I often come across this question of balancing between running and strength training. It comes up from those primarily facing the time availability issue for training (running or anything else) due to profession or other reasons. This question also comes from those who are not understanding or yet recognize the importance of strength training for a runner and what it really means for a rewarding running journey.
Let us dive deep and understand more (keeping in mind) we have runners running all kinds of distances (5K through Ultras). I do not have to mention runners working to achieve their timing goals. They are also part of this article’s theme. In fact, they need more focus on strength training vs. other non-pacey runners.
First of all, the primary factor that drives the answer to this question is whether the runner is training for a distance goal or a timing goal.
If you run up to 5K regularly, keeping running as a well-being activity, you may not really need strength training as such. The running activity itself (if the pace is comfortable and if one runs 4 to 5 days maximum in a week) may build enough strength in your muscles, tendons, and joints, fuelling your runs.
The moment you start running above 5K, more elements will come into play that needs care and attention. If you do not take care of those aspects, you will face either injury, burnout, or unable to enjoy the sport of running.
What are they? What aspects come into play? Here are some key elements.
As you see, strength training is on the top for me. Why? Because it is essential to achieve both the distance goal and the timing goal. Without it, one has greater possibilities (50% or more, as many research report says!) to either not meet performance expectations or get injured.
How much strength training should I do, and approach strength training based on my running goals?
In general, the thumb rule should be that you as a runner should make strength training part of your training regimen irrespective of your training goals.
If you run above 5K as a race goal or regularly train to run other longer race goals, at least two strength sessions per week will bring tremendous benefits to complement your running.
What type of strength training to do?
You have a variety of strength training to do, depending on your goal.
- If your goal is speed or power running, you certainly need to do more plyometrics along with HIIT workouts. But remember, before you get to plyometrics/HIIT training, you need to build minimum strength for your muscles and the joints, or else you may injure yourself as you do plyometric/HIIT training.
- You can hit the gym and do a strength workout with gym equipment (focus on the lower body, upper body, and core)
- You can do bodyweight strength workouts (focus on the lower body, upper body, and core)
- You can do strength workouts using Loop bands or Thera bands.
Remember, nutrition plays a vital role too in complementing your strength workouts. The right amount of protein ensures you rebuild your muscles. The right amount of carbohydrate (the primary source for most endurance sports) fuels your runs, or else, you may get into the danger of losing your muscles.
Finally, being a runner does not mean you should run every day. Keep running as your primary sport and run up to 4 days per week and then spend the rest of the days on strength workouts and other cross-training. Please do not forget the rest days! They are essential too to rejuvenate yourself, over time, to keep you sane with the sport.