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Increase Your Running Potential: Essential Strength Training Guide

Increase Your Running Potential Dr Lauren LaPierre Run Tri Bike Magazine

It is no secret at this point that there benefits of strength training to increase your running potential. Strength training has been shown to increase speed, power, reaction time, muscular endurance, form & running efficiency; all while reducing the risk of injuries. But for some runners the benefits still don’t outweigh the fear of getting big and bulky as well as the insecurity of not knowing what exactly to do in a gym setting. 

Strength training for runners can be a confusing topic. I often get asked these questions when on a discovery call with potential clients: 

  • When do I incorporate strength training into my training? 
  • Should I run or strength train first?
  • How often and how long do strength training sessions need to be? 
  • Won’t strength training make me big, bulky & slow? 

In this article, I am going to answer each of these questions as well as leave you with two complementary circuits to help you get started on your runner specific strength training journey today! 

It is important to be aware that when adding in a new component to your training, just like when you first started running, that a slight increase in fatigue or muscle soreness is to be expected. That being said, muscle soreness typically only lasts for 48-72 hours maximum. If you are experiencing muscle soreness or fatigue that is lasting longer than this and it is not improving with gentle movement, you may have over exerted yourself and could benefit from an additional recovery day. 

How & When to Strength Train? 

When first starting out, don’t make it hard on yourself and try to double your training load in one day by running and strength training on the same day. Double days, where you choose to complete two training sessions in a day, put more demand on the body requiring more recovery time. For a runner new to strength training this could set you up for failure by leading to burn out.  

So if you are new to strength training, place runs and strength training on alternating days. This will help minimize fatigue as well as time commitment, allowing you to show up to each training session with optimal energy. When you’ve had more practice & are consistent with your strength training as well as feel confident to handle the increase of load on one day, you can start to incorporate double training sessions. Need more guidance? Reach out to a coach like myself to take the guesswork out of training for you!


How to Schedule my Workouts? 

If strength training and running are on alternating days and you aren’t actively training for anything at this moment, it doesn’t matter how you choose to lay out your weekly training. My advice is always to make it easiest for you to show up & stay committed. Because progress isn’t about the perfect training plan, moreso how long can you remain consistent! 

Now if you are training for a particular race or have an important workout coming up, placing your easy runs on the days leading up to these harder effort workouts or races would be wise to limit fatigue. Strength training with heavy weights 4-5 days before a key workout or race will create increased muscular fatigue. But sometimes the goal, like in marathon training, is to build endurance & speed on tired legs.

So ultimately it depends on what your goal is from these workouts?

Is it a key workout to test fitness or build fitness?

Is it an A or B race on the calendar?

Ultimately there is no wrong way to incorporate strength training. Simply what works for you.

Should I Run or Strength Training First ?

Now what if you choose to schedule a run and strength training session on the same day? If you break the workouts up into a morning and evening session, the order again doesn’t matter as much because of the amount of recovery time between sessions. 

But if you want to get technical, or perform back-to-back training sessions, then ideally we place strength first. This allows you to prioritize lifting heavy with proper form to build strength & durability for running. Placing your easy run directly prior to lifting will create increased neuromuscular fatigue, which will impact the amount of weight you can lift, form and coordination. So it can be more ideal to place an easy run after a lifting session because this will allow you to lift heavy and then challenge your aerobic systems, which is typically what we aim to improve with endurance training. 

But what if you have a speed workout and your goal is to get the most out of your workout or test your fitness? Then ideally you place your strength training session after your run to ensure you are fresh heading into the workout. Just know this probably means you won’t be able to lift as heavy i.e., compete as many reps, sets or lift as much weight in the gym later that day or the day after because of the neuromuscular fatigue post speed workout! 


How Often & How Long Do Strength Training Sessions Need to Be?

Runners have a knack at making things overly complicated. But my motto in training is make it easy and get the most out of doing the least. Work smarter, not harder Runners! So what is the lowest barrier to entry that you can commit to & start there. 

But if we are talking numbers, how often do runners need to strength train per week to see benefits? Ideally 2x a week. And how long are these strength training sessions? Minimum 20-30 minutes. 

For some this may seem like an easy entry level to start. For others this still may be overreaching. If you feel some form of resistance with this recommendation, make it easier! Start with one strength training session per week for 20 minutes. Instead of having an all or nothing mindset or risking burn out, simply start with something. Because if you are just starting out, then even 1x a week of strength training will be sufficient for your body to see some of the positive benefits noted above.

It is important to build the habit first with what you can actually commit to and then increase frequency and duration as you wish. Too often the main issue with runners & strength training isn’t the exercises they choose, how many sessions they perform or how long they train for in a singular session but how consistent they are with the training they are doing. So start with something, do that for 6-8 weeks and then increase frequency or duration if you choose. 

Why 6-8 weeks? Because this is the minimum amount of time it takes to see muscular strength and endurance changes in the body. 

But Won’t Strength Training make me Big, Bulky & Slow? 

No! Strength training will NOT make you big, bulky or slow! This is a common myth in the running community. 

It is actually physiologically impossible for an endurance athlete to get bulky with strength training due to neurological cross signaling that occurs when a runner lifts heavy AND runs long distance. This means the body cannot process both signals concurrently and so strength adaptations will not be as great due to the load and stress demands of endurance training. That in no way means it is not important, simply that we will not get the same results as someone who prioritizes strength training over aerobic activity.

Consider that a runner is not strength training the same way an olympic weightlifter, power lifter or crossfitter would. These types of athletes are lifting heavier weights for a longer duration per session and more frequently throughout their weekly training to see this type of muscle hypertrophy or growth. And this growth takes years to attain. No one accidentally gets bulky overnight from strength training.   

Simply stated, when programmed properly based upon a runner’s experience, availability and training demands, strength training will help increase your running potential. This will come through improvement in form, efficiency and longevity in this sport!

Example Full Body Strength Circuits 

Push / Squat Day
  • Warm Up
  • Accessory
    • Alternating Dead Bug 
    • Half Kneeling DB (dumbbell) Shoulder Press
    • Alternating DB (dumbbell) Chest Press  
  • Main 
    • DB (dumbbell) Heel Elevated Goblet Squat 
    • DB (dumbbell) Bulgarian Split Squat 
  • Plyometric  
    • Tuck Jumps
    • Broad Jumps 
Pull / Hinge Day 
  • Warm Up
    • Alternating Lateral Lunges w/ Weight Shift 
    • 8in Box Step Ups 
  • Accessory
    • Bear Hold Shoulder Taps
    • Short Seated Alternating Rows (resistance bands/ pulley)
    • Standing Long Arm Lat Pulldown (resistance bands/ pulley)
  • Main 
    • Barbell RDL (Romanian deadlift)
    • Kickstand DB (dumbbell) RDL (Romanian deadlift)
  • Plyometric  
    • Lateral Bound & Stick
    • Side to Side DL (deadlift) Pogos

Dr Lauren LaPierre The Personalized Running Doc

Dr. Lauren LaPierre is a doctor of physical therapy by trade, runner rehab specialist and running coach!

Dr. Lauren personally has over a decade of competitive running experience, competing throughout high school and later for the University of Rhode Island as a Division I athlete. Her personal journey with running is the reason she went to PT school and later started her business, The Personalized Running Doc.

Her mission is to help other runner’s overcome training related injuries when all else has failed, empowering them to continue running for themselves and crushing their goals as they do. Since 2020, her comprehensive personalized approach and hybrid training model has helped runners all over the world return to running pain free and reach their maximum running potential!