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How to Balance Running and Strength Training, No Matter Your Goals

Learn how to train concurrently for running and strength with the ARENA Platform.

Lifters have heard — from their lifting pals and just about everyone on Instagram — that running eats away at their muscles. And runners may be scared that lifting will make them too bulky to effectively run for miles and miles at a time. But it’s not all one way or the other. For lifters, it might be nice to not feel like you’re going to pass out from exertion whenever you need more than one hand to count your reps. And runners might want to get stronger in the weight room so they can last longer on the track.

Yes, you’ll have to look out for signs that your running is interfering with your strength goals and vice versa. But that’s true no matter what new element you’re introducing into your training. You can find a balance between running and strength training that suits your body and your goals. Here’s how you can go out running and still stay strong, and get strong while still marathoning.

How the Arena Platform Can Help Runners Get Strong

If you’re a distance runner, you might not have seen the inside of a gym (beyond the treadmill section) since that weight training requirement way back in high school. Rest (or run) assured — strength training doesn’t have to be complicated, and, if executed correctly, it’ll enhance your running.

ARENA
ARENA
ARENA

This sleek and stylish cable system provides up to 200 pounds of motorized tension for all your strength- and muscle-building needs.

The ARENA Platform is a compact cable system that doesn’t take up any more space than your yoga mat. It provides between 10 and 200 pounds of motorized, constant resistance, which means that you’ll be minimizing stress on your joints while maximizing your time under tension. Less stress on your joints means you won’t interfere with your high-impact running goals, and more time under tension means building strength to maximum effect.

Along with the cable platform — which you can step, jump, and stand on — comes a straight bar, a squat belt, a single-handle grip, an ankle strap, and a triceps rope.

Strength athletes who want to get in some extra training at home and runners who want to get stronger can both use the ARENA Platform to integrate their running and strength training routines. Read on to learn how to get strong and run — and why you should, no matter your experience level.

Benefits of Running for Strength Athletes

Adding some runs and jogs into your strength training program can be a great way to diversify your training. If you like running but the cardio-haters have kept you at bay, here are some ways that going for a jog can help out even the strongest of athletes.

Improve Endurance and Strength

Many lifters fear that running will prevent them from getting as strong as they can. And while running can interfere with strength goals if you don’t program it properly — often called the interference effectboosting your endurance through running can get you stronger eventually. (1)(2)(3)

Running helps you breathe more efficiently and work harder during your other training sessions. When your work capacity increases in that way, you may find it easier to crank out a few extra reps on the platform. The better you can breathe, the better you can control your fatigue. 

In that way, injecting a bit of good old-fashioned cardio work into your strength training can help you lift weights for longer periods of time — otherwise known as endurance. 

In short: Running increases your endurance; more endurance means you can work harder for longer; more work, over time, leads to better results. 

Build Mental Stamina

Running may attract people who like to embrace challenges. (4) And once you’ve formed a habit of it, running consistently builds mental toughness and discipline. (4) When you train yourself to run, you develop the ability to self-talk your way by pushing out that extra mile or those final thirty seconds.

This forms the same foundation for the kind of discipline and self-confidence you need on the lifting platform. Whether you’re preparing yourself for a one-rep max attempt or struggling through a seemingly endless set of 12, developing mental stamina is key for every dedicated strength athlete. And running can help you get there.

Enjoyment

Some people — yes, even strength athletes — just really like running. When you enjoy your exercise, you’re more likely to stick to it and benefit from it. (5) So if adding a few runs to your strength training program is what you need to make sure you’re having fun with your training, the benefits likely outweigh the risks. 

All things being equal, it’s likely better to have a training program that you enjoy — with running — than to give up on it because you might take a longer time to make the most massive strength gains.

Benefits of Strength Training for Runners

If you’re a runner who wants to add some iron-style spice to your program, it’s good to know that strength training won’t just make you stronger in general. It can also directly contribute to making you a better runner. You’ll soon be able to leave your pre-strength training self in the proverbial dust.

Improve Running Efficiency

If you’re a distance runner, your job isn’t only to run a lot. You also need to run with good enough technique to prevent premature fatigue. Just like lifters don’t want to leak force with wonky technique during a heavy deadlift, runners can’t afford to waste energy on inefficient running form. By helping your body learn to move more efficiently in general, and strategically strengthening your muscles and tendons, strength training can help runners out on the track.

