So, You Want to Run and be Strong? Part 2

So, You Want to Run and be Strong?  (Part 2: Specifics, and the Routines)

by Alex Viada

Part one of this series introduced you to some of the basic concepts of combining endurance (specifically distance running) and strength training.  It showed you that you can achieve respectable results in both while training them simultaneously.  It also presented a basic training template.  This article will take the concepts from part one and expand upon them while also presenting novel ideas and training templates.

Hybrid athlete Joe Vennare combines strength and endurance training

The specifics of aerobic adaptation, strength routines, and why not just run intervals?

Many individuals reading this may be familiar with the fundamentals of strength and power production.  These include the relationship of muscular cross section to strength (individually speaking, a larger muscle is a stronger one), optimizing motor unit recruitment (training a specific movement for maximum force/power production), speed-strength, strength-speed, etc.  My recommendation for training and realizing the above is Westside (www.westside-barbell.com).  The Westside training program is one of many concurrent/parallel (often incorrectly termed “conjugate”) training systems that exist nowadays.

While in my opinion Westside is one of the best (due to its flexibility, its proven effectiveness, and perhaps most importantly the large number of skilled trainees using the system who can serve as both models and advisors), nearly any system CAN be used in conjunction with aerobic training.  The major caveat being that the system allow for fluctuating intensity over the course of a week (or other chosen microcycle) and that it trains all facets of strength more or less simultaneously.  Utilizing a sequential system with a “hypertrophy” mesocycle, a “maximum strength” cycle, a “sports-specific” cycle and so on will complicate the aerobic component and make combining the two quite challenging.

Some of the Westside crew: (L to R) Shane Hammock, Luke Edwards, Josh Conley

Aerobic adaptations are numerous and many of them are quite transient.  They are easily gained, but just as easily lost especially when compared to what most consider strength adaptations (many of which are mentioned above).  The most important aerobic adaptations are as follows:

1)    Increased respiratory capacity

2)    Increased stroke volume

3)    Increased capillarization

4)    Reduction in size of type I fibers

5)    Improved lactic acid clearance

6)    Improved utilization of lipids for energy

7)    Improved movement efficiency

Item #4 above may have caught your attention as it is an adaptation that is contrary to strength training.  As mentioned in the previous installment a decrease in the size of these fibers is a way the body can improve aerobic efficiency, but the concurrent use of strength training along with aerobic conditioning will preclude this particular adaptation from occurring.  You can breathe now :) .

Improved lactic acid clearance and one’s lactic acid threshold (LT) are the greatest limiting factors for elite endurance athletes.   Lactic acid clearance is the body’s ability to clear lactic acid before it accumulates to a level that it impedes performance.  A buildup of excessive amounts of lactic acid is commonly associated with a burning feeling in the legs and the realization that possible loss of bladder control is quickly morphing into actual loss of bladder control…

Firefighter Combat Challenge competitor and CrossFitter Scott McClelland knows a few things about endurance

Improving clearance and increasing LT is the reason many elite athletes discuss “speed work” and REPS/interval training.  This high intensity training causes rapid accumulation of lactic acid which compels the body to adapt by improving clearing and utilization of this energy substrate.

For the NON-elite endurance athlete LT is less important.  A first time marathoner or triathlete (or even an intermediate level endurance athlete) will RARELY be performing at or near their lactic acid threshold for extended periods of time.  They simply lack the other adaptations and experience to operate at high intensity for hours on end.

I recommend most endurance athletes, and those aspiring to be, focus instead on hydration, running form (and therefore injury/discomfort/cramping during a long race), glycogen stores, respiration and other more pressing concerns.

This article series is all about being a hybrid athlete, getting strong while increasing endurance capacity.  Excess high intensity distance running will compromise both pure endurance and strength training.  The majority of natural trainees simply cannot physically repair the microtrauma caused by so much high load training.  This takes us back to my emphasis on the long slow run.  These runs have fallen out of favor with many coaches and training systems as the “intensity” bandwagon has gained popularity in recent years.

Long slow runs offer MANY of the benefits of high intensity work (improvements to the circulatory system, improved lung capacity, increased ability to use lipids as fuel, and most importantly RUNNING FORM ECONOMY) without being nearly as stressful to the nervous system or muscles (particularly the type II fibers).

