Strength Training for Running from the Experts

1.Can you tell us a little about you and your background?

Amy Begley: Amy Begley. 2008 Olympian 10,000 m 31:13 and 5k PR 14:56. Atlanta Track Club coach of In-Training Programs and Elite Team.

Andrew Johnston: I’m a former professional cyclist who found triathlon via three concussions. Early on, my triathlon career was threatened after doctors told me I’d never run again following a severe back injury. That prognosis was unacceptable–I had already had one of my passions taken from me, so I decided to rehab myself and eventually became an Exercise Kinesiologist. That was six or seven Ironmans ago, showing how conventional medicine doesn’t always get it right. Indeed, both my athletic and my professional career have seen me swimming against the mainstream. It’s harder to move in that direction, perhaps. But it also makes you strong/knowledgeable enough to keep you head above water as most people are drowned in a powerful current of misinformation.

Dorie Downs: Owner of Excellence in Exercise, private training facility and fitness management group since Jan. 2006. Specialize in corrective exercise, post-rehabilitation, pre/post natal & functional training. A.F.F.A certified 1994; A.C.E. certified 1996- present; NASM certified 2000- present. FMS certified. Group exercise methods: Madd dog cycling, yoga-fit teacher level 2, aqua, kickboxing.

2.What do you think the benefits of adding strength workouts to endurance training?

Amy Begley: Strength training helps to even out the body’s imbalances and improves form. The stronger the core the longer you can hold proper form.

Andrew Johnston: The endurance athlete’s weakness, ironically enough, is often strength. I write about this subject in much greater detail in my book Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon. But in short: strength is the foundation off which power is built. Swimming, cycling, and running are all expressions of power. If you want to race to your potential (and remain injury free), you have to ensure there are no holes in your development. This becomes increasingly important for the aging athlete–which includes all of us who aren’t dead….

Dorie Downs: Strength training is the only way for anyone non-male age 18-25 to gain muscle. Muscle strength will make you run more efficiently, faster, and without injury.

3.How often per week should strength training be added?

Amy Begley: —

Andrew Johnston: The answer to that question depends on a number of different factors, primarily who the athlete is and where the athlete is in the season relative to the key race(s). Strength becomes increasingly important for the older athlete. It’s also more important for females than males; ectomorphs need to focus on strength more so than mesomorphs. Train your weaknesses and race your strengths. Thus, if you are older, female, or your body type is more of an ectomorph, focusing on strength training offers huge benefits–it can literally minimize the chance of having ANY weaknesses. In general, I’d advise a triathlete include strength training 3x/week in the off season and then bump that down to 2-3x/week as tri-specific training increases. Then as the athlete nears key events, strength training needs to be further reduced as I detail in my first book. One of the big mistakes athletes from all disciplines make in regards to strength training is failing to include it in some capacity year round. Any long period of cessation minimizes the cumulative effects strength training can have on the body, leaving the athlete unable to improve from year to year and hastening the age-related decline in both strength and power which occurs after the age of 25.

Dorie Downs: Add two intense strength training sessions/week and one hour core & mobility/week.

4.What types of days should the strength training be added to? intense running days? easy running days? recovery days?

Amy Begley: We believe in working hard and resting. I prefer strength training to be done on hard workout days and leave easy days to recovery.

Andrew Johnston: Again, the answer to that question depends on many of the points mentioned above. Early in the season when both volume and intensity of swim/bike/run are low, strength training should be emphasized, often placed first before a cardio session. The one true exception to that rule is with running. I never advise running after a strength session unless the workouts are separated by 4 hours or more (this allows for a hormonal rebound that’s important for the quality of the second session as well as the orthopedic integrity of the athlete). Additionally, I would place strength sessions after “quality” swims or quality bikes so that fatigue doesn’t retard the required intensity for that workout. Strength sessions, when performed appropriately. do not qualify as easy or rest. Thus, they should never be included on rest days. Flexibility and core-specific movements are fine to do, however–indeed, I recommend my athletes stretch daily.

Dorie Downs: see above: 2 intense sessions should be no more than an hour and done on non-run days. The core and mobility day should be done immediately following one of your shorter faster run sessions.

5.How would you order activities on days with running and strength workouts? back to back? 4+ hour gap between the activities? Strength before running? Running before strength?

Amy Begley: If running is your primary focus then running still needs to be that on workout days. The strength training would come after the workout. Most people do not have the time to have a gap in between workout so it will happen right after the workout.