Performing strength training specifically catered to endurance running — think: exercises focused on the lower body and core — can help distance runners prevent their form from breaking down as they get farther into their workout. (2)(3) But don’t worry. Unless you’re training specifically for hypertrophy and emphasizing muscle-building over your running workouts, you’re not likely to gain a whole lot of muscle mass. (3

Run Farther, Faster

If you’re already an experienced runner, squatting at a high intensity three times a week for eight weeks can make you a more efficient, effective runner. (6)

Higher-intensity strength training also helps long-distance runners maintain their energy across even longer and more intense workouts. (7) Explosive strength training has the potential to improve a runner’s 5k time by boosting their muscular power and speed. (8)

A grey, black, and white image shows a phone preview of the ARENA app.

This kind of explosive strength training can involve moves like box jumps and plyometric step-ups — both of which you can accomplish on the ARENA platform. These types of movements can help you get faster and stronger all at the same time.

Help Reduce Injury Risk

As long as you’re performing strength exercises safely, increasing the volume and intensity of your strength training can help you reduce your injury risk as a runner. (9) Especially if you’re starting to train for distance running, balancing your endurance sessions with strength training can help you avoid overuse injuries. (10)

Strength training in ways that will have minimal impact on your joints can also be a boon to your efforts to fight off injuries. By strength training with cable systems like the ARENA Platform, you’ll be able to get stronger while giving your joints a break from all that pounding on the pavement.

How to Program Concurrent Training

Ok, so you want to improve your squat max and build your endurance. Or, you want to get faster on the track, and know that hitting the weights can help. Concurrent training is the act of training for endurance and strength at the same time. To do this successfully, you’ll have to take into account different individual factors and program your specific training accordingly. 

Exercise Order

If you’re performing both strength training and high-intensity aerobic work in the same session, you’ll be fatigued during the second part of the session, no matter which comes first. (11) So, to maximize your chances of emphasizing your strength gains, it’s best to do your endurance training after your weight lifting session. (12)(13

On the other hand, if you primarily want to get better at running, do your running workouts before strength training. (11) Whether you’re a runner or a strength athlete, separating your workouts by at least three to six hours can help you maximize your gains. (14)(15

Strength Training Volume for Runners

Regardless of what type of athlete you are, you don’t want to overdo it with a new type of training to avoid injury and overloading your body inappropriately. But what you consider to be “high volume” depends on your experience level.

For experienced runners, training heavy squats and explosive lower body work two or three times a week can improve your running form and help you go farther and faster. (6)(8) Find a training volume that works for you by starting on the lower end and building up from there.

If you prefer to run outside or on that treadmill in your garage, you don’t need a commercial gym membership, a personal trainer, or even a fully-stocked home gym to get started with strength training as a runner. 

The ARENA Platform has a small physical footprint — it takes up the same amount of space as a yoga mat — and has pretty much everything you’ll need to perform everything from unilateral core, leg, and arm work to loaded squats and plyometric exercises like box jumps.

Running Volume for Strength Athletes

High-volume running programs might slow your strength gains, especially in your lower body. (1)(16) Some studies suggest that running may only interfere with strength goals because athletes are increasing their overall total volume in a way they can’t recover adequately from. (17)

To make sure you can recover well enough when adding running to your routine, ramp up your running volume very gradually. As you build your work capacity — your body’s ability to handle training and recover effectively from it — you’ll be able to tolerate more running.

Two people look at the camera while sitting on an ARENA Platform on a track.

The more running you can tolerate, the better you’re likely to recover. So, depending on your experience level, you can potentially jog for 10 to 40 minutes a few times per week without hurting your strength gains.

Strength Training Intensity for Runners

Experienced runners don’t have to shy away from the more intense and explosive aspects of strength training. If you want to run faster, more intense strength training might help you out. Performing two 15 to 90-minute explosive lower body training sessions twice a week was shown to help runners improve their efficiency and 5k speed. (8)

Runners can also train heavy half squats in sets going as heavy as four sets of four reps to failure. (6) As long as they’re prioritizing recovery and running sessions, runners can do this up to three times a week to help them get stronger and improve their running performance. (6)

Intensity doesn’t only have to mean heavy — it can also mean increasing your time under high-quality tension. 

Cables — like the ones used by the ARENA Platform — are unique compared to dumbbells and barbells in that they provide accommodating resistance during exercise; they maintain a high level of tension throughout your range of motion. This is particularly important for runners, whose muscles need to endure a tremendous amount of pressure and long periods of time under extreme tension.

Running Intensity for Strength Athletes

Many strength athletes enjoy the quick and dirty nature of strength workouts. Go all out briefly, and then you’re done. So you might want to try sprinting instead of slower, continuous running sessions. 

Some research has found that high-intensity running still interferes with strength training. (18) But other research suggests that running-based high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions are less likely than low-intensity running to interfere with your strength gains. (13)

The difference might hinge on the quality of your recovery. The longer you rest between strength training and running, the better off your lifts will be. (13) Since you’re tapping into the same energy systems and muscle fibers to perform intense strength training and sprinting, you’ll need to prioritize your rest

This is when it might be especially useful to lift weights in the morning and run in the evening. That way, you’ll have two versions of leg day within the same 24 hours. When you consolidate your workouts, you’ll consolidate your recovery, too.

