Combining Running and Strength Training

By Rick Morris

There’s a lot of evidence that supports the value of concurrent strength and endurance training. How about the sequence you follow? Does it matter whether you run or strength train first? Does it make any difference what day you do strength training? Yep – I think it does! The most important consideration in determining the best sequence to follow is what your primary goal is. What is it that your trying to accomplish? Are you a distance runner, a body builder or a power lifter? Of course we all know the answer to that – you’re a distance runner. If you’re not you should close this page immediately and go hit the gym. If you were a body builder or power lifter your most important workouts would involve strength and muscle building. That is where combining running and strength training comes in.

In your case, as a distance runner, you are most concerned with improving your running performance. You most important workouts are your running workouts. Your strength training workouts are important to support your running but your primary training revolves around your daily running.
Since your running is the most important phase of your training you want to make sure your body, mind and muscles are fresh and strong when you perform your runs. For that reason common sense is clear that you should always perform your running workouts first.

What about science? Does science agree with common sense? It almost always does and this is no exception. In 2005 a group of researchers at the National Center of Medicine and Sciences in Sports in Tunisia recruited the help of 48 males sport students to investigate the affect of intra -session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. Not only did these researchers confirm that adding strength training to endurance training improves both aerobic capacity and endurance performance, they also concluded that “Improvement in endurance performance and aerobic capacity was significantly greater when, in the same session, the endurance training preceded the strength training rather than the other way around or if each of the training methods was performed separately.”

Common sense, experience and scientific evidence is all clear. If you want to maximize the benefits of your strength training you should do it within the same session and after your running workout is complete.

How about doing your strength training on an off day? At first glance that strategy makes a lot of sense. You would have more time for strength training on an off day and it wouldn’t interfere with your running at all. Or would it? Always remember the importance of rest and recovery in your training routine. Your recovery days are when your muscles not only get some needed recovery but also rebuild in strength. Without that recovery time you are robbing your muscles of strength and power. For that reason I don’t recommend doing strength training on off days or recovery days. The stress of the strength training will interfere with the recovery/strengthening process and decrease your running performance levels.