If we could recommend just one strength training exercise for runners, squats would be it, as they help improve leg power and knee stability as well as prevent common running injuries. But should you do squats before or after running?
You should do squats before running if building endurance and strength is your motive. However, the exercise you begin with is determined by your goal. For example, research shows that people who did back squats after an elliptical had fewer reps than when they did leg exercises first.
Doing an endurance workout like running before resistance leg training hurts your performance because of muscle fatigue. In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss further why you should do squats before running, the exceptions to this rule, and how squats help with running.
Should You Run or Squat First? Why?
While we recommend you do squats before a run, this doesn’t apply in every case. You should consider your overall goal for doing squats and running. For example, if your goal is to lose weight and trim your waistline, the best plan would be to alternate between the two from one day to the next.
You need to keep your body guessing by mixing up the workouts so you can ramp up your metabolism and avoid muscle burnout. In this case, do two days of running first and squats later and then alternate.
People who want to build muscles should also do weighted squats last.
The last workout you do is what the body registers most, so running after resistance training would be counterintuitive. A workout concluded with resistance training triggers muscle growth much more effectively, while a workout that ends with a run enhances your body’s endurance level.
Considering those two exceptions, you can see why the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research claims it doesn’t matter which exercise you begin with. It would be unreasonable to assume everybody wants to become a better runner.
How Squats Help With Running
The primary benefit of doing squats is strength. Squats are multi-joint exercises that strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, hips, and quadriceps. These are the most crucial muscles for runners because they help power your stride.
When these muscles are strong and resilient, you’re less likely to get injured. Strong legs are also faster legs, but those aren’t the only benefits.
Squats also help to:
- Improve flexibility: Proper squats with the correct form improve flexibility and oil your joints. This provides a more efficient stride when running.
- Workout the core: A weighted squat requires a level of abdominal bracing, which improves your core stability and overall performance.
- Ease the recovery process: Squats are a compound, full-body workout that prompts a huge release of testosterone and human growth hormone necessary for recovery.
- Knee stability: Recent studies show that people who do deep squats regularly have more knee stability than distance athletes and basketball players. This helps prevent knee ligament injury common with runners.
- Improve body awareness: Most running injuries are caused by movement faults such as misalignment in the knees and ankles, poor posture, and improper knee loading. Doing squats is the best way to learn your body position movements and correct the postures to avoid injuries.
Is It Bad To Squat and Run on the Same Day?
It is not bad to squat and run on the same day, but not within close proximity. If you decide to do leg exercises like squats on the same day as running, you should put around six hours between the two. This means you can do squats in the morning and run in the evening.
Then when you do finally take that run, take it slow with low to moderate intensity to avoid fatigue and injuries.
That said, you should only do this if your squats are weightless. Sports scientists have recently warned against running and strength training on the same day. According to researchers from James Cook University, fatigue from weight training can last for days and impair your endurance level when running.
They recommend you allow 24 hours between the two exercises to give your body time to recover.
While combining resistance training with cardio exercises is beneficial for building endurance and strength, inappropriate recovery between each training mode will only impair endurance development and make your muscles sore and tired.
Still, the rule applies.
If becoming a better runner, and building your strength and endurance is your goal, start with squats day and do a mild run the following day. Lightly running after leg exercise will encourage blood flow and make your legs and muscles much looser.
It’ll also help hasten your recovery and improve muscle strength, making you a better athlete.
But that’s not all. Running the day after leg day burns more calories while conditioning your muscles to be stronger. If your goal is to cut weight, this is a fantastic way to do it.
How Often Should Runners Squat?
As an athlete, your primary goal is to be a better runner, not become the best at doing squats. That means you don’t need to do squats or strength training exercises every day.
Runners should squat 2-3 days maximum per week while getting 5-6 days of running. Instead of doing strength training and running on different days, incorporate your squats on those hard running days.
This makes the hard days really hard and allows you to have easy days to recover.
If you alternate between running days and strength training days, you won’t have a recovery day necessary for muscle building and strength.
The other benefit of hard running and doing squats on the same day is that you’ll be forced to use lighter weights and go easy on the sets and reps. This works better long term because you don’t tire yourself too much to run after.
If you feel concerned that two days of squats a week isn’t enough, studies show that doing more strength training doesn’t reduce the risk of injuries and diseases or improve your performance as an athlete.
The more is better concept is flawed and can actually work against you if you overdo it. In reality, all you need is an hour per week of resistance training.
A week with this structure should give you 3 hard days and 4 easy days for maximum recovery. That said, keep the squat reps to a minimum and the weight low to avoid injuring yourself or getting so tired that you can’t run after.
If you were working towards an event like a marathon, reduce your squats significantly days before the event.
This may seem counterintuitive, but you need your legs to be as fresh as possible on the big day, so you take it easy on the strength training. Contrary to popular belief, you won’t lose strength if you cut back on the squats for a week or so.
Once the event is over, you can go back to a higher volume of squats and other forms of strength training.
From a scientific point of view, you can squat and run on the same day without issues. During those 2-3 days a week, when you do that, start with squats and a run later in the day. However, you have to warm up before doing either of them.
Some jumping jacks, jump ropes, or jogging in place will warm up your body and prepare it for the tough, compound workout ahead. If you decide to do squats with heavyweights, it’s better to postpone the run to the following day and give your muscles time to relax.
- RUNNERS WORLD: How Often Should I Strength Train?
- GO ON THE GO FITNESS PRO: the benefits of squatting for runners
- Mail Online: Don’t run and lift weights on the same day if you want a beach body, warn sports scientists
- HUSSLE: What’s the deal with running after leg day?
- Quora: I want to run and do squats daily. Which one should I do first?
- RUNNERS WORLD: Should I Run Before or After My Workout?
- Healthline: Run Before or After Workout: Should I Lift or Do Cardio First?
- MEN’S JOURNAL: Skip Cardio Before Squats
- PubMed.gov: The Acute Effect of Concurrent Training on Running Performance Over 6 Days