How do I best combine running and leg lifts like squats?
September 10, 2006 8:27 PM   Subscribe

How do I best combine running and leg lifts like squats? In an effort to increase muscle mass, I've started doing a whole body routine at the gym 3 times a week (I used to do chest/back, arms/shoulders, legs). I like the new routine, but it also means I'm squatting 3 times a week and my legs are SORE after squatting (like wobbling up the stairs sore). I'm also still trying to run on off days but it's especially hard even days after hard leg workouts. How do you all combine lifting and running regimens? Does leg soreness from squats get any better with time?
posted by rordog to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How long have you been lifting? The longer you lift, the faster the soreness goes away.
posted by Loto at 8:29 PM on September 10, 2006

If your legs are so badly sore after your squats, you might be doing too many, with too much weight, or with improper form. If you don't have a personal trainer, just stop someone in the gym and ask them for some quick advice on reps, weight, and form. Most trainers are happy to give a quick once over and make sure you're maximizing your work.

I am only mildly sore after a good set of squats. I am lucky enough to be able to work out with a trainer three times a week, so I'm well-supervised and I'm certain I'm working properly. The next day, I sure feel it, especially while going up and down stairs, but I'm definitely not wobbly - my muscles aren't worked to the point of exhaustion.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:44 PM on September 10, 2006

If you only used to squat once per week, don't expect to be squatting the same sort of load (in terms of weight or sets) three times a week straight away. It's common-sense man: if you don't have enough left in the tank for running, and you want to run, then your only choice is to cut back until you can run again. You'll toughen up over time. In the meanwhile, reduce the load a bit and then bring it back up.

You shouldn't be wobbling up the stairs days later. Eg, I deadlift 140kg 2x5 three times a week at the moment, which is reasonably heavy for an amateur zhlub who only weighs 80kg, and have next to no soreness the next day. If you're consistently Mr Wibbly-Wobbly-Leg-Man days later you're headed for burnout I reckon.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:52 PM on September 10, 2006

I wouldn't recommend doing squats 3 times a week, even if you are doing a HIIT-type routine. Squatting is supposed to take a lot out of you, and if you are trying to build muscle mass you need time to let your muscles rest. Why not continue doing what you are doing except cutting the squats to one day a week and doing more reps or weight that one day?
posted by btkuhn at 9:53 PM on September 10, 2006

Yeah, the extended soreness should go away after a week or two of three times a week.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:54 PM on September 10, 2006

Running on sand emphasizes the calves more than the quads and glute. But I don't think you would be doing yourself any favors running in between 3 times a week squatting. You're just shortchanging the recovery period, which is where all the benefits come from, and not giving your muscle or connective tissue time to heal. Depending on your age and physiology you might be overdoing it even without the running.

I'd think about substituting running for squats for the mid-week session, and finding a different aerobic activity such as swimming for the rest.
posted by Manjusri at 10:21 PM on September 10, 2006

Best answer: You have to decide what you are working on, here. Do you want muscle mass, or do you want to improve your cardio fitness and running ability?

If you want to increase muscle mass, like you said, 3 full body workouts a week is a great idea as long as you cut back cardio. That could be less duration, less intensity, or something like elliptical or biking that won't crush your recovery from squats. Doing 3 wo's a week plus 3 runs a week is a recipe for overtraining, unless you are on drugs or have fantastic genetics plus have your training dialed in.
Maybe you should try something like this (obviously adjust for your schedule):

Mon, Wed, Fri - full body workouts, w/ friday being a lighter day
Tue/Sat - cardio - tuesday should be very light -- ie walking on an incline, easy biking, etc. Make Saturday your "real" run, and hopefully you'll have recovered by monday's workout.

Soreness will dissipate over time, but that doesn't mean the running won't effect your muscle gains. You really can only focus on one or two major goals at a time, and just try to maintain the conflicting goals. Gaining mass and cardio are basically on two opposing ends of the spectrum.

