Back in the day (like the 70s and 80s) every day “exercisers” either lifted weights, ran, biked or played beer league softball. Former athletes maybe got in to local road races or did a couple power lifting meets. Triathlon was just starting in the 1980s, but wasn’t mainstream for non professional athletes until the 1990s.

Fast forward to 2020 and people do it all! We lift, we run, we do triathlons, we hit the hot yoga studio once a week, we hike etc. There is a push for balance in fitness, or maybe it’s just that we have so many options that people get bored! Either way, I want to talk about how to balance out specifically two things I do a lot of….lifting weights and running. Well actually, how we can get stronger AND improve endurance over time. 

Something I say often with clients is “random workouts, get random results.” This means that having no plan for progressions or reasoning behind why or how you do your workouts doesn’t mean you won’t get results. But, what it means is that you won’t learn WHY you got the results so you can replicate them again in the future. I exercise because I like to challenge myself. I feel better and more confident when I do. I believe I have to set an example because of my career. And I generally like to learn about how to improve my performance, whether it’s in the weight room or with running. I research, read articles, look at different programs from “expert” coaches and blend them in to what I call my “experiment.” Essentially what I do with my body so I can learn and then apply what I learn to clients so they can get results AND replicate them over and over.

There is a growing trend in fitness called “hybrid training.” This is not Crossfit, but somewhat similar. Crossift popularized lifting weights and cardio combined in circuit training. The idea of improving “work capacity” or how much work you could complete in a give time.

Hybrid training combines lifting weights and endurance work, but NOT together in the same workouts. Some days focus on strength training and other days focus on endurance training. Former bodybuilders and power lifters have become marathon runners while still deadlifting 600lbs. Former Ironman competitors have learned how to put a barbell on their back and squat double their bodyweight. This is fascinating to me, because strength training and endurance work such different energy systems of the body. Even I believed 5-10 years ago that doing “slow paced” endurance work would ruin my strength. This “myth” that endurance athletes can’t or shouldn’t be lifting and even lifting “heavy” is being debunked. Many college cross country programs have their own strength and conditioning coach. All pro runners and cyclists now have strength programs, at least in their off season training. And many strength athletes are incorporating endurance work for active recovery, to help increase blood flow efficiency to their muscles, stress relief, mental challenge and pure enjoyment.

Last summer (2019) I ran my first half marathon and deadlifted 400lb in the same week. That was my goal. I wanted to run a half marathon at an 8 minute/mile  pace or faster (challenging for me) while still maintaining my lower body strength. I could very easily have completely quit lifting when I started running and I could be a better runner at this point. This would have left me weak and probably hurt more often though. I like the idea of being well rounded…improving my race times and endurance, but also looking good! The more people I train, the more other people are thinking like this as well. But, how do we properly do both: lifting weights and running (or biking, swimming or any other cardio). For the sake of this article, I will say “running” but I mean any cardio you enjoy doing.

I mean, I actually LIKE running for 2 hours now!
Even though we can both lift and run, you have to prioritize one or the other for given periods of time to truly improve ONE of them. I usually recommend 6-12 months where you train for a race and truly build endurance and/or speed OR you do 6-12 months of more of a strength focused approach. You can try to do both and be great at both, but you probably wont’ have enough time and you will break down. I tried it for 6 months and it was not doable…

Here is what works best:

  1. Pick your focus (strength or running) and set a goal like running a half marathon or deadlifting 400lb. 80% of your time and energy should be on what you are prioritizing. This means if you are working out 6-8 times per week 5-7 of those workouts need to be on your MAIN focus. The other 20% can be on what you want to “maintain.”
    1. For example: I am running 5 of my 8 workouts each week right now. When I switch focus back to building strength and muscle I will lift 5 of my 7-8 workouts per week.
    2. Write out a 12-20 week plan of attack leading up to your goal. Which days you are doing each workout, recovery weeks, “mock” races and “test out” days.
  2. Be ready to put time into this. Doing some double day workouts will help. If you want to get better at one thing and not get worse at the other, doing more than 3-4 workouts per week is key. If you don’t have the time for this, it’s best to focus on having more of a 50/50 split of workouts and being full balanced between strength and endurance. 
    1. I often pair my lower body lifting with some cardio on the same day. This allows me take another day of “rest” for my legs when I do an upper body lift.
    2. Having a 50/50 split of workouts is NOT a bad thing. This is going to best for most people with busy, busy lives or people who don’t have a BIG goal in mind like a half marathon or new deadlift goal. Be aware of what your life is allowing you to do.
    3. Nothing wrong with having an “off season” where you do balance out your training 50/50 and allow your body to recover a bit. I actually will be doing this for a month after my race next week.
  3. If you are lifting 4-6 times per week, split upper and lower lifting days is best.
    1. For instance, upper body Monday/lower body Tuesday/upper body Thursday/lower body Friday.
    2. This allows for an extra day of recovery before between lifts of the same muscle group.
    3. With an extra day of recovery you can either go heavier or add more volume than if you lift the same muscle groups every other day.
    4. Start your week with the heaviest lifts on Monday/Tuesday. End the week with higher volume (and lighter) lifting on Thursday/Friday/Saturday. This leaves your body more fresh heading into longer runs on the weekend, when you have more time for them.
  4. Running needs to be more “slow” OR “fast” and less “in the middle.”
    1. Schedule in 1-2 “fast” or speed days each week that push you out of your comfort zone. Faster than race pace days.
    2. The rest of your runs should be easy or conversational pace with a goal of keeping your heart rate low. Zone 2-3 if possible.
    3. Speed days work great either on lower body lifting days or 2-3 days AFTER lifting. Never the day after, as you will be too fatigued and maybe sore from the lift.
  5. Always follow your most intense day (heaviest lifting day or fastest running day) with an “easy” or active recovery day. 
    1. For instance, if Tuesday is your heavy deadlift day and sprinting day, use Wednesday for an easy jog to recover.
    2. Or, if Friday is a faster tempo run leaving your legs pretty exhausted, use Saturday as an easy run day or light upper body day.
  6. Every 4-6 weeks de-load your lifting and lower volume on running. 
    1. This helps to keep you from over training, since this type of training is very taxing on the body.
    2. De-loading lifting could mean dropping your lifting down 1-2 days per week, lower the amount of weight lifted, lower the number of sets or shortening your time in the gym.
    3. Dropping running volume means dropping how many miles you run. I typically like to drop my miles down by 40-60% from what I did on my most recent “peak” week.
  7. Don’t be afraid to take an unplanned rest day if things are adding up too fast. 
    1. Lifting and running pull the body in two different directions. If you’re having a bad week of sleep, stressful few days at work or nutrition is “off” then a rest day instead of hitting a tempo run or heavy deadlifts isn’t a bad thing!
  8. This type of training teaches you to really hone in and listen to your body.
    1. I suggest having writing out a 12-20 week plan of training, but this doesn’t mean you don’t need to follow it to the tee.
    2. Learn to adjust based off how you feel. Auto regulate your training based off life stress, injuries, workout quality etc.
  9. Prioritize nutrition and hydration. 
    1. Make sure you aren’t missing meals. You are eating protein at every meal, getting enough carbs into fuel and enough healthy fat to help recover from long endurance workouts.
    2. Calorie intake should be higher the more you move. Adding in 300-500 extra calories per day is ideal. Remember the goal is not weight loss with this type of training…it is improving your performance. You need calories to perform.
    3. Water intake and proper hydration with electrolyte supplements is key. You need more water than someone sitting at a desk all day. Adding in 20-40 oz more water per day than normal is a good starting point. Even more water on hot and humid days outside training.
  10. Prioritize sleep. 
    1. This might be even more important than nutrition.
    2. Shitty sleep means you can’t lift heavy or run fast. You might be able to do average lifting workouts and do slow paced runs, but to improve running times and get stronger you need enough (and GOOD) sleep. 6-8 hours every night, no questions asked.

    This the most fun I have had since running college track. The challenge of programming proper strength workouts while improving my endurance as really been exciting the past two years. I respect and look at well rounded athletes as the “best” athletes. People who are strong as hell but also in amazing physical shape with top notch endurance, are the athletes many people are trying to emulate now.

    I hope this article helps you out on your training if these are also your goals!

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