Andrew Johnston: See #4 above.

Dorie Downs: See #4 above.

6.How long should a strength training session be?

Amy Begley: It can be as short as 30 minutes with proper cool down and stretching or it can be 1 – 2 hours long depending what you add to the strength session.

Andrew Johnston: I cap my strength training at 45mins. Any more than that, and you’re training with density rather than intensity. Endurance athletes often confuse the two, but there’s a distinct and important difference. The only time my strength training sessions with an athlete are longer is when there is a lot of teaching to do. My personal session typically last only 30mins. But they are no joke!

Dorie Downs: about 45 minutes- 1 hour

7.How intense should strength training be?

Amy Begley: During a racing phase or right before a big race the strength training should not be over powering or trying something new. The strength training needs to compliment the running but still achieve improvements. If you lift hard after a workout and then cannot complete the next workout a couple days later due to being sore then the workout was probably too intense for this training cycle.

Andrew Johnston: I detail the phases a triathlete should go through in my book (Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon), and the intensity of each varies. The Max Strength phase as well as the Power phase are quite demanding. But a word of caution here, especially for us triathletes who believe more is more. I strongly advocate to train and not DRAIN! If your training leaves you wasted (and this is often true of s/b/r training, too), then you’ve wasted your training. Recovery is paramount and the basis around which one builds a quality program. Again, the last section of my first book as well as my second book on Nutrition speak to this in greater detail. Getting to the starting line healthy is half the battle–you do that and you often already have a leg up on the competition.

Dorie Downs: Your goal should be to reach near failure/fatique on strength exercises between 8-12 rep range. Use single leg, body weight, dumbell, suspension, stability ball, bosu over machines whenever possible. On core day reps/time should be high and goal is not failure, it’s form.

8.What exercises would you include in a strength workout? Would you prescribe this same workout for every session? or would you create a few different workouts to rotate through?

Amy Begley: Currently we have 3 sessions per week with body weight, core work, form drills, pre-hab exercises, hurdle drills and plyos.

Andrew Johnston: The specifics of how to properly design a good program can be found in Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon, and it varies phase to phase according to where you are in the season. You start with a foundation of quality nutrition and lifestyle (and the better the base here, the higher level the athlete can attain). Then you move into an Anatomical Adaptation phase to prepare the body for the intensity to come. Variety of movement, volume, and proper form are the characteristics of this phase. Max strength is when the intensity increases dramatically, coupled with a reduction on overall volume as well as the number of exercises. The next phase is Power Complexity where the athlete takes strength developed during the previous phases and turns it into speed–after all, strong doesn’t necessarily translate to fast. You have to make that happen with an intelligently designed program. While weight drops during these workouts, intensity reaches its peak along with a move toward more tri-specific exercises to increase the transfer-of-training effect. Finally, and this where a lot of athletes get it wrong via complete cessation of any training outside of s/b/r, you have the Strength Maintenance phase so you don’t lose what you’ve worked so hard for. Endurance training actually inhibits strength and power which is why the body needs a particular stimulus to minimize any loss of functional capacity which would eventually cause the athlete to go slower. I also typically alternate this phase with work in what I call the Prehab and Postural Correction phase. The postural aberrations which one incurs through hours and hours of swim/bike/run must be countered or the risk of injury increases until its inevitable. Maintenance of ideal alignment with the correct exercises allows for better power production throughout the season, muscles which don’t become inhibited due to faulty length/tension relationships, and an athlete who makes it to the starting line healthy and, quite possibly, even the top step of the podium.

Dorie Downs: You should create a minimum of 3 workouts to be done in rotation each week. 6 would be preferable. There are so many good exercises, but never miss:
Squats
Deadlifts
Single leg romanian deadlifts
Pull ups
Push ups
Stability Ball bridges
Kettle bell swings
Plank

9.How close to the event do you start reducing the strength sessions?

Amy Begley: The week before a big race I would reduce and then cut out the strength work but increase stretching and light drills.

Andrew Johnston: See #8

Dorie Downs: Stop strength training 4 weeks out from marathon. 2 weeks before half.
Keep mobility & core right up to the event.

10.Anything else you I did not ask about or you would like to add?

Amy Begley: Taking care of the little things will help keep you healthy. Stretching and strength work are two of those little things

Andrew Johnston: —

Dorie Downs: DO YOGA! Best cross training ever made for runners, in my opinion.