So if you are gaining a reasonable amount of weight (~1lb every 2 to 4 weeks), you can try increasing cardio slowly until you feel overtraining coming on or cease to gain weight. If you really love running and just want to get _stronger_, you could try lowering volume way back on weights and increasing weight - but even then you'll probably have to cut back on cardio.
posted by rsanheim at 10:37 PM on September 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also - if you've gone from squatting 1 a week to 3x a week - you will be in major pain for at least a few weeks. Ramp up your volume and intensity _slowly_, and keep form 100% perfect. Squats are a fantastic exercise, but if you get sloppy with them you will regret it.

And please, do real squats. At least to parallel, if not lower, and don't worry about the gym rats who go a quarter of the way down with three plates a side. They are only fooling themselves. Let Krista show you the way - hott.
posted by rsanheim at 10:41 PM on September 10, 2006

Response by poster: thanks everyone, great suggestions so far.

I should probably clarify, I'm mainly doing these 3x week whole body lifts to build muscle to ultimately try to get rid of the little bit of stomach pooch I have left (while getting stronger all around). Talking with one of the gym employees, he mentioned that it would be better to build muscle mass to help burn more calories and fat and thus to lift more and run less in the short term. He also got me going on more leg excersizes, as according to him, some of the largest muscle groups in your body are in your legs and you're doing yourself a disservice if you're not working your legs.

So with that in mind, should I just follow your comments above and cut back on the cardio or is that not the best recipe for getting rid of the fat?
posted by rordog at 11:05 PM on September 10, 2006

Well... realistically, if you've already been lifting for a while, you can't build muscle mass without adding some fat as well. Only podgy beginners seem to really pull off the lose fat/gain muscle double. That's why bodybuilders tend to go through bulking/cutting cycles, hoping to minimise fat gain on the bulk and minimise muscle loss during the cut. If you are restricting your diet enough to lose fat then the role of the lifting is to ensure that you conserve as much muscle as possible. (Personal anecdote: I went from 82kg to 78 kg over several months last year on a regime of high intensity interval training and short heavy lifting workouts, and according to caliper measurements it was almost all fat loss and no muscle loss).

If you're running as much as you used to, and lifting more, and not eating any more, you are not going to build any muscle, you may not get much stronger, and you will probably get sick and feel like shit soon from overtraining.

Note that if you lose fat while more or less maintaining your current muscle you will probably look bigger, even though you're not, because people who are cut and muscular looking seem bigger than people who are tubby. Contrariwise, if you put on a bit of fat and muscle, you may not lose the pooch but you could look at lot stronger and healthier.

Krista rocks, by the way,
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:40 PM on September 10, 2006

Regardless of the cardio aspect, I think squatting 3 times a week is often overtraining. I've had much better progress on squats when I cut down to 1-2 times per week from 3 times per week.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:07 AM on September 11, 2006

If you're only interested in building leg mass, you might cut back on the squats and work with the leg machines -- the leg extension and leg press machines in particular.

Or -- a heretic opinion, I know -- cut out squats altogether.

I've found more mass increase with the leg extension machine in the past three months than with a year of squats. I'm very happy with progress on my quads.

True, squats build the core, but you can compensate somewhat for this via crunches and other exercises. And squats are "hardcore," the sine qua non exercise for bodybuilders. But for a twice a week hack like me, substituting squats with machines has been an effective alternative.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:10 AM on September 11, 2006

rordog writes "Talking with one of the gym employees, he mentioned that it would be better to build muscle mass to help burn more calories and fat and thus to lift more and run less in the short term."

That guy was wrong. It's much easier to increase cardio and burn the fat off through increased aerobic activity. Just think about it a little bit, and do the math. It's true that increased muscle mass burns more calories, and it may be a part of a longterm weight control strategy, but I think the effects have been popularly overstated.

This is a hard subject to Google because a lot of specious hits come up, but here's an article that, while arguing that increasing muscle mass is the best way to lose weight, states that: "In fact putting on around 0.5 kg of muscle will allow you to eat an extra 300 calories per week without affecting your weight." That's it. You gain a pound of muscle and it burns an extra 300 calories a week. In the short term, since it takes a lot of time to put on muscle, cardio is clearly a better way to go, as 300 calories is ~ a half hour of cardio. In other words, you can burn the calories your extra pound of muscle takes a week to burn in a half hour.

