How to structure your strength training around your running
Updated: Feb 23
First of all, I have to concede that however fantastic strength may be, it does not replace running. Let's look at what I would consider the priorities when you are planning your strength sessions.
Running must come first if you want to improve at running. That probably doesn't come as a surprise to you. Plan your runs, trust your coach, and work towards the goals that are set.
Nutrition is easy, simply support your training with lots of good food. Adding in 2 strength sessions each week? Eat a little more. You don't need to go crazy on the protein because you are adding in strength, just continue to eat well, and listen to your body. If you are constantly tired, then check in with a dietitian to make sure you are fuelling appropriately for the demands of your training.
Yawn. Boring. Well, these are not in order of importance as this would be number 1. Get over it. Sleep rules. Stress + Rest = Growth. If you skip sleep you are in a for a wealth of injuries. This one is moi important. You are not allowed to get up earlier to sneak in your strength session before work unless you go to bed earlier. Fun fact: The Israeli army was experiencing stress fractures in 31% of basic infantry recruits. They conducted a 25-year study (1) evaluating how to best prevent against stress fractures by using orthotics, different footwear, bisphosphonate risedronate (bone strengthening drugs), and minimum sleep requirements (6 hours a night, how generous). Guess what??? 62% reduction in stressies with sleep. Bam.
Step 1 - Quality Sessions
You have prioritised sleep, planned your weekly runs, and stuffed your pockets with emergency work-snacks, so let's plan you strength. The first consideration is intervals. If you perform intervals, tempo, hill repeats (let's just call them all 'quality sessions') as part of your training, I highly recommend giving yourself a 24-hour buffer between strength and one of these 'quality' sessions. If you are planning on hitting specific paces, then this buffer will ensure you have no excuses if you aren't performing. Maybe not enough sleep? Eg. If you run intervals Wednesday morning, you don't do strength Tuesday, however Monday or Wednesday night would be fine.
Step 2 - Rest Days
Everyone is different in this regard. I would personally prefer a double day (yog in the morning, strength in the arvo) instead of programming my strength session on a rest day. Other people like to have a plan for each and every day. I have no issue with that so long as you listen to your body and remember to prioritise rest if you need it.
Step 3 - The Long Run
Again, we are all different, but this one I have an opinion on. The purpose of a long run is to experience tired legs and train a few less-well-used muscle fibres to pick up some slack when your favourites become fatigued. To that end, I love a tough strength session 1-2 days before my long run to pre-fatigue your muscles and add a few extra k's in the legs. For example, I would train heavy-slow strength, the type that really leaves you tired, on Thursday evening before a Saturday morning long run. If I am really feeling glutinous I will aim for a Friday lunch time strength session so the fatigue continues to grow during my Saturday run.
Step 4 - The Weekly Plan
1. Add in your weekly runs
2. Program 1-2 strength sessions each week with minimum 24 hours before 'quality' sessions
3. Getting up early for strength? Go to bed early!
By increasing your tissue tolerance, you are protecting against risk of injury. Strength is not likely to change running mechanics but instead serves to raise the the tissue capacity ceiling. This allows you to run at a lower % of your total capacity for longer. Check out the full range of strength training programs for runners right here. Please get in touch with any questions.
1. Finestone A, Milgrom C: How stress fracture incidence was lowered in the Israeli army: a 25-yr struggle. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008, 40 (11 Suppl): S623-9