Most runners know that strong legs and core equal a stronger (and likely faster) runner. So naturally, the muscles your body works while running benefit from extra time spent strength training. The problem that most of us face is that once we’ve lifted weights, our run the next day feels awful.
This leads us to a crossroads. We know we should strength train since it helps reduce injury, makes us stronger and faster, and helps us stay healthy as we age, but we need to figure out how to do this in a way that doesn’t ruin our run the next day (or two).
So in this post, I’m going to dive into detail about how to combine strength training and running in your training plan. Let’s do it!
How To Balance Strength Training And Running
It’s important to note that there are a couple schools of thought around this. And the best time to strength training around your running will vary depending on your training load, experience and goals. Personal trainers may have a specific way they want you to approach this personally.
Let’s start with a runner who’s training for a race or has big goals to set a PR.
If you’re a runner with a big goal in mind, planning is EVERYTHING. One of the main issues I’ve noticed among runners is that their scheduling is all wrong. They’re lifting heavy (more than just their own muscle mass) on their non-running days or on their easy run days, and when they run the next day, they’re so sore or fatigued that it affects their workout.
The best way to add strength training into your schedule is by lifting heavy on the same day as your workout.
Not a rest day. Not an easy run day. Your hard day. Yes, I want you to run hard and lift on the same day. Hear me out.
When you’re training for a race (especially if you have more running experience), you’ll typically have 2-3 workouts in a week, including your long run. Ideally, you’ll want to strength train on those days. Doing weight training (or body weight training) 2-3x a week is sufficient to help you strengthen your body without wearing yourself out.
I recommend running in the morning and then heading to the gym in the afternoon. Or, if it’s better for your schedule, strength train directly after your run. Whatever your schedule allows, do that. The key here is to do your hard runs and your strength training on the same days, so that your rest or recovery days can truly be rest or recovery. Otherwise, you risk never giving your body time to repair, which is a critical part of improving your running.
And yes, I fully recognize that your schedule may not allow you to do both.
Part of reaching for big goals is prioritizing and evaluating if you truly have the bandwidth in the your schedule to put in the work it takes to reach them.
Conversely, if you’re running just for fun or for health without any big races on the calendar, the days that you add in strength training don’t matter quite as much. But I’d still recommend following the guidance above, honestly. It’s nice not to feel super sore or tired on your runs, so if you can strength train on the same days as your runs, 2-3 times a week, you’ll thank yourself. But this is personal preference versus necessity for someone who needs to be fresh for their workouts.
Here are some general guidelines for combining strength training and running:
Evaluate your training schedule
Like I mentioned above, if you have big goals, plan ahead and constantly evaluate your training. (Strava is a great tool for this, but there is so much more that goes into training than just logging miles.) First, if you’re trying to run and strength train, lift on your workout days. If you’re feeling super lethargic during your workouts, look at your rest days and your fueling. Or, perhaps you’re running your recovery runs too fast.
Take a break from running
It’s okay to skip a workout. If you need the day to rest because you lifted too heavy the day before, take the day to rest. My running coach told me that the fastest version of myself was the healthiest version of myself and if you don’t train smart, you can easily show up to race day injured and burned out. Learning how to balance running and rest will make you better long term.
Don’t strength train on your rest day
Rest days are for… say it with me now… REST. It’s okay to incorporate strength training on your easy running days, just as long as you don’t have a hard workout planned for the next day.
Take a TRUE rest day
Runners tend to think that cross training is rest, and yes, some activities could be considered rest when compared to running, but you need real rest in order to recover. This means not working out at all. If anything, take a walk!
Okay, here’s a sample of what your week might look like if you are training for a race and trying to add in strength training.
Running and Strength Training Schedule
Easy run + upper body strength training (very light)
Tempo run or intervals + lower body lifting or strength workouts
Recovery run or cross-training (don’t forget your mobility work).
Easy run, cross-train or rest
Long run + full body strength training or full body workout
Train smart if you want to be able to train long-term. And remember that strength training doesn’t have to be an hour long workout. I often tack on a 10-20 minutes Peloton strength class after a run. Consistency with short workouts will bring bigger improvements than a monster weight training workout once every 1-2 months. (That will likely bring an injury and overly sore muscles.)
If you need more guidance about strength training, join my online running course and you’ll get access to our private member’s community for support, including from yours truly. 🙂