When you add to that the basic truism that it's really really hard to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, meaning that most folks gain muscle and fat and then need to lose the fat through (wait for it) increased cardio, that trainer seems to have you on a path to slow results. (Which is not to say that you won't see them eventually, just that it'll take more time than laying off the squats and increasing the distance of your runs.)
posted by OmieWise at 6:17 AM on September 11, 2006

I just wanted to add a vote for squats 3x a week being too much squats. Personally, I have gotten great results doing a really intensive leg workout once a week.
There's lots of other muscles to work on the other days.
posted by alkupe at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2006

At least to parallel, if not lower...

Ouch. Every source I've seen says no lower than parallel.
posted by electroboy at 7:05 AM on September 11, 2006

If you're going to be doing 3 full body workouts a week, I'd strongly suggest looking into HST. You'll avoid over-training and get a fantastic workout as well. Although it does get boring, it is effective.
posted by Blue Buddha at 7:21 AM on September 11, 2006

There is no harm in going lower into a full, ass to the grass, squat.
posted by Loto at 7:38 AM on September 11, 2006

I think 3x a week full body is too much.

Especially squats.

Cut the whole workout to 2x a week. You're too sore? You're still adapting.

Second, pre-exhaust. Do a set of leg extensions before squatting. Have the squat bar set up in advance (if possible). The amount of weight you use will drop dramatically - as you make the squat safer.

Squats have Zero Magic. None.
You can get excellent results from Leg presses, machines, etc.

You'll can be brutally sore from squats, especially at the beginning. Don't use soreness as an indicator of intensity.

Squats fail for me in the following:
Look at how much stress is on the neck and spinal column.

The danger in breaking the parallel plane, are the shear forces around the knee.

I want to also caution - make sure you're taking at least a day off a week (preferably 2).
posted by filmgeek at 11:43 AM on September 11, 2006

Just to confuse you, let me completely disagree with filmgeek. Trying to squat having exhausted my thighs, even with a lighter weight, seems like a recipe for dropping the bar or over-balancing. Likewise, the risks to your knees of going past parallel are often overstated from what I've been reading (see here).

True, people do fetishise squats when other things will work just as well. I prefer deadlifts these days.

I have been doing a full body workout 3 times a week for ages without soreness or injury. So do a lot of other people. Some people recommend it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:44 PM on September 11, 2006

Well if getting rid of the gut is your goal i'd say keep doing the cardio. do some yoga to massage the plaquy fat that accumulates around your internal organs as you get older. lay off the sugary beverages, try and lay off all the sugar (eg, in coffee, juice, sport drinks, jelly donuts, whatever, so that your metabolism is more motivated to burn fat. dress so that you are cold; induce some calorie burning shivering. swim for an hour at a time, walk for two hours at a time, so your metabolism consumes the sugar in your system and has to use the fat reserve. fidget.

I appreciate that you are doing a whole body routine at the gym, but I interpret this to mean that you are exercising all major muscle groups one at a time. find something that you can enjoy doing that exercises most, if not all of your muscles at the same time, and add that to the mix. nothing wrong with going to the gym of course. good luck.

And I've given the Stumptuous link to a few people before, gotta love a woman who makes her own medicine balls out of old basketballs and sand...
posted by Tixylix at 5:45 PM on September 11, 2006

Leg extensions before squats is bad bad advice. You want to be 100% focused on the big exercises, not "pre exhausting" your muscles. When you bench or deadlift or squat, you want to be as fresh as possible so your form doesnt fall apart.

Do you think this guy would squat 800 pounds if he had bad knees?

Its not going below parallel that hurts your knees, its going below parallel with bad form that will hurt your knees. You can hurt your knees doing quarter squats, doing leg extensions, or sprinting if you use poor form or over do it. Go as deep as is comfortable and safe, and work on form and flexibility, and _slowly_ increase depth over time -- obviously you don't wanna go out to tomorrow and do ass to grass after never squatting below parallel.

This assumes you don't have pre existing conditions, see a doctor and everything checks out, etc.
posted by rsanheim at 8:09 PM on September 11, 2006

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