You know you should strength train to get the most out of your 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or full marathon, but what does the ideal "strength training and cardio" schedule look like? Here, Joe Holder, S10 trainer, Nike run coach, and founder of the Ocho System, shares his tips for having it all—both strength and speed.
Start with stability.
Early in your training plan, focus on stability. Keep your muscles guessing and gains coming by working on your balance through unilateral exercises, such as single-leg deadlifts. Try 12 to 15 reps with a low weight and minimal rest in between at the beginning of your race training. Once your mileage starts to increase, you can lower the reps to about 5 to 8 and increase the weight. Plus, that's a good time to focus on bilateral exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
Choose exercises that are right for a runner.
Not all strength-training moves are created equal, especially when you're training for a race. You'll want to be sure to do exercises that strengthen your lower body and core—the areas of your body you use most when pounding the pavement. "Since runners spend a lot of time on one leg and utilizing single limbs, training in a similar manner by stressing one portion of the body over the other can prove beneficial," says Holder. Focusing on each side individually can improve muscular imbalances and create greater core activation.
Some good moves to include in your strength-training routine are lunges, single-leg deadlifts, step-ups, side planks, and glute bridges. It's also smart to tie in multi-planar work, which uses both legs and consists of side-to-side and rotational movements, like pivot lunges, woodchops, and side lunges. All of these exercises improve stability, which means you'll be able to resist forces working against you during your run—think uneven roads or high winds.
Want to put on muscle? Think like a sprinter.
Distance runners often have a leaner look, but sprinters tend to have more muscle mass. For a sprinter physique, Holder suggests strength-training one day a week and adding an extra day for "hypertrophy" training, which is all about taxing the muscles to their limits—this is where you actually see gains. Day 1 should focus on muscular endurance and function (think 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps of the exercises mentioned before at a controlled tempo). Day 2, or hypertrophy day, should focus on adding muscle with more strength exercises. Do 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps, at 70 percent of your max weight (it should feel heavy, but not impossible) at a "2-0-2" tempo. Count slowly, 2 seconds down (or right, left, etc., depending on the plane of movement for that exercise), no pause at the midpoint, followed by 2 seconds to come up, or back to starting position.
Keep your diet in check.
It's easy to make excuses for eating anything you want, especially if you're logging SO many miles every week. However, maintaining a healthy diet as a runner is extra important to improve performance and stay in fighting shape. Holder suggests a diet that balances all three macronutrients. Protein helps muscles grow and repair after each workout. Carbohydrates are an absolute necessity as they are the body's first source of fuel, and because they also cut down on cortisol levels (the stress hormone that causes your body to store fat). Fats are a power player because they are your primary fuel during aerobic exercise (hello, long runs!) and are necessary for proper hormone function. Eat fresh fruits and veggies as much as possible—their phytonutrients serve as performance enhancers (find them in beets) and help with recovery (pick up watermelon, ginger, and turmeric) after workouts. The more effectively you reduce soreness and improve your recovery time through diet and proper sleep, the better equipped you'll be for your next workout.
Tailor your training to your individual goal.
Whether you're putting in work for a 5K or a half marathon, one thing to remember is that every training schedule and strategy looks different. Finding what works for you is the key to success. If you're training for a shorter race like a 5K or 10K, Holder says training should focus on increasing your speed endurance and strengthening your core. (Planks are a great way to harness that strength and stability in your middle.) If you're aiming to run a half or full marathon, it's more important to focus on your aerobic base and getting your body used to running long distances. Holder says, in this case, strength-training sessions can be a bit longer have a moderate intensity, as the goal is to increase muscle and aerobic endurance.