Think you can’t run and strength train — and benefit from both?
It’s not either/or. In the past, runners would shy away from strength work. The general rationale was that it wouldn’t help — and might even hinder — running. Nowadays, runners of all levels have seen the benefits of adding strength training to their routine. The new philosophy is that running and strength training can be mutually beneficial. The key is knowing when and how to incorporate strength work so you get the most out of every workout.
Find a Balance
The cardiovascular benefits of running are well-known. But running is also a high-impact sport that requires a great deal of repetitive motion. If your body isn’t able to handle the stress you place on it — speed sessions, long runs or weeks of high mileage — you may end up sidelined with an injury.
Strength training is important for exactly this reason: It helps you build a stronger, more injury-resistant body so that you can get out there and tackle all the miles on your schedule. Even a little strength can go a long way toward injury prevention.
The first step in successfully fitting both running and strength work into your training is to take a step back and assess your goals. Are you training for a marathon that will require lots of mileage and time on your feet? Or are you trying to stay fit during the off-season and occasionally race a local 5K for fun?
A focus on one type of training will necessitate less of the other. If you’re logging 50-mile weeks during marathon training, it’s probably not the best time to try to reach a new deadlift PR. However, if you’re in maintenance mode in terms of mileage, then a little extra work with the weights could be in order.
Consider the Big Picture
It’s ideal to fit strength work into your schedule year-round. Here’s what this looks like in practice:
Daily: Incorporate dynamic strength and mobility work into your routine on a daily basis. Even 5–10 minutes of core and body-weight routines can provide tremendous benefits. The key is to do them consistently! Hips and glutes are important areas to focus on — as well as your entire core (not just your abs).
Weekly: While body-weight routines can be done just about any time, keep your easy days truly easy. Adding heavier lifting to your routine is best done on moderate-effort running days. Unless you’re an advanced athlete, avoid doing heavy lifting on the same days as long runs or challenging speed sessions, as you may be too fatigued to maintain good form and reap the benefits of your strength work.
Seasonally: Winter is typically off-season for many runners. This is the perfect time to shift your focus from high mileage to strength building. Off-season training with heavier weights is great for cold or wet weather when you’ll want to spend more time indoors anyway.
Complementary Strength Workouts
When you’re trying to get the most out of both running and strength training, it’s essential to focus your efforts on movements that are complementary. Runner-specific strength routines that target weak areas such as hips and glutes are ideal. A variety of core-strengthening exercises will help improve your form so you can run more efficiently even when fatigued. Ideal strength exercises for runners should include a variety of lunges, pistol squats, pushups, pullups and planks.
When you’re at the gym lifting weights, don’t avoid the heavy stuff! The idea that you’ll “bulk up” just because you’re lifting heavy is a myth — it takes a concerted effort to make that happen, and it’s highly unlikely for runners. It’s best to stick to traditional, compound movements at the gym like the bench press, squats and deadlifts. Short but challenging sets will increase hormone production that helps with muscle development and recovery.
As a runner, there’s no need to feel apprehensive about adding strength exercises to your routine. Start small, stay consistent and continue to challenge yourself. Smart, specific strength workouts will help you get faster and more injury resistant throughout your training.
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