DON'T BE ME.
Before: I've made all the mistakes.
Running every run hard.
ALWAYS trying to run longer.
Burning myself out in the process
After: learning all the secrets
Investing in and following specific resistance training program + workouts
building endurance and running longer
All injury-free which hasn't happened in like…12 years. (YIKES!)
I promise, this type of success isn’t reserved for the elites, known-it-all health professional runners, or running coaches.
It's incredibly accessible to every runner.
It's called periodization.
The only reason you haven't done it yet: you didn't know about it.
But…you *might* already be doing it.
Let's dive in!
WHAT THE HECK IS PERIODIZATION?
"Periodization is a concept that many running coaches and athlete use to divide the year into training blocks and cycles to peak their performance on a specific date or dates."
Still not helpful?
Think of it this way.
It's a road map training plan.
You're training for a marathon.
You don't go for your long 20mi run on week 2. (unless 20mi is your norm, you're an ultra runner…you get it.)
You usually build your way up in mileage and in pace.
You have specific weeks where you run faster or longer and then you have your taper week(s) where you run less.
That right here, is an example of periodization.
You're running a certain way at a certain time in order to be ready for race day.
What I want you take away from that quote:
a runner is NOT in peak shape ALL THE TIME.
"the individual running sessions will vary in pace, distance, and incline to peak the athlete for their most important races of the year."
Periodization is a cycle.
It ebbs and flows.
Peaks and fades away and so does your level of fitness.
This isn't bad; this is NORMAL!
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH LIFTING HEAVY?
For BEST results on your quest to running faster:
"resistance training periodization will follow its own unique variations in volume, intensity, and specificity."
Meaning: just like how your progress through marathon training and your runs gradually change in pace and mileage…so do your strength workouts!
Example: you're not going to lift super heavy the day before race day.
Your legs are going to be shot and you're going to tank your performance.
You understand periodization.
And if we take it a step further, what your resistance training looks like will ALSO vary depending on your lifting age…
SECTION: HOW OLD ARE YOU?
No not actual, chronological age.
How old are you running years? (how long have you been running?)
How old are you in lifting years? (how long have you been lifting?)
More than likely, you've been running longer than lifting.
All this means: you've been practicing running for longer than you've been learning about lifting.
So you're naturally going to be better at what you've been practicing.
Is this surprising? Noooo.
Then why do so many runners use the excuse:"I just don't know what I'm doing so I don't strength train."
(I could potentially be referring to myself 12 years ago…)
I think the "I'm overwhelmed and don't know what to do" excuse is a little more valid.
Training for your first marathon was (at least) slightly overwhelming too, right? And all you did was take it one day, one workout at a time.
EXACT same thing with lifting.
As you practice more and lift more, the better you become.
The beautiful part of incorporating periodization into all this: it's literally written in your training plan to do ONLY CERTAIN exercises over and over and over…
To repeat those SAME exercises with just progressively heavier weights.
There's nothing new!
The 2 to 4 (max) variations of workouts you do, DON'T CHANGE.
You get really, really, really GOOD at a handful of exercises.
In ONE training block.
In ONE period of time.
You do NOT change it up and try every crazy Instagram exercise out there on the internet.
Periodization says: "I'm working towards THIS goal and training specifically for it in THIS way and I will do it in THIS specific time chunk (period)."
I promise, after a while, those strength exercises you were so overwhelmed and scared of, will actually being to feel boring.
And that's a good thing.
"Although a runner may have years of experience with endurance racing, resistance training may still be a novel stimulus, and exercise selection considerations for this athlete may differ from a runner with more experience in resistance training."
It's OK for your strength training to look different and use different weights compared to every other runner out there.
Because they're NOT YOU.
Your body is unique with its own strength and weakness.
You probably will do a lot of similar, basic exercises. But you might you need to be modify them, regress, progress, or even substitute them occasionally.
And that's OK.
WHAT'S MY TRAINING AGE?
Training age: how many years of practice have you had lifting heavy things and putting them down again? (aka are you a newbie or advanced in age and lifting wisdom?)
