Strength training is a vital component of training for a lot of sports (I think that’s safe to say). However, when should runners strength train? This type of workout can leave your legs feeling heavy and sore, so it’s common to think that it is disruptive to running no matter when you do it.
Believe it or not, there is actually an ideal time/day for runners to do a strength workout. But first, let’s briefly explain by what we mean as ‘strength training’.
What is Strength Training?
By definition, strength training (or resistance training) is exercise performed against a resistance (e.g. dumbbells or body weight) which increases your lean muscle mass and strength. For runners, this kind of exercise is particularly important. Strength training can help a runner develop power, which in turn helps develop their speed. More importantly, strength training helps a runner become more efficient (which we will touch on in a future article), which can drastically fuel improvements.
Strength training can vary quite a lot. You could get into the gym and attack some weight training (squats, dead lifts, bench press etc.), or you could do a home workout where you are using your body weight as resistance (lunges, jumping squats, push ups, calf raises etc.). Strength training for runners can be very different to weight training for body building, so it is important to plan your workouts ahead. Click here to find out more on the type of workout a runner should be doing.
When Should This Be Done?
Now we’ve covered what we mean by this type of training, let’s discuss when it should be done. If you take a step back and look at your training week this actually becomes quite obvious.
A typical running week will consist of easy days (easy running/mobility), hard days (workouts/hard running) and rest days (or at least incredibly easy days). So, what happens if you add strength training to each of these days? Let’s tackle easy days first. Easy days are there to help you recover whilst still giving you a chance to build your aerobic system. At the end of these days, you should feel loose, relaxed and ready to tackle a hard day. However, if you add a strength workout to this day, it is no longer an easy day.
Why this is an issue…
This turns an easy day into a ‘moderate day’ which means it’s easier than a hard day, but you’re not getting the same amount of recovery as you usually would. If you do this then you will struggle to push yourself on your hard days and you’ll start feeling fatigued at the end of your ‘easy’ days. This brings the overall quality of your week’s training down a peg, and that’s not what we’re looking for. The same principle applies to a rest day; if you’re adding a workout to a rest day, it no longer becomes a rest day (so the rest day benefits no longer apply).
This leaves one option: your hard days. Hard days are usually defined as the days where you have a hard run/workout planned. This is the day you should add your strength workouts.
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Why Make Your Hard Days Harder?
There are a few reasons as to why this is an obvious choice. Let’s first mention that strength workouts should be done some time after a hard running session (but still on the same day). Workouts done before a hard run/session are still beneficial but should be kept at a lower intensity, so you don’t compromise the quality of your run.
Firstly, if you strength train after a hard run/workout, you are doing this on tired legs. This means you’ll have to work a little bit harder in these sessions to hold the correct form and lift the same weights. This adds value to the strength workout, and if you’re teaching your body to perform whilst tired then that is going to show in the latter stages of a race (finishing hard will become much easier).
Secondly, and most importantly, this helps to keep your easy days easy. You need to keep your easy days easy so you can properly recover throughout the week, which allows you to have high quality workouts, avoid injury and burnout. Going hand in hand with this; if you make your hard days harder, then you are simply squeezing more value out of that day.
Applying this method also forces you to take your easy days even easier. This is because you will be more fatigued from your hard days. Also, you know that if you run too fast/hard on your easy days then you won’t be able to complete your hard days at a high quality. Consistently going too hard on your easy days is a sure fire way to get injured, so we should avoid this.
How Often Should Runners Strength Train?
Strength training should be performed weekly for maximum benefit. However, too much strength training will have an impact on your running. The fatigue/soreness will diminish the quality of your training week.
You should be completing 1-3 strength training per week, depending on your experience. If you are new to strength training start with one workout a week until that feels comfortable, then bump it up slowly. These workouts can be done in the gym or at home and should last 30-60 minutes.
Were you strength training on your easy days? Transition your strength workouts to your hard day to reap maximum benefits from your training. If you want to know how else you can optimise your training week then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org stating your running goals for personalised training plans. Alternatively, visit our online coaching section if you’re looking for maximum fitness gains.
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