Pure interval running is suboptimal for specific strength gains (as it compromises recovery and teaches different movement patterns compared to something like a squat) and it is suboptimal for teaching an athlete HOW to run a long race.  Efficiency is particularly relevant to the more muscular than average runner as they burn exponentially more energy via wasted effort (e.g. “heel braking”, excessive vertical bound, excessive arm swing, etc.).

The long run more thoroughly defined, loosely…

The term “long run” is relative.  A long run for an ultra-marathoner leading up to a 100 mile race may be 35 miles (few ultra-runners do training runs anywhere near race distance) which is roughly a third of their target distance.  Milers may often exceed 4-5 miles of running in the course of a practice, or throw in 5k’s on the weekends for base building.

Among those of the marathon community there are some that believe there is no difference between running 5 miles and running 25.  For them, it’s simply a matter of pacing… Anyone who has ever run 25 miles knows this to be absolutely false.  During longer runs proper nutritional strategy becomes much more important.  Your gait must be practiced and efficient (a minor shuffle or postural issue may not bother you after 30 minutes of running, but after three hours these could have you unable to walk).  Understanding how your body begins to break down is critical.

A loose definition of a long run is therefore a “high volume” run that challenges your ability to maintain proper gait and consistent pacing over time while minimizing intensity.

Recommended running drills:

Former sprinters may wish to take a deep breath before reading this.  These are NOT speed drills; they are efficiency drills aimed at making an inefficient runner (most of us) into an efficient one. The first three are “passive” drills that can be done during ANY run.  The second three are “active” drills that should be done on drill days only.

Passive drill 1 (leading with the chest): For this drill the runner focuses on keeping the chest puffed out as far as possible.  Think of a runner attempting to break the finish line tape.  The idea is to learn to keep the head up, spine erect, shoulders back,  and to prevent the feet from striking far out in front of the body all while maintaining enough forward lean to continue movement.  Proper running posture is essential for long runs.  A sagging head and shoulders will create tremendous upper body discomfort after an extended period of time resulting in a floppy, inefficient gait.

Passive drill 2 (arms like Optimus Prime): This drill was named by an athlete with an evident affinity for the Transformers® toys.  The goal is to keep the arms nearly fixed against the body, elbows at around 80-90 degrees. The athlete should not be “punching” the air while running.  Rotation should be minimal and should start at the shoulders with the arms moving relatively little against the sides. Many sprinters may find this counterintuitive, but one need only watch ultra-runners (models of efficiency) to see this solid torso at work (start at 2:40):

Passive drill 3 (running on thin ice): Pounding the ground imparts tremendous strain on the body; the objective of a heavier than average runner (read strength trained runner) should be to minimize this impact to the degree possible.  Over-exaggerate your joints’ absorption of the impact and try to land as silently as possible.  This encourages a mid-foot impact and prevents overstriding.

Active drill 1 (strides): 100 meter runs consisting of a slow jog accelerating to a full run at the halfway mark (not sprint), then slowing to a slow jog.  The runner then jogs back to the starting point.  These are excellent for marginally improving speed, stretching the legs, and (most importantly, to most athletes) encouraging the runner to maintain a jog AFTER a maximum effort burst.

Active drill 2 (sandal run): Bring either an old ratty pair of running shoes, or plain sandals to the track (or wherever you choose to run).  If using shoes do NOT put your heel inside the shoe, wear them as a clog.  Simply trot for 50-100 meters at a time while keeping the shoe on.  Do not “jam” the toe into the front.  Take care to keep the shoe on at all times. To do this drill successfully, the runner will need to strike with their mid-foot, NOT overstride, and land carefully, all key elements of an efficient stride. If the athlete feels like the movement is a bit of an overly delicate prance they are doing it right.

Active drill 3 (quick feet hill climbs): Find a moderate hill.  Start about 50m from the base and approach at a moderate jogging pace, when you hit the hill attempt to double your cadence while halving your stride.  Your objective is to maintain a constant energy expenditure and to not be totally winded at the top.

This drill is very useful for improving cadence/turnover.  It is also highly instructive for many larger runners who often expend disproportionate amounts of their energy stores on even relatively minor climbs by taking large, loping steps which consume a great deal of energy.

The routines:

The following are specific sample weeks for individuals with varying goals.  Unless otherwise noted, strength training is ALWAYS done first.

1) CrossFit and a faster mile

Critical to understand here is that metcon volume will need to be drastically reduced.  Incorporating heavy, intense metcons will dramatically hinder recovery of ALL systems and as such need to be included in a calculated fashion.