Sample Strength Training Workout for Runners

Whether you’re a trail runner, are prepping for a marathon, or working on a couch-to-5k, you probably want to get faster. But getting faster isn’t the end of the story. All the speed in the world won’t help you on the starting line if you don’t have enough muscular strength to maintain your pace over the finish line.

To build a strong base — while not adding stress to your already hard-working joints — you might want to turn to cable-based strength training. Using cables puts a low amount of strain on your muscles while pushing them to get a whole lot stronger. Providing up to 200 pounds of resistance with cables, the ARENA Platform will challenge you to get stronger without beating up your joints.

A gif shows the capabilities of the ARENA Platform.

Strength, sleep, and human performance coach Todd Anderson and Ken Rideout — the fastest marathon runner over 50 years old — have teamed up with ARENA to create dozens of strength training workouts for runners. Here’s a taster:

Strength Training Warm-Up for Runners

  • Hamstring Sweep: 12 per side 
  • Lateral Lunge to T-Spine Rotation: 6 per side
  • Down Dog to Pigeon: 6 per side
  • Walkout to Plank to World’s Greatest Stretch: 6 per side
  • Pogo Jump: 20

Power Circuit for Runners

Pure Strength Circuit for Runners

  • Split Stance Row: 3 x 8 per side
  • Belt Reverse Lunge: 3 x 6 per side

Stability Circuit for Runners

  • Side Plank Row: 3 x 12 per side
  • Beast Hold: 3 x 45 seconds

Strength Training Cool Down for Runners

  • Pretzel: 2 x 60 seconds per side 
  • Cat-Cow: 2 x 10 breaths

Perform this workout between one to four times per week, depending on your experience level with strength training and the goals of your current program. If you’re in the offseason and want to focus mostly on building your strength, you can push a little harder and strength train a little more frequently.

On the other hand, you might be in a training cycle where you’re going hard with your running and want to add some strength training sessions to bolster your gains. In that case, consider bringing the ARENA Platform with you to the track. It connects to your ARENA app through bluetooth — no cords required — and at 55 pounds, it’s manageable enough for transportation. You’ll be able to get in your strength training right after your run.

Sample Running Workout for Strength Athletes

Running can be intimidating to strength athletes. Even if you plan your workouts to avoid the dreaded interference effect, the actual act of running can stir up a whole lot of trepidation for folks who get winded after a set of eight squats.

Even if you’re determined that your base level of fitness — and the quality of your recovery — can handle adding sprinting workouts to your strength program, build up slowly. Follow the principles of progressive overload with your running just as you would on the platform.

Start with a low volume and low intensity, then gradually increase one factor at a time. For example, start with a three-minute jogging warm-up accompanied for two sets of moderate-intensity sprints. Then, add a minute to your jogging warm-up each week while keeping your sprinting the same. 

Once you’ve reached an eight-to-10 minute jogging warm-up comfortably, start adding sprinting volume a little at a time. Start with running, then moderate sprinting, then high-intensity sprinting, until you can integrate all three types into your workout. Be sure to do this gradually and stay mindful of your recovery needs. Pull back on your volume and/or recovery if you notice your work in the weight room is suffering.

Running Warm-Up for Strength Athletes

  • Bodyweight Squat: 10
  • Deep Squat Shift: 8 per side
  • Alternating Knee Hug: 10 per side
  • Inchworm to Hip Opener: 6 per side
  • Single-Leg Glute Bridge: 8 per side
  • Lateral Lunge: 8 per side
  • Forward Lunge: 8 per side

Jogging Warm-Up for Strength Athletes

  • Low-Intensity Jog: 3-10 minutes

Sprinting Workout for Strength Athletes

  • Moderate-Intensity Run: 2-4 x 1-minute on, 2-minute rest
  • Moderate-Intensity Sprint: 2-5 x 30-seconds on, 90-second rest
  • High-Intensity Sprint: 3-6 x 15-seconds on, 2-minute rest

Running Cool Down for Strength Athletes

  • Standing Calf Stretch: 2 x 30 seconds per side
  • Half-Pigeon: 2 x 30 seconds per side

Think of your jogging warm-up as a form of ramp-up sets. You’ll refine your form and get your head in the game, as well as give your muscles that final prep before the big lift — or, in this case, sprints.

The more experienced you are with running, the more time you can probably afford to spend with the jogging component of your warm-up. If you’re less experienced with running — or you’re in a more intense strength training cycle — opt for the less intense option for both jogging and sprinting.

