Jeff Gaudette— Whether the desired outcome is general fitness, increased explosiveness and stride efficiency or injury prevention, most runners understand the importance of adding strength training to their running schedule. However, despite clearly understanding the potential benefits of strength training, few runners actually incorporate it into their training schedules on a consistent basis.
When asked why not, most runners concede that they don’t know how to properly integrate it into their schedule to achieve maximum results. Specifically, the big question runners have is if they should do their strength work after their hard workouts or on their easy days. This paralysis by choice prevents runners from feeling confident that the extra time they spend on strength training is worth it, and thus they skip it all together.
Luckily, there is simple rule you can follow that answers this burning question: keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy. Let’s take a look at what exactly this statement means and how it can impact your approach to strength training.
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Keep the Hard Days Hard
The philosophy behind keeping your hard days hard and your easy days easy is simple. You want to do your hardest strength training workouts on your hardest running workout days so that your easy days remain as easy as possible and recovery can take place.
On the other hand, performing harder strength-training workouts, especially anything that involves the lower body, on your easy running days means you take away from your body’s ability to recover by adding stress and by shortening the total time you have to recover before your next hard workout. This is the single most important reason to include strength training on your hard workout days.
In addition to allowing you to properly recover between workouts, performing your hard strength training days on your workout days also provides a few additional benefits:
It prevents you from going too hard during strength training
Since running is the most important part of the training plan, it should be the primary focus and consume the most of your available energy and attention. While this does leave you more tired for your strength workout — and consequently won’t allow you to be as strong or explosive as you would like — it’s actually a positive. Being tired going into a strength workout will prevent you from going too hard or lifting too heavy, which happens too often when runners are fresh and hit the weights.
It burns more calories and aids in recovery
Scientists from Brigham Young University found that post-exercise metabolism increased most when people did intense cardio first and lifted weights afterward. This means that you’ll burn more calories, and burn them for longer, if you do your strength training after your more intense running sessions.
Likewise, researchers from the College of New Jersey found that following weight training, heart rate and blood lactic acid returned to resting levels faster, which means you could potentially recover from hard running faster if you perform strength training that day.
Downsides of Strength Training on Workout Days
While the “hard days hard, easy days easy” philosophy is the best approach to incorporating strength training into your schedule, it does have a few drawbacks and negatives to be aware of. They are:
Be extra careful to perform exercises correctly
As noted above, you will be tired when performing your strength sessions after hard workouts. As a consequence, you need to be extra cautious and ensure that you perform the exercises with proper form. The more tired you get, the easier it is to cheat or put your body in positions that could lead to injury.
To overcome this potential issue, you should focus intently on your form by performing each exercise slowly and using lighter weights to start. It’s a much more effective, and safe, approach to perform exercises with light weights and slow movements as opposed to rushing through a workout and trying to lift as much as you can. Having a coach or trainer spot you and keep an eye on your form is a good idea to ensure you’re performing the exercises properly.
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Hard workout days are already your longest days.
For most runners, hard workout days already consume quite a bit of time. The combination of a warmup, stretching, rest intervals, cool down, along with the 5×1-mile interval workout, takes much longer than running 5 miles straight. Therefore, it may be impossible to fit in a 15 to 30 minute strength training session after what has already been a long workout.
One possible solution is to split up the running workout and strength routine into a morning and afternoon/evening session. Generally, strength training sessions don’t (and shouldn’t) take too long, so it can be squeezed into your routine when you get home from work or before bed.
Putting It All Together
The final piece of the puzzle is how to incorporate the “hard days hard, easy days easy” principle when you have multiple strength training sessions or only one workout per week. In this case, you should schedule your hardest, most running-specific strength routines after your hardest workouts, your medium effort routines (like basic core work or hip strengthening routines) on your regular running days, and any preventative routines on your off or recovery days.
Here is sample week that incorporates seven days per week of strength training that you can modify to fit your needs (you don’t have to strength train every day of the week, but this outline should help you see where each type of routine would fit):
|Monday||Easy Run + core routine (moderate)|
|Tuesday||Speed Workout + Leg training (difficult)|
|Wednesday||Off or Recovery run + preventive exercises (easy)|
|Thursday||Easy Run + core routine (moderate)|
|Friday||Tempo Workout + plyometrics (difficult)|
|Saturday||Run + general strength – gym or bodyweight (moderate)|
|Sunday||Long run + speed and form drills (easy to moderate)|
If you’ve been struggling with how to incorporate strength routines into your training plan, try using the “hard days hard, easy days easy” approach. You’ll ensure that you recover before your next hard workout while still getting maximum benefit from your time spent strength training.