How to Schedule Strength Training Around Your Running

How to Schedule Strength Training Around Running

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? 

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. 

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How do you schedule strength training around your runs?

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9 Responses

  1. These are good guidelines to follow, Laura.
    I often do my strength training after a run because it fits better in my schedule. Looks like I should try to switch things around!

  2. These are the guidelines I try to follow, but it can be really hard to fit everything in! When I was working from home and could do easy stroller runs around 7am, I would first lift around 5am. That worked out well. When I hit the peak of my training I ended up sometimes lifting the day before a tempo run or MP workout, which wasn’t ideal but also not the end of the world. The evenings are just way too hectic to fit in a lift, otherwise I would do a hard workout in the morning and lift in the evening. I’ve just learned that I need to get in my strength training whenever I can!

  3. Definitely great tips.

    I don’t lift at all. I know I should.

    But if I ever go to a gym it’ll on days I do not run. And after work most likely.

  4. Interesting. I’ve always heard that you should do the exercise you’re primarily focusing on first.

    In the Summer there’s no time to lift before the run. Now that it’s getting cooler maybe I need to try to switch things up!

  5. This is a great post, because I think most runners have trouble scheduling their strength work. The thing I’ve found that works best for me is lifting before an easy run. But that’s hard to do in Florida in the summer, when I’m trying to get out and run as early as possible to beat the heat. It seems like the next best option is lifting later in the day after speedwork- I’ll have to try that. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Strength is so important and so hard to build in! Thanks for sharing this insight! Hopefully, I can put some of these strategies to work!

  7. These are great guidelines to follow. I always make sure that I never add any strength on long run days or on the day before long runs. I also like that you point out that these are just guidelines. Running is such an art!

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