Jaime Gold has been to the CrossFit Games

My recommendation for an off-season CrossFitter is to focus purely on absolute strength and absolute endurance (as with program #3 below.)  If progression to a Crossfit competition is the goal then less base-building should be done in favor of more metcon work.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Lifting ME Upper None ME lower None DE Upper DE lower None
Cardio Light recovery run (~1 mile) None Speed/interval work (4×200’s, 5×400’s w1:00 rest, ~2-2.5 miles total volume) None Race pace run (~ 1 mile, 2 x 6 minute, or AT run) None Long slow distance (1.5-3 miles)
Other None None None Metcon None None Metcon (before run)

Exercises should be selected carefully.  Maintaining skill is especially important for the Olympic lifts.  Low intensity Olympic skill work can replace the majority of more traditional accessory work.

Note the short distance of recovery runs and the recommended length of the intervals.  Interval work should be performed within +/- 10% of target mile pace, no faster.  The mile race pace, or AT (aerobic threshold) run can also be divided into shorter timed runs.  This day is the most flexible week to week and should be varied frequently to prevent burnout.

Every fourth week should be a full deload with distances and speed reduced to several short runs of less than a mile at a slow jog.  Lifting for the deload week shifts to moderate weight/moderate repetition.  This is a fairly high deload frequency, but necessary given that both the mile and a typical Crossfit metcon will work similar energy pathways.

Please also note the lack of running drills.  Given the nature of a mile run the rate of return (cost/benefit) for drills tends to be lower for relatively inexperienced athletes than it does for sprints or extreme distance.  I do still recommend the long slow distance run emphasize some of the “form” components mentioned in the previous section.

One last note, the day 4 metcon can be relatively more intense and higher volume than the day 7 metcon.

2) CrossFit and completing a marathon

Contrary to the above, with the longer distance goal and subsequent training the metcon volume does not have to be reduced.  The athlete training for both CrossFit and a marathon has the luxury of engaging in far less speed/interval work with even the higher intensity runs being far from the runner’s lactic threshold.

Your author knows something about running and being strong…

At the risk of being redundant, please note this is a program for a beginner to intermediate runner who is not necessarily looking for a sub-3 hour marathon.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Lifting ME Upper None ME lower None DE Upper DE lower None
Cardio Light recovery run (~2-3 miles, ~15-20% slower than race pace) None Medium distance race pace run (3-6 miles) Running form drills Light recovery run (1-3 miles) None Long slow distance (5-20 miles)
Other None None None Metcon (before run) None Metcon (after lift) None

The lack of speed work above is by design.  The vast majority of DNFs or slow times for neophyte time marathon runners tends to be excessive speed early on and a severe bonk later in the race.  Also take note that the metcon on day 7 has been moved to day 6.  This is because the long slow distance run for a marathoner is an exercise in energy management, and performing this run relatively fresh is critical.

A minor carbohydrate load is HIGHLY recommended after day 6’s workout.  I recommend 0.15g/kg/mile ran.  In other words, a 100kg athlete running 10 miles should consume approximately 150g of ADDITIONAL carbohydrate immediately following the run.

Given the medium distance runs and metcons on days 3 and 6 it may be tempting to “leave something in the tank” during the strength training in order to preserve yourself for the additional activity.  This is an absolute mistake.  The medium distance run on day 3 will actually be IMPROVED if the athlete’s legs are fatigued as form issues and fatigue related breakdown will be more readily apparent.  Prioritizing the DE lower work over the metcon is similarly critical as the primary purpose of this routine is to maintain or gain strength while improving extreme endurance.  Anaerobic endurance may suffer somewhat in the short term at the expense of pursuing extremely disparate goals.

Deloads should be considered on an individual basis.  If pressed, I would recommend once every six weeks, or once every eight weeks for more experienced runners.

The overall leg volume is very high.  Recovery runs will be critical to minimizing DOMS.  I highly recommend reducing the long run distance every third week to give the joints some time to recover (e.g., 10 miles one week, 12 miles the next, 6 miles on the third, back up to 14, and so forth).  A routine like this will also call for an extended taper as the athlete will be overreaching in the last few weeks leading up to the marathon.