You might have a LOW training age if…
Resistance training is "a novel stimulus"
You feel clunky
You're not sure you're doing it right
You've been told you have compensations (or you can see them yourself)
You need help (cues) from other people to help you fix what you're doing it wrong
You've been lifting for 1 year or less
You might have a HIGH training age if…
You're confident with basic movements like a squat, hip hinge, single leg squat and lunge variations
You don't need a whole ton of cues to fix funky movements while lifting, but they do help occasionally
You're aware of any movement compensations you have and you can generally see them and address them
You've been lifting for over 1 year
*THE CATCH: regardless of advanced or newbie status, all runners need single leg exercises for strength, stability, and balance, along with core work, strong feet exercises, etc.
All that changes are the exercises used to accomplish the SAME goal.
(and often, the advanced runners, STILL use a lot of the basic exercises. Because they work!)
WHEN DO I LIFT HEAVY TO RUN FASTER?
The bad news: it takes time.
The good news: it takes time.
Here's what I mean.
There are typically 4 phases a runner goes through when training for any race:
General Preparatory phase (GPP)
Specific Preparatory phase (SPP)
I promise, you've done all of these whether you know it or not. Let's break down just 2 of them briefly.
GPP = your off season lasting 8-12 weeks
NOT to be confused with the immediate weeks you take off after a marathon!
typically the season where you are primarily focused on easy runs
May be lifting 2-3x a week; running 4-5x a week
Can last 8-12 weeks
The perfect time period to introduce your new strength workouts and just get used to them!
For the lifting aficionados out there:
First 4 weeks: 3 exercises, 4-6 sets X 6-10 reps @ 70-80% 1RM with 2min rest intervals
Next 4 weeks: 3 exercises, 2-4 sets x 3-6 reps @ 75-85% 1 RM with 2-3 min rest intervals
SPP = pre-season time lasting 4-6 weeks
You begin running more 6-9x a week; lifting 2x (maybe 3x) week
Running mileage/pace intensity increases and lifting volume (how many reps/sets) DECREASES but the WEIGHT GOES UP!
"For example, a marathon runner will complete a greater number of runs more than 15 miles and closer to race pace. SPP is the phase to capitalize on the strength gains made in the GPP…"
In other words: LIFT HEAVY HERE!
Lifting aficionados: 3 exercises, 2-4 sets x <5 reps @ >80% 1RM, + 3min rest intervals
The trick to lifting heavy during this phase: you're actually doing FEWER REPS and FEWER SETS than "normal" (in your GPP phase).
Look at the last bullet points of each phase and compare: can you see how the number of sets and reps CHANGED? The number of exercises stayed the same!
Because in the SPP (and then into your maintenance phase) you've got a lot of running to do!
But also….because this is how you train muscular hypertrophy (aka increase the size of your muscles).
You're muscles get larger and stronger when you lift HEAVIER than normal weights. But because you're lifting bigger, heavier things, you can't lift as many times.
These are the rules of muscle physiology. I don't make them. I just follow them.
The reason for our trip into the weeds: you all have asked a lot,
"Do I just lift heavier forever and ever?"
(I'm right there with you: the way things sound on the 'gram sometimes makes it seem that way).
Hopefully NOW you can see:"ooohhh so during my BASE building for running mileage, I'm also building a strength BASE!
And as I get closer to and move into my race-specific workouts, I also lift heavier but technically lift less".
Remember that ebb and flow we talked about at the beginning? Start to see it?
Is all of this leaving you a little confused and overwhelmed still?
Here's an even easier way to look at it:
You pick 3 exercises.
You learn them really well for 8 weeks.
Then the next 4 weeks, you start to make them harder.
That's it, running fit fam. It really can be that simple.
Work smart, not harder by Daring to Train Differently.
Got more questions? Leave them in the comments below and let's chat!
Looking for where to start with your own strength workout? Grab my FREE running guide!
Until next time, Dare to Train Differently,
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT // @dr.whitt.fit
Barrie, B. (2020). Concurrent resistance training enhances performance in competitive distance runners: A review and programming implementation. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42(1), 97-106.