Ask The Coach #1: Balancing Gym Training with Trail Running

We recently established a new "Ask The Coach" promotion with our friends over at Pinnacle Sales NW, as an opportunity for athletes all over the globe to submit questions on anything regarding training, performance, gear, you name it. Every week we'll answer a new question, and once a month we'll pick a winner to receive a new pair of Darn Tough socks. And THEN, every six months we'll pick a winner who'll get a brand spankin' new pair of La Sportiva trail shoes of their choosing! 

To submit a question, go to Pinnacle Sales NW.

Ask The Coach #1: Balancing Gym Training With Trail Running

Q: Hey Coaches, I love working out at the gym! Heavy days of weights however dont always mix well with running, tired legs! I'm in the gym 3-4 days a week and always switching up my route every 4-8wks. Some routines are more core bodybuilding type splits (squats, deadlift, bench press, etc), while others are more HIIT with lighter weights. How do you find that you can blend the love of weight lifting with the love of train running? Any suggested routines?

A: You're not alone, Nick. Strength training is an incredibly gratifying (and economical, time-wise) way to get a workout and see specific gains, but there is absolutely a limit to how much strength you need as a runner. In an ideal training regimen we put athletes through a foundational series of strength exercises focusing on hips, core, and stabilizer muscles. Then we evaluate basic "prime mover' strength - glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves. Barring any limitations there, the gym-based strength training diminishes in favor of more focused specific work on trails and roads. 

A good balance is utilizing a max strength regimen (4-5 sets of 4 reps, heavy weight and long rest) 2x per week while focusing on running. The max work serves both to recruit more motor units of the muscle for the tasks, and can also provide a recovery benefit from hard running workouts. Then, after several weeks of max strength, add some muscular endurance (higher reps, low weight, and eventually short rest) which helps develop fatigue resistance in more dynamic ways with the running muscles. One quick example of this type of training is as follows: 

  • Pick any three exercises which target the "local" muscles you use in your sport. For trail runners, try box step-ups (glutes, hamstrings), squat jumps (posterior + anterior chain muscles), and single-leg lateral bar hops (hip stabilizers, calves)
  • Start with 5-7 sets of 10 jumps "on-the-minute"; this means you'll do 10 jumps of an exercise then rest for the remainder of a minute, then start again. Do all the sets of one exercise before moving right into another one.
  • As you get stronger, add weight (start with 10-12% of your body weight)

Ultimately, whether it be max strength, core, or muscular endurance, we don't have folks doing more than 2x per week of strength during a running-focused training program: there's far more better gains that can be made on the trail!

Thanks for the question!

- Sam @ Cascade Endurance