How To (Successfully) Integrate Strength Training With Running

A workout program should combine both cardiovascular and resistance training elements. This is not new news and for most non-competitive athletes, this is can be done easily and without much issue. However, when you bring into the conversation areas such as peaking, recovery days and tapers… this integration gets a bit tricker. Before we go on, it is the standpoint of UESCA that both cardiovascular and strength training are important for both athletic performance, as well as overall health.

As you’re not likely a professional runner, triathlete or cyclist – you probably don’t have 6+ hours a day to decide how to split up your training. If you’re like me, you probably have 45 min-2 hours, depending on the day, to get your workout in. If there is one reason why endurance athletes leave resistance training out of their programs, it’s likely because they are limited on time and they feel like if something has to go, it sure as hell isn’t going to be the cardiovascular training. OK, that’s fair – but, it should never be the case that something needs to be left out.

For example, a study by Ronnestad et al., found that by integrating strength training just once a week, lean muscle mass could be maintained and power could be increased.

CONCURRENT TRAINING

This refers to integrating cardiovascular and strength training. As noted in the UESCA certifications, there are studies to show that integration can be both helpful and detrimental to one’s overall performance. Below is a summary of the findings.

  • Negative effects of concurrent training are limited to the muscle(s) being trained by both cardiovascular and strength aspects. The negative effects were not systemic.
  • Increase in running performance due to integrating strength training was due to increases in neuromuscular function (i.e., increased running economy), the subjects’ VO2 did not increase.
  • Concurrent training that integrated explosive training movements increased runners’ anaerobic capacity (no effect on aerobic capacity).
  • Strength training with heavy weights within 10 hours of finishing an aerobic training session may lead to decreased strength in the specific muscles used during the aerobic training session.
    • Strength training with lighter weights/higher repetitions showed no decrease in strength when training concurrently.
  • Concurrent training does not negatively affect the cardiovascular aspect of training.
  • Runners that performed strength training prior to running showed greater running impairment (decreased running economy) than the group that ran before performing strength training.
  • The weight and repetitions of a strength program correlate directly with the benefits
    • 3-5 reps = gains in strength, no gains in maximum aerobic power and time to exhaustion
    • 20-28 reps = gains in maximum aerobic power and time to exhaustion
    • 9-11 reps = no gains in maximum aerobic power and time to exhaustion

IMPLEMENTATION

Based on the above findings, below are UESCA’s recommendations for successfully integrating strength and cardiovascular training programs.

  1. The repetition number should not be randomly assigned, nor should it always be the same. The needs of an athlete should dictate the rep/set count. That said, for most, a rep count of 20-28 will likely increase the performance of a runner the most.
  2. If possible, cardiovascular training should precede strength training.
  3. For best results (least impairment), if lifting heavy and/or performing explosive training, there should be at least 8-10 hours between a cardiovascular session and the strength training session.
  4. If impairment occurs via concurrent training, it is limited to a specific muscle(s), and likely the range of motion/position of the muscle(s).
    – For example, if you performed heavy deep squats and your quads are sore when squatting down, they might not be sore when running as there is not the same degree of knee flexion when running.
  5. There is no decrease in aerobic function by integrating strength training.
  6. Strength training likely increases running economy via increased neuromuscular function.

DISCUSSION

What isn’t discussed in the above points due to it being omitted in the studies, is that strength training does not have to be in the form of a ‘workout’ – meaning, you don’t have to do all your strength training at one time. For example, maybe when you get up you do 50 body weight squats, at lunch you do 20 push-ups and 20 hip raises and after work, you do 10 pull-ups, 3 minutes of planks and 100 jumping jacks. While this format wasn’t discussed in the studies and therefore, no data is available on it in a formal structure, I can tell you that based off years of working with athletes and thus a fairly robust evidence-based perspective, this type of ‘training’ not only integrates well into most peoples lives, but it also is effective with no noticeable decrease in sports performance.

As with most studies, the above noted studies are designed to look at just one or two areas and often with odd guidelines. So while the results are informative in isolation, they don’t always make for the practical usage in real-world training scenarios. Therefore, it is best to take note of the aforementioned studies with a grain of salt and interpret/implement the data in a way that benefits your clients the most.

SUMMARY

If you take anything away from this post, it should be that all endurance athletes should have some element of resistance training in their program. How you decide to integrate the two is up to you as the coach but hopefully this post will give you some intelligent guidance to get you moving in the right direction.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, remember that you aren’t likely training a professional runner – you’re training someone who is likely running first and foremost for the health benefits. As such, resistance training shouldn’t be viewed just from a running perspective, but from an overall health perspective.


Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!

 

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Mikkola J, Rusko H, Nummela A, Pollari T, Häkkinen K. “Concurrent endurance and explosive type strength training improves neuromuscular and anaerobic characteristics in young distance ” Int J Sports Med. 2007 Jul;28(7):602-11. Epub 2007 Mar 20.

Rønnestad, B., Hansen, E., and Raastad, T. (2010). “In-season strength maintenance training increases well-trained cyclists’ performance.” European Journal of Applied Physiology. 110(6): 1269-1282

Dudley, G.A., and R. Djamil. “Incompatibility of endurance and strength-training modes of exercise.” Appl. Physiol.59:1446-1451,1985.

Hortobagyi T, Katch FI, Lachance PF. “Effects of simultaneous training for strength and endurance on upper and lower body strength and running performance.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1991 Mar;31(1):20-30

Sale DG, MacDougall JD, Jacobs I, Garner S. “Interaction between concurrent strength and endurance training.” J Appl Physiol. 1990 Jan;68(1):260-70

Sporer, B.C., & Wenger, H.A. 2003. “Effects of aerobic exercise on strength performance following various periods of recovery.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17 (4): 638-44.

 

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