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5 Rules For Effective Strength Training

Learn how to set up a strength training schedule that complements and improves your running.

Strength training is an often-neglected aspect for many runners. Between all of the various runs during the week, coupled with the need for proper recovery, fitting in some squats and push-ups can prove to be daunting.

However, the right strength training program should fit seamlessly into a running routine. In reality, the two should support one another instead of compete for time. Follow the steps below to create your own strength training routine that elevates your running performance and decreases risk of injury without taking away your time spent on the roads.

Determine The Frequency

Fitting in a properly structured strength training routine can prove to be difficult around the track workouts and long runs that already pack your schedule. However, runners shouldn’t feel the need to devote three to four days to strength training. For beginners, one to two days is likely going to be a good start to building strength and injury-proofing the body.

To determine how many days are appropriate for you, consider your training age—that is how long you’ve been working out—both on the roads and in the gym. For relative newbies (those training for a year or less), one day a week is a good starting point. Those that have some experience in the weight room and have also given their bodies plenty of time to adjust to the demands of regular running can start off with two days a week.

Advanced athletes that have at least a year of prior experience lifting weights and have been running consistently for over five years can start out with three days a week in the gym.

Structure Your Training

Similar to any properly designed running program, your work in the weight room should be structured depending on your unique goals. For runners, this includes aligning your strength training with your current running routine.

For instance, runners in the offseason can put in a bit more time with the weights as opposed to someone that’s a few weeks out from their next marathon. In general, the best time to introduce strength training into a routine is during the offseason where the demands of running are low and athletes can experiment with new forms of training.

During this time, athletes will be able to build up to higher volumes (more sets and reps) without detrimentally affecting their running. As their season progresses and competitions get closer, runners will want to taper down, focusing more of their effort on actual running and less on the work in the weight room.

Organize Your Week

Most runners will start by implementing strength training on their rest days, preferring to maintain the sanctity of their running days and simply trading a rest day for extra work in the gym. While on paper this might make sense, often times this leads to runners overtraining and failing to recover in between workout sessions.

If your schedule allows, it’s often easiest to add in strength training to a day when you’re already putting in a hard running workout. Although compounding a strength workout on top of a hard run greatly magnifies the intensity of training, it also allows athletes to dedicate rest days to proper recovery rather than hitting the gym.

In this scenario, where running and strength training are happening on the same day, runners will benefit most (and feel the best) when the strength training is performed after their hard run.

For instance, consider the following schedule for someone running four times a week:

Monday: Easy Run

Tuesday: Track Workout + Strength Training

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Tempo Run + Strength Training

Friday: Off

Saturday: Long Run

Sunday: Off

Select The Appropriate Exercises

The majority of runners are going to benefit from sticking to total body exercises that work the entire body as a unit rather than each muscle individually. For instance, a squat works the entire lower body along with the core, whereas a leg extension puts the emphasis solely on the quads. From an injury standpoint, these multi-joint exercises help athletes to strengthen weak stabilizers and maintain better form. From an efficiency standpoint, they also allow runners to get in and out of the gym in less time.

To start, select six main exercises to include in each session followed by 1-2 dedicated core exercises. Superset the exercises by performing them back-to-back to save time. For example:

1A. Barbell Front Squat

1B. Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

2A. Dumbbell Side Lunge

2B. Bodyweight Row

3A. Single-leg Deadlift

3B. Push-up

4A. Plank

4B. Abdominal Roll-out

In general, runners should start with higher reps as they learn form and develop movement patterns. For instance, beginners could start with two sets of 15 reps for each exercise. As they get more comfortable with strength training, they could progress to three to four sets of 8-10 repetitions. Advanced lifters may even want to focus on lower rep ranges in the 3-5 range to build strength and power.

Adjust Along The Way

Remember that even the most well-developed strength training routine requires regular adjustments. The best way to tweak your workout routine is to constantly monitor how you feel by recording performances and effort levels in your running log. If you experience a dip in performance that lasts longer than a few days, it might be time to back off while your body adapts to the new stimulus.

By reducing risk of injury and improving performance, strength training can be a valuable addition for any runner. Most importantly, runners should remember that the additional work is meant to support their current routine, not replace it. Implement the new exercises slowly for the biggest return and least risk of injury or overtraining along the way.