Before we do a deep dive on how to combine intense running and intense strength training, I want to make an important disclaimer: the level of strength training that I’m about to describe isn’t the panacea of injury prevention, and it is totally possible to avoid injury with less work. We all have busy lives and for many of us it is difficult enough to get our running workouts in, both from a time and energy perspective. This paradigm of training is directed toward the competitive runner who is looking for a big performance benefit and/or increased ability to handle mileage.
We know that the benefits of strength training have been well-described, and you probably already know that it decreases injury risk, improves lean muscle mass, and increases the resiliency of bone and connective tissue, among other positive effects. Every runner should be doing some form of resistance training, but the program and routine will vary on an individual basis and on the runner’s goals. I always tell my athletes and patients that strength training is not an option, it’s essential.
The strength training routine should vary throughout the year, ebbing and flowing with changes in training and training phases.
This table depicts this rather simplistically, although many of us weekend warriors often don’t have distinct training phases. The key takeaway here is that there needs to be a base phase of training, which mirrors many running programs. To translate to the running world, you need to prepare your body with progressive long runs until you run 20 miles in marathon training, for example.
In this “base” phase, it’s important to correct any imbalances between your right and left side. Not sure what your imbalances are? A Physical Therapist, Personal Trainer, or Strength Coach can assess this through how you move using functional tests. Building this strong foundation is important so that you can increase the intensity of your strength training without getting injured or limiting your running workouts. Completing a base phase of 6-8 weeks, consistently completing 2-3 strength sessions per week, is necessary before moving toward heavier lifts and lower reps. Both single leg and double leg exercises should be included here. I typically recommend utilizing squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts as the cornerstone of the program, although again this will vary depending on your experience with strength training and how confident you are with proper form. It is totally okay to pick only one of the “big” lifts if you are most comfortable squatting vs. deadlifting or vice versa. DO NOT move on to heavier lifts until you have a professional confirm that you are lifting correctly.
Once your base phase is done and your form is on point, you can start to progress your lifts. The goal here is to increase the weight and decrease the repetitions. I would recommend aiming to work toward 3-4 sets of 6 repetitions, meaning that the weight is heavy enough that 6 reps is rather challenging. This will introduce the stimulus of heavy lifting, but without drastically taxing the nervous system in a way that will affect your recovery.
Speaking of recovery…how do we best integrate these sessions with our running sessions? Here are some rules to follow to maximize recovery and interference with key running workouts:
Make your hard days hard and easy days easy. This means placing your strength training workouts on your speed, tempo, or long run days.
Allow two days recovery between days where you combine a key strength and running workout.
Lifting IS NOT to be done on a recovery, rest, or easy day.
Lift AFTER your running workout
To demonstrate this, I’ll use my own schedule as an example:
Monday– Aerobic run
Tuesday– Quality session (tempo or speed); heavy lift
Thursday– Aerobic run, abbreviated lift (no heavy lifts)
Saturday– Long Run; heavy lift
Sunday– cross training or off
Here we see that I do 2 heavy lifts per week, two days apart from each other. I have cross training and rest days the day after an intense lifting session, so that I’m never running the day after. On Thursday I do more body weight and single leg exercises and omit the heavier squats and deadlifts. I have found that 2 harder sessions and 1 moderate session is a good balance for me. In the base or off season I’ll do three solid sessions with heavier lifts.
It is also important to monitor your body and fatigue levels, as how an athlete responds to this will vary. Soreness is more of an indicator of stressing your muscles in a way that they are not accustomed to being stressed, and does not necessarily equate to a “good workout”. Keeping notes on soreness and muscle fatigue in your training log can be helpful for you to track how well your body is adapting. In more intense phases of training, the strength work should be more “maintenance” and should leave you with minimal fatigue or soreness.
I hope this provides you with some inspiration and direction for upping your strength training game in 2022. If you need any help building your program, feel free to reach out to us at Precision!
Keep going, you got this!
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT