! Check out a list of all recipe posts HERE.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Like amino acids, Omega 3s are the building blocks of the body. They function as gatekeepers for the movement of hormones and nutrition across cell walls. They also help veins pump blood and decrease inflammation.(17

If you’re not taking time to eat well and recover after workouts, you might notice a “brain fog,” difficulty staying focused, and slowed comprehension rate. That’s because the human brain is 60% fat. When we’re not fueling and resting, our body may use fat from the brain to energize us. Omega-3 fatty acids fuel our brain. Eating natural Omega-3s or supplementing them can aid recovery time and stay alert.

Data suggests that Omega-3s may also be integral to building skeletal muscle. Clinical studies show that muscle size and strength increase in older adults supplement Omega-3s. Other studies show that Omega-3s help people retain muscle mass even when not actively strength-training.(18) Which means that, after your initial training hump, you will be able to exercise less and still get gains. That’s great news!

How to Get Omega-3s

Eat natural wild-caught fish, farm-raised salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. Or supplement with EPA and DHA.

Post-Workout Carbohydrates

Eating high-glycemic-index carbohydrates after a workout is a great way to aid muscle recovery. If you plan to do two workouts within 24 hours, it’s pertinent to get those carbs in.(19) Foods like potatoes and squash, whole grain oats, bulgur, and brown rice are easy-to-make, high-glycemic carbs. For extra bang, complement high-glycemic-index carbs with natural antioxidant carbohydrates, like kiwis and berries—for example, this sweet potato bowl with tomatoes and citrus fruits.


Medical Disclaimer

The information provided in this blog post is for guidance purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider to seek medical advice.

The ideal diet is well-balanced with micronutrients and macronutrients. But in times of intense exercise or when it’s challenging to eat enough (i.e., when you’re eating around workouts), supplementing essential vitamins and minerals is effective.

Here’s a list of some supplements that help with muscle recovery and building:

  • Creatine
  • Branch-chain amino acids (especially for vegetarians and vegans)
  • Collagen
  • Whey protein
  • Caffeine (before a workout, to help with the heart rate increase and for going big!)
  • Turmeric extract (for anti-inflammatory benefits pre-run)
  • Fish oil

Sleep Makes You Stronger

Do you pound the pavement, hit the gym, but skip the bed? Then you might as well skip all of it, because sleep powers muscle development. Sleep deprivation decreases muscle protein synthesis in young, healthy men and women.(20) Even a few sleepless nights can compromise glucose metabolism and impair muscle function.(21, 22) If you’re looking to gain skeletal muscle, then you’ve also got to look for at least eight hours of sleep per night.(23)

It’s easier to recover glycogen stores than to fix torn muscle fibers (which is what happens during strength training). You can work out again within a day when you properly restore glycogen. Studies show that the heavier the weight lifted, the more recovery time required.(24)

Not Seeing Results?

You’ve put in the miles, added the kilograms, eaten the macros, and gotten the ZZZs. But still, you’re not seeing results, or you’ve plateaued in your early gains. You might be over-reaching or overtraining. 

Over-reaching (OR) vs. Overtraining Syndrome (OTS)

OR is characterized by an unexpected drop in performance despite increased training load or may lead to OTS, a complex state of exhaustion and persistent fatigue.(25)

When over-reached and overtrained, you’ll see decrements in your workouts.(26) And a slew of other mental and physical pains, as covered in this blog post. The best solution: deload.

Deloading Your Training

In the case of OR or OTS, you’ll need to take a break. Studies differ on the amount of rest time required. Ultimately, you’ll know when you’ve rested enough because you’ll feel lively and excited about workouts again.

Here are a few examples of deload techniques:

  • Plan a deload week at regular intervals, for instance:
    • Every three weeks
    • Every six weeks
    • Whenever you feel you need it
  • Make your current workouts less intense for 2-3 weeks, for instance:
    • Cut your weight lifting load in ½
    • Replace low runs with light jogs
    • Instead of running and weight-lifting, try other kinds of exercise, like yoga, bodyweight workouts, or cycling.
  • Detrain entirely for three weeks
    • Note: One study shows no loss of muscle mass after a 3-week training break within a 15-week routine

Get Your Build On!

Now that you’re armed with education, examples, and worst-case scenario mitigation, step up to the task: download the adidas Training and adidas Running apps to get workout ideas and training inspiration! 

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