I was recently asked a bunch of really great questions by Jess for an article in Shape.com…and it provoked some info and advice that I’ve never really talk about on this platform. Usually, this blog has been a place for me to write stuff about my own training and racing; but I’d like to share some stuff that you might find useful. Because beyond my own running, I am also a coach, and I love helping other people get better.

Over the next few days, I’m going to post some of the answers from the interview…so I’m kicking it off with some info about strength work and cross training. Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out. (itsamarython@gmail.com)

 

What strength training mistakes do runners sometimes make that might be interfering with getting faster? What should they be doing instead? Why?

The timing of strength workouts is everything. Strength training is best done AFTER a workout, or the day directly following a workout day – never before. Runners also tend to neglect a proper warm-up before strength training. Warming up for a strength session is just as important as warming up for a running workout, and should include foam rolling, mobility work, movement prep, and dynamic prep.

Runners are also so afraid to lift heavy. Lifting heavy will NOT make you “bigger” –it will only make you stronger and more balanced.

In addition: many runners think that simple, unweighted PT exercises–like clamshells and monster walks–will make them more balanced and less prone to injury. While that is certainly true for some…those PT exercises will only help to an extent before you really need to start lifting actual weights to adapt your tissues and musculature.

 

Why do strength training workouts after a run and not before? How does doing a strength workout at other times prevent you from becoming a faster runner?

Ah, so I meant (above) that it’s important to strength train after a SPEED session…not necessarily a regular run. But that being said: when deciding between which to do first, you have to evaluate your priority, and which effort you want to be sharpest in.

Do you want to gain muscle, burn a little more fat, and be more focused on lifting heavier weights? –then you’ll want to lift before running.

Do you want to get faster, nail your speed workout, and then supplement your workout with strength before allowing your body to recover? –then you’ll want to run before lifting.

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35 lbs. above my face, check me out

I always encourage my athletes to prioritize their speed workout first…then lifting later on, either immediately following speed OR later in the afternoon (allowing at least 4 hours to recover in between workouts). Every once in a while, it’s fine to do the lifting an entire day after the speed too.

I’ll usually give my athletes 2-3 days to recover in between quality speed sessions. Ample recovery will leave them feeling energized and ready to hit it hard in their next quality session. Lifting prior to fast running will cause fatigue and is counterproductive to the entire process of building speed.

No matter if you lift or do a speed workout, you’re creating micro-tears in your muscles. So the question is really: which activity do you want to perform your best in, and do first, when your muscles are fresh and [relatively] free of micro-tears? If you’re training to be faster, you’re going to want to prioritize the running.

 

What cross-training mistakes do runners make that might interfere with getting faster? What should they be doing instead? Why?

Runners love what’s easy–so they want to be told to plop down on a bike or elliptical for an hour and call it cross-training. Yes, that is certainly cross-training, but there’s so much more a runner can do.

Let’s break down the purpose of cross-training: you want to increase your HR…get your blood pumping…and condition your heart/lungs. So, with these 3 objectives in mind, you can do this this OFF a boring cardio machine WHILE ALSO working all planes of motion, including the transverse and sagittal planes, both of which runners are rarely exposed to. So, instead of continuously working the frontal plane on an elliptical for an cross-training day, you can do a 45-60 minute mix of other activities, such as:

  • Using an agility ladder
  • Practicing change of direction on a grass field
  • Side shuffling
  • Bear crawling (and lateral bear crawling!)

…the list goes on. Stumped for movement ideas? I wrote a little more about this topic here

Incorporating a variation of other activities teaches a runner’s body to become more efficient and familiar with other planes of motion, keeping you more balanced and at a decreased risk for injury.