Should you combine weight training with running? And if so, how best to do it?
This has been front of mind for me recently. My recent running v weights blog, in which I observed the trend among young blokes to spend all their training time in the weights room at the expense of doing any specific cardio training, generated some discussion.
Then I overheard a couple of colleagues discussing whether it was best to do a weights session before a run or afterwards. These guys are lunchtime exercisers, so they don't have too much time but enjoy the strength session as much as the run.
Thirdly, I've started a new training program that includes a 15 minute core or dry swim (push ups, tricep dips, hovers) session after each run or cycle four times a week.
Finally, when talking recently with Sydney track and strength conditioning coach Rod Clarke he mentioned that one of his runners dropped all gym sessions last year and yet ran just as well. He also said US Olympic 400m runner Jeremy Wariner did very little heavy weight training but lots of circuits and even Usain Bolt had reduced the amount of weight training he did.
Strength training after a run is more controlled. If you can't complete the exercise you can stop.Rod Clarke
Clarke remains a big fan of weight training for all runners, with the amount dependent on your goals and the phase of training you're in. He says if you're only running three times a week, then ideally you'd schedule your weight training sessions for alternate days.
But if you want to do the tack-on, then for distance runners in particular, Clarke recommends weight training after a run session not before. (Sprinters will do heavy plymetric or gym work first. This brings the neural system up to speed without affecting fatigue levels too much before hitting the track for short, sharp efforts.)
"For distance runners, doing the strength afterwards tests your strength endurance," says Clarke. "You've been for a run, your body's got some fatigue into it and then you can load that fatigue up in a more controlled environment.
"If you do a lot of strength work in the gym first and fatigue your legs or your core, then go out for a run, the likelihood of getting injured is going to go up for most people. When they run fatigued they get that hip swagger, then problems can occur in the ITB, lower legs, achilles and they can experience other issues like collapsing feet.
"Strength training after a run is more controlled. If you can't complete the exercise you can stop. Done the other way around, if you get really tired when out running you've got to walk back and you're wasting time."
Clarke recommends tack-on sessions be circuits with high repetitions of lighter weights, and body weight exercises with short rests between rounds. If you are in a different phase of your training cycle, such as a speed phase, you may do shorter fartlek-type work followed by heavier weights, such as squats, leg press and deadlifts for more advanced athletes.
"An example of exercises to do would be step ups, push ups, glute bridge and TRX pull-ups, then rest for 1 to 2 minutes and repeat that for 3 to 5 circuits," says Clarke. "In total that should take about 15-25 minutes. The aim could be to reduce the total circuit time over a few weeks but keep the rest between sets the same. This just means doing each exercise faster. You keep your heart rate up, which is good for runners because you're still getting a cardio benefit."
Clarke says another way runners with busy lives and limited time (isn't that everyone?) can gain strength and strength endurance is by adding hills into weekly runs. He calls hills gym sessions for runners.
A lunchtime example is to do a 10 minute slow warm up to a location that has a set of stairs or a hill. Do 10 x hill/stair repeats (depending how hard the hill/stairs are of course) and a 20-30 minute run back.
"This workout will warm you up for the hill or stairs, the stairs will really trash your legs and you will have to work extremely hard to control you technique - your glutes, abs and posterior chain - on the run back," Clarke says. "You're reducing the risk of injury because hills reduce the volume of training but still makes the workout really hard."
So if you don't already do so, try incorporating some strength work into your training by tacking a 15 minute session onto the end of a run.
"The benefit of gaining strength for an endurance runner is that if you are stronger and can apply more force through the ground with less effort you can run faster for longer," says Clarke.
Sounds like a winning formula to me.
What's your strength training strategy?
Pip Coates is a running tragic who knows the euphoria of training for and completing a major race, but also the heartbreak of injury and every bend in the long road back. In between runs she is also the deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review Magazine.