4 Tips for How To Maintain Muscle Mass and Strength While Training For Running

Having multiple goals can be very challenging. If you have spent years building yourself up physically, working on both strength and hypertrophy, losing this because of your new found running goals can be difficult. But this doesn’t have to be the case, in this article I will dicuss some key points about having concurrent training goals and then provide 4 key tips for you to use to maintain muscle mass while training for running.

6 min read
Sean Klein
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
Last updated
In This Resource
  • Clear Goals
  • Setting an Annual Schedule
  • Acceptance of Stagnation
  • Running Doesn’t Build Muscle
  • Running Can Cause Muscle Loss
  • 4 Tips on How To Maintain Muscle Mass While Training For Running
  • Calorie Maintenance
  • Maintenance Volume
  • Lowering Intensity but Not Deloading
  • Set Interesting Strength Goals

Clear Goals

Having very clear goals and training programmes will be crucial to your success at being a hybrid athlete. Physical progress can be challenging enough when we have one goal, but when we have multiple it requires a lot of planning, organisation and good decision making when it comes to our training. Clear goals like running a marathon at a specifc time whilst maintaining muscle mass and strength allow us to plan accurate training cycles to acheive this goal, which is very achievable.

Setting an Annual Schedule

Knowing your annual schedule can be a great way to structure your running and strength / hypertrophy training. Having a love for both of these training styles myself, I am very aware of the importance of planning your year to make sure you are making progress on multiple physical characteristics throughout the year.

If you are training for a marathon, you might make this a 4 month block where you run 4 times a week and strength train only twice a week. Then once the marathon is finished and you have deloaded a little, you pull back the running to twice a week and move strength to 4 times a week for a block of 6 months. This style of planning will allow you to see a great deal of progress on multiple factors in a single year. This requires both organisation and forethought but will allow you to be successful in multiple endeavours.

Do not mistake this for saying that concurrent training (training for multiple events) is as effective as as training for a single goal. It simple cannot be as we have resources dispersed constantly. If you want to be an amazing runner, losing the majority of your muscle mass would be required, but the next time you start a strength or hypertrophy block you will be extremely disappointed. So making the decision to maintain muscle mass while you progress your running is a great compromise.

Acceptance of Stagnation

Mentally framing a block of strength training as a maintenance phase of both strength and muscle mass can be extremely beneficial for motivation. When you have accepted that you are not pushing forward this physical characteristic in order to move forward in a different direction is can make the training process a lot more interesting.

Running Doesn’t Build Muscle

Contrary to some articles which are attempting to claim that running builds muscle, if you have done any serious training in the gym you will be more than aware that running and hypertrophy training are not one and the same. Yes, someone who has never lifted weights will gain rudimentary muscle mass from running, but it cannot be claimed to be a muscle building activity. If you have spent years doing hypertrophy training, please do not expect to see muscle mass gains from running.

Running Can Cause Muscle Loss

Running its self obviously doesn’t get rid of any muscle mass, but it can easily put you in a calories deficit, mix that with a low training volume with minimal intensity and you will start to lose muscle mass. In the real world, when someone moves from resistance training 5 times a week and not running, to running 5 times a week and only lifting once, we will see a loss of muscle mass, this not only seems obvious but inevitable. Most people do not have infinite time to train, meaning we need to make excellent decisions when it comes to our training economy (where we place our training time).

The reality is most runners discussing maintaining muscle mass have never been deep into hypertrophy training blocks and therefore do not understand what maintaining muscle mass during marathon training or general running training might consist of.

4 Tips on How To Maintain Muscle Mass While Training For Running

Calorie Maintenance

Eating enough fuel is going to be absolutely crucial to your success in maintaining muscle mass while you train to progress you running. If you are in a calorie deficit you will lose both body fat and mix this with low hypertrophic signals you will start to lose muscle mass. This might mean that you track calories in or calories out, personally I do not like how time consuming this is and how it prevents spontaneity in nutrition consumption, so on days where I perform a long run and burn 1000+ calories I will ensure I am getting a lot of fuel in to not lose any weight. This requires a lot of intuition about you body so if you want to be precise you might want to consider counting your calories.

Maintenance Volume

Maintenance volume is the amount of sets and repetitions requires to maintain muscle mass in a muscle group. Performing between 4-8 sets per muscle group per week will allow you to maintain muscle mass for this muscle group. If you are only planning on resistance training once or twice a week you will need to make sure your programming optimally for your situation, picking the movement patterns you really want to maintain. This might mean that some muscle groups you will lose muscle mass on, maybe triceps and bicep do not get enough stimulus but squats and hinges get 6-8 sets per week.

Lowering Intensity but Not Deloading

Intensity can also be lowered to a certain extent, so you might use lighter weight than you traditionally would on a training cycle. When using a 1RM you might take 80-90% of your 1RM for a training block to ensure it isn’t taking to much away from your running performance but is creating enough stimulus to create growth. The distance from your race and the intensity of your running during the week should also factor into your decision making here. If you are very close to the race a drastic reduction in intensity can be carried out, but if you are month out then you can keep intensity relatively high, especially if you are in a base building phase of your running programming.

Set Interesting Strength Goals

This is the key to keeping resistance training fun while also performing a lot of running training. Interesting goals might change depending on what motivates you. To use myself as an example, when I train for marathons I like setting goals in exercises like the Ring Muscle Up, they require a great deal of strength, but also a light bodyweight, meaning if I am particularly lean I am in a good position to perform them. I also set “Marathon totals” which just means what I want my total to be when I perform the marathon, to get me motivation to keep my squat, bench and deadlift up though-out marathon training.

If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.

This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

Sean Klein


Programme is a workout app that plans every workout for you

Programme learns from your past workouts, training experience and available equipment to create your optimal workout plan that adapts to your progress.