If sprinting isn’t for you, simply focus on your jogging. Gradually add volume to your running program until you’re comfortably able to integrate 20 to 40-minute low-intensity jogs into your program two or three times a week.

Stronger, Further, Faster

Ultimately, if you’re a strength athlete, you might opt to experiment with different forms of running to see how they impact your strength training. Does going on a 15-minute jog a few times a week make you feel generally better and more able to get after it in the gym? Fantastic. Or, you might decide that two or three running-based HIIT sessions a week feels better.

ARENA
ARENA
ARENA

This sleek and stylish cable system provides up to 200 pounds of motorized tension for all your strength- and muscle-building needs.

Same goes for if you’re a runner. Try upping the ante of your strength training — perhaps with the accommodating resistance from the ARENA Platform — to see what works best for you. You might find that the harder you go in the weight room, the harder you can hit the trails. Just make sure you’re being smart about your programming — and then really, everybody wins.

References

  1. Wilson JM, Marin PJ, Rhea MR, Wilson SM, Loenneke JP, Anderson JC. Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):2293-307.
  2. Esteve-Lanao J, Rhea MR, Fleck SJ, Lucia A. Running-specific, periodized strength training attenuates loss of stride length during intense endurance running. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jul;22(4):1176-83.
  3. Luckin-Baldwin KM, Badenhorst CE, Cripps AJ, Landers GJ, Merrells RJ, Bulsara MK, Hoyne GF. Strength Training Improves Exercise Economy in Triathletes During a Simulated Triathlon. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2021 May 1;16(5):663-673.
  4. Nikolaidis, P. T., Knechtle, B., & Quartiroli, A. (2020). Editorial: Who Runs? Psychological, Physiological and Pathophysiological Aspects of Recreational Endurance Athletes. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 2247.
  5. Lakicevic, N., Gentile, A., Mehrabi, S., Cassar, S., Parker, K., Roklicer, R., Bianco, A., & Drid, P. (2020). Make Fitness Fun: Could Novelty Be the Key Determinant for Physical Activity Adherence?. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 577522.
  6. Støren O, Helgerud J, Støa EM, Hoff J. Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jun;40(6):1087-92.
  7. Vorup J, Tybirk J, Gunnarsson TP, Ravnholt T, Dalsgaard S, Bangsbo J. Effect of speed endurance and strength training on performance, running economy and muscular adaptations in endurance-trained runners. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Jul;116(7):1331-41.
  8. Paavolainen L, Häkkinen K, Hämäläinen I, Nummela A, Rusko H. Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999 May;86(5):1527-33.
  9. Lauersen JB, Andersen TE, Andersen LB. Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Dec;52(24):1557-1563.
  10. Toresdahl BG, McElheny K, Metzl J, Ammerman B, Chang B, Kinderknecht J. A Randomized Study of a Strength Training Program to Prevent Injuries in Runners of the New York City Marathon. Sports Health. 2020 Jan/Feb;12(1):74-79.
  11. Inoue DS, Panissa VL, Monteiro PA, Gerosa-Neto J, Rossi FE, Antunes BM, Franchini E, Cholewa JM, Gobbo LA, Lira FS. Immunometabolic Responses to Concurrent Training: The Effects of Exercise Order in Recreational Weightlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1960-7.
  12. Petré H, Löfving P, Psilander N. The Effect of Two Different Concurrent Training Programs on Strength and Power Gains in Highly-Trained Individuals. J Sports Sci Med. 2018 May 14;17(2):167-173.
  13. Sabag A, Najafi A, Michael S, Esgin T, Halaki M, Hackett D. The compatibility of concurrent high intensity interval training and resistance training for muscular strength and hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2018 Nov;36(21):2472-2483.
  14. Doma K, Deakin GB. The acute effects intensity and volume of strength training on running performance. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(2):107-15.
  15. Methenitis S. A Brief Review on Concurrent Training: From Laboratory to the Field. Sports (Basel). 2018 Oct 24;6(4):127.
  16. Fyfe JJ, Bartlett JD, Hanson ED, Stepto NK, Bishop DJ. Endurance Training Intensity Does Not Mediate Interference to Maximal Lower-Body Strength Gain during Short-Term Concurrent Training. Front Physiol. 2016 Nov 3;7:487.
  17. Coffey, V. G., & Hawley, J. A. (2017). Concurrent exercise training: do opposites distract?. The Journal of physiology, 595(9), 2883–2896.
  18. Chtara M, Chaouachi A, Levin GT, Chaouachi M, Chamari K, Amri M, Laursen PB. Effect of concurrent endurance and circuit resistance training sequence on muscular strength and power development. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jul;22(4):1037-45.