It is well established that strength training can help improve your running. A 2017 study found that runners who lifted twice per week in base building and once per week in race training improved their running economy and velocity at VO2max – two significant markers of performance. However, many runners know it’s a struggle enough to schedule all of your easy runs, long runs, and speedwork into one week. How do you add strength training into your running plan on top of all those miles?
How to Schedule Lifting and Running
Guideline 1: Avoid the lifting day before hard runs
Lifting weights creates damage to the working muscles. The body initiates cellular level repair to heal that damage and create more muscle contractile proteins in response. However, that recovery process takes time. For approximately 24-36 hours after a lift, your muscles will have diminished force output. This lower power output can translate to a slower speed workout, which is suboptimal if you have performance goals in an upcoming race. A very simplified rule of thumb: you should have two nights of sleep between a strength workout and a speed workout.
Guideline 2: Do not lift on long run days
Once your runs exceed 90 minutes, it’s best to not strength train on the same day. Lifting before a long run can cause significant fatigue. Lifting after a long run puts you at risk for injury due to poor form. Save your lift for the day after a long run instead.
Training for a Race: Lift 5-8 hours after an interval or tempo run
The rationale: Hard days hard, easy days easy. Polarized training is the deliberate concentration of stress and recovery. For athletes who do multiple hard workouts per week, strength training on their workout days allows adequate recovery before the next high-intensity run. Runners who are new to resistance training can also benefit from this approach, as they will experience more pronounced delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Ideally, you do not want to lift immediately after a hard workout. Firstly, you may experience muscular fatigue that compromises the form and quality of the lift. Secondly, you ignore a vital metabolic window for eating a carbohydrate and protein-rich meal to start recovery after your speedwork. Finally, you may compromise strength adaptations, due to neuromuscular fatigue and metabolic interference. Running is catabolic (breaking down tissue), which temporarily counteracts the anabolic (building up tissue) nature of strength training. Due to muscular fatigue, you would also have to use lower weights or complete fewer repetitions than if you strength trained separately.
Building Strength: Lift first, then do an easy run
In the field of exercise science, it is well established that concurrent training (endurance and resistance training) can produce an “interference effect.” The interference effect means that the stimuli from one mode training interfere with the physiological effects of the other. Generally, endurance training interferes with the effects of strength training, but not vice versa. This is why runners seldom become “bulky” (experience significant muscle hypertrophy).
When a runner wishes to improve lower body strength, lifting weights before a run is optimal. A 2017 meta-analysis of concurrent training studies concluded that lifting before a run promotes strength while lifting after a run hinders strength gains. The order had virtually no effect on endurance adaptations, including aerobic capacity. You do want the run to be an easy run, as fatigue from the strength session will cause you to experienced heavy legs on the run. However, know yourself: if you are likely to cut the run short after a lift, then run first.
Remember: These are guidelines, not rules
Guidelines are not strict rules. These guidelines present the optimal way to incorporate strength training into your running plan. If performance is your goal, try to follow these as best as you can. However, if your goal is simply a well-balanced training plan with both running and strength, then it is okay to deviate from the ideal. For some runners, lifting the day before a hard workout may be the only way to fit both running and strength training into their schedule. Or, it may work best for their schedule to run prior to their strength workout (especially if going to a class) rather than after.
How do you schedule strength training around your runs?