How To Combine Running and Weightlifting For Optimal Results

Running and weightlifting can be a hot button topic. Some believe runners should not practice weight training because it takes time away from their running and it is thought to add muscle mass.

Here at The Run Experience, we are big fans of incorporating strength training into your running training plan.

Why incorporate strength training?

running and lifting

To begin, strong, stable, coordinated, athletic bodies do not break down as much. They produce more power output, and they are more resilient in their training. In general, runners who lift weights have better running form and are less prone to injury, because their bodies are stronger.

This is largely because strength training improves your run form. Also, putting more muscle on your bones can help lessen the impact of your running and give your bones a break. If you are someone who suffers from stress fractures, weight training will definitely help you out.

After all, running is a limited, repetitive motion. But as most runners know, running often requires stability and balance that you will not get by only running. This is why cross-training is all the rage now-a-days.

Just ask Coach Nate, who has been a member of both camps in this debate. When Nate was devoting all of his time to running, he lost a lot of athletic coordination he had when he was cross-training, and his body broke down more frequently.

Running + Weightlifting FAQs

Now that we know we can and should lift weights, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions surrounding weightlifting and strength training.

Do I need to do runner-specific strength training?

In general, no. You are incorporating this strength training to build up general strength, which you will then use for the specific purpose of running. And after all, we’re all human. There is no such thing as a runner-specific squat or a runner-specific deadlift.

Some of Coach Nate’s favorite exercises include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead shoulder press
  • Front squats
  • Forward lunges

To get a visual and a how-to on these, check out this video:

Should I lift heavy?

As a general rule, runners certainly should not be afraid to lift heavy. Lifting heavier weight is a great way to break your body out of its traditional movement patterns so that you really see change.

Lifting heavy also better enforces proper form. Heavy lifting heighten the importance of form, so lifting heavy is a great way to practice that.

Having said that, be sure you understand proper form when lifting these heavier weights. If you are new to lifting weights, start with just 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps per set. Over time, you can build up to 4-8 reps. But start small to acclimate your body and allow it get out of its comfort zone safely.

How many days a week should I strength train?

endurance

It depends. If you are far out from a race, or if you are dealing with an injury that keeps you from running as much as you’re used to, you can and should strength train 3-4 days per week.

For runners closer to their race who are fully engulfed in their running training, incorporate strength training twice a week and you will still be able to reap the benefits.

And feel free to find yourself somewhere in between these numbers. If you have the time and energy to squeeze in a small bodyweight strength training workout after one of your running workouts, do it. It may not be a full weightlifting session but it will pay off in the long run.

What does a weightlifting session look like?

Your weightlifting session should begin with a dynamic warm-up. This should get your hips and shoulders moving and more open.

For an example of a dynamic warm up, check out this one:

From there, you will move into your main strength piece. Depending on how heavy your weight is, your rep count will vary. But in general, you will choose a series of exercises. For each exercise, you will choose how many sets you want to do, and how many reps you want to do per set.

You can also make a circuit out of your exercises, meaning you switch exercises every set. Maybe you go from your deadlifts into a set of pull-ups or assisted pull ups to get your upper body going, and from there you go to forward lunges to reignite the lower body, and then start all over. Aim to vary the muscle groups you are working on.

Between each set or circuit, give yourself the rest of anywhere from one to two minutes. Remember, strength training is not intended to be an aerobic workout; that’s what your running workouts are for.

After your main sets or circuit, consider adding some “nook and cranny” strength exercises. Maybe you spend a bit of time working on one-legged deadlifts, or box jumps, or any exercise that requires individual focus for you.

Lastly, finish off with some mobility work. Get out your foam roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or whatever other tool you like to roll out with and start working into those muscles you just worked.

When should I lift?

As a general rule, some strength training is always better than no strength training. So if scheduling concerns make it tough to incorporate weight lifting, just work it in where you can.

If you are tackling both a running workout and a lift in one day, plan strategically. Typically, whichever we do earlier in the day is going to get the best of our effort and focus.

This means that if you have a race coming up, try to schedule that run before your strength training. If you’re coming back from an injury, reverse them and lift first.

On another note, aim to keep your strength days on your easy run days if the two overlaps. This will keep your recovery days manageable the next day so that you’re not too sore to continue on with your training plan. Try to keep your long-distance runs on days where you have nothing else planned training-wise.

Isn’t weightlifting expensive?

It’s true that gym memberships can be pricey, especially compared to running. However, it might be worth the investment if you live in a place with inconsistent weather, as now that membership fee will cover running and cardio costs if there is a treadmill, and it will give you access to heavier weights.

Consider Bodyweight Exercises

core work

If cost is a concern for your strength training, consider investing in a few pieces for your home that will go a long way in a full-body workout. Resistance bands for resistance training and dumbbells are great options that you can do a lot with.

And there are plenty of effective bodyweight exercises that you can do to improve strength. Push-ups are a great way to build your triceps, air squats help build the lower body, and there are plenty of other examples.

In fact, strength training with bodyweight is a lower impact way to strength train, and might be a preferable option if you are nearing race day.

For a good bodyweight workout, try the one in this video:

As you can see, weightlifting is a good thing. Stronger runners exert more power, and have a leg up in the injury prevention game.

Strength training can be a great way to break up your running training. Add it in and see for yourself!