3) Powerlifting and running a fast 5k

The lack of metcons here permits increased focus on the strength training component.  This routine is essentially the one provided in the first installment of this article with distances included for reference.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Lifting ME Upper None ME lower None DE Upper DE lower None
Cardio Light recovery run (~1 -2 miles) None Speed/interval work (4×800’s, 4×1200’s target race pace +10%) Short race pace run (~1-1.5 miles) Running form drills (Overall distance negligible) None Long slow distance (2-5 miles)
Other None None None None None None None

Please note the recommended distance for interval work.  Shorter distances at higher speeds encourage unsustainable pace and alter running form which negates the purpose of the exercise.

I recommend rotating deloads with a lifting deload every six weeks and a running deload every eight weeks.

This is the sort of program which can be easily modified for all skill and experience levels.  It is the one which I put the majority of my hybrid athletes on.

4) Powerlifting and completing an Ironman

This has been included to show the flexibility of the general template.  The author used this program to compete in his first Ironman.  He was able to steadily increase his powerlifting strength while prepping for the Ironman.  Please note that to truly peak for an Ironman event (and not just complete it) the program would need to be altered.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Lifting None ME Upper ME lower None None DE Upper DE lower
Cardio Cycling intervals/ time trial (10-20 miles) Long swim (3000-4500 meters) Medium distance run/running drills (3-4 miles) None Long slow bike (80-100 miles) or run (12-15 miles) Short swim drills (2000-3000 meters) Light recovery run (2-5 miles)
Other None None None +1500-2000 calories Replace with brick (bike/run) workout closer to race (40/10 miles, respectively) None None

Days 1-3 are all relatively high intensity (though the lower body is given a complete break on day 2).  Day 4 is an extended carb-up and recovery day with the excess calories serving both to aid recovery and to load for the long workout on day 5. Day 5 itself is relatively low intensity with the emphasis on keeping heart rate and exertion levels consistent (similar performance during the first hour as during the final).  Swim drills and a recovery run complement the DE work on days 6 and 7.  The overall swimming volume is FAR lower than a typical Ironman training program as swimming can be tremendously detrimental to a strong bench press (and a strong bench is a major goal of the program).

This template is designed for an individual with a decent running/cycling background and assumes that the athlete has successfully completed some form of long distance run or bike event within the last year.

Bacon and donuts should be staples of your diet with this program.  A bit cheeky, but the point hopefully hits home.  This template will burn a TREMENDOUS amount of calories and you will need to fuel it with calorically dense foods.

I recommend a deload every eight weeks with individual needs trumping that recommendation (as always).

Final thoughts

Early on in the first article the question was asked, “What’s your goal?” If you’re an aspiring CrossFit competitor but feel that both your long term endurance and absolute strength are limiting factors you may need to ask yourself if it’s still necessary to do metcons while building your base? This would be no different than an aspiring D1 football player emphasizing speed and strength in the offseason while avoiding scrimmages.  He is no less of a football player simply because the short term emphasis has changed.

Please remember that the routines above are meant to give a snapshot, a glimpse of what a typical training week would look like for different athletes with different goals.  These are just templates, not final routines that should be followed to the letter.  Individualization is a huge component of any sort of multidisciplinary program.  Every individual is different; different biomechanics, different athletic backgrounds, different fiber type composition, different lifestyles and so on.  The list of variables is virtually endless thus every athlete attempting any of these programs needs to take a long hard look at what their specific strengths and weaknesses are.  At the end of the day, though the body is a nearly infinitely complex system, fitness itself is relatively simple.  Train hard, recovery properly, and go into every workout knowing exactly what you’re looking to improve.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I’d love to hear from you. Please do feel free to head to the Complete Human Performance website and shoot me a note through the “contact us” page (especially if you are looking for feedback on a combined routine of your own).

Alex Viada is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and USA Triathlon coach, and has over ten years of training and coaching experience for athletes of all ages and experience levels. He is also co-founder of Complete Human Performance, (http://www.completehumanperformance.com) a company dedicated to bringing top level multi-sport training to all athletes, with a special focus on the specific needs of athletes with disabilities.  He races in endurance cycling events, marathons, Ironmans, and in the next four months (with the continued support of AtLarge Nutrition) aims to compete in his first Ultramarathon while gunning for an elite Powerlifting total in the 220 weight class. He enjoys designing training programs almost as much as designing hop schedules for absurdly bitter IPAs, and if you know what that means then he most likely wants to be your friend.

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