A common problem with runners integrating weight/strength training and cross-training into their schedules is how to do it without adversely effecting their running program. If running or becoming a better runner is your primary pursuit then here is the answer.
For this post I’ll use the term “strength training” for all training other than running workouts since we usually do these things to strengthen muscle groups not stressed in running; or we do them to remediate and strengthen weak or previously injured areas. So whether you swim, bike, lift weights, do Pilates or core work the answer is the same.
Since your focus is to improve running, that is go faster, longer or longer-faster; Rule #1 is your running comes first. You do not become a faster runner by cross training (the effects are negligent). Rule #2 is that you have to train specifically for the activity you want (training specificity). You will get good at what you train.
[**Before someone comments about how Pilates or yoga or... made them a better runner let me be clear. Those activities did NOT make you a better runner. They may have remediated a problem you have. Then you were able to get back to running; perhaps both faster and longer. Then you became a better runner - because of the faster-longer running. This does not diminish the role of your other activities but they did not "make" you a better runner.]
Since running is what you want to improve you must put your running workouts first. This is especially true for your key training workouts: tempo runs, quality track workouts, race pace goal paced workouts, hill repeats, long runs, time trials and race simulations. It may be less important for easy recovery runs.
This means you have to know the effects of specific workouts on your body. How long are you sore or tight or tired from that strength workout? It may take a day or two to recover. In any case you have two options:
- Schedule your key workouts before your strength workout. That could be earlier the same day or the day before your strength workout. That way your strength workout falls on a recovery day or an easy run day.
- Schedule your key workouts a day or two after you have recovered from the strength workout.
How do you know when to do those key workouts? It’s actually very easy to know. When you cannot perform your key workouts as prescribed you need to do some rescheduling. That means if a strength workout decreases – intensity (paces), duration (distances) or frequency (how many/how often, such as in repeats) – of any key workout then you are watering down your running.
Note that this does not have to do with “fitness”. It means you aren’t training to be a better runner. You can be very fit and still not run faster or longer.
There are exceptions. If you are looking to improve your mental game – your mental toughness, then occasionally hitting a key workout while already fatigued after a strength workout can be just the ticket! This is something I have done myself and have integrated with some of my runners. You don’t get mentally tough by having everything “easy”. You get mentally tough by learning how to push through fatigue. You have to practice it to be able to replicate that toughness in a race.
One other exception actually relates back to specificity of training. If you are training for something like the Warrior Dash Series then running fatigued might be the perfect training for that event!
So, cross-train-away… but know what outcome you are seeking and then plan accordingly!