Hard Days Hard, Easy Days Easy: A Simple Principle for Incorporating Strength Training into a Running Routine
Whether the desired outcome is general fitness, increased explosiveness and stride efficiency, or injury prevention, most runners understand the importance of adding strength training to their running schedule.
However, despite clearly understanding the potential benefits of strength training, few runners actually incorporate it into their training schedules on a consistent basis.
When asked why not, the most of these runners concede that they don’t know how to properly integrate it into their schedule for maximum results.
Specifically, the big question most have is if they should do their strength work after their hard workouts or on their easy days.
This decision quandary can paralyze runners because they end up feeling uncertain whether the extra time they spending on strength training is worth it, and thus they skip it all together.
Luckily, there is a simple rule you can follow that answers this burning question: Keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy.
In this article, we’ll delve into what exactly this statement means and how it impacts your approach to strength training.
The philosophy behind performing your strength workouts on hard workout days
The philosophy behind keeping your hard days hard and your easy days easy is simple: You want to incorporate your hardest strength-training workouts on your hardest workout days so that your easy days remain as easy as possible for maximum recovery.
If you were to perform harder strength workouts, especially anything that involves the lower body, on your easy running day the added stress and shortened total recovery time between workouts would detract from your body’s recovery ability. This is the single most important reason to include strength training on your hard workout days.
In addition to allowing you to properly recover between workouts, performing your hard strength training days on your intensive workout days also provides a few additional benefits:
- Prevents you from going too hard during strength training
- Since running is the most important part the training plan, it should comprise the most of your available energy and focus.
While this process would leave you more tired for your strength workout, and consequently unable to be as strong or explosive as you would like, it’s actually a benefit. Being tired will prevent you from going too hard or lifting too heavy, which happens too frequently when runners are fresh when they hit the weights.
Burns more calories and aids in recovery
Scientists from Brigham Young University found that post-exercise metabolism increased most when people did intense cardio first and lifted weights afterward. This means that you’ll burn more calories, and burn them for longer, if you do your strength training after your more intense running sessions.
Likewise, researchers from the College of New Jersey found that following weight training, heart rate and blood lactic acid returned to resting levels faster, which means you could potentially recover from hard running faster if you perform strength training that day.
The downsides to strength training on workout days
While the “hard days hard, easy days easy” philosophy is the best approach to incorporating strength training, it does have a few drawbacks.
First, you have to be extra careful to perform exercises correctly. As noted above, you will be tired when performing your strength sessions after hard workouts. As a consequence, you need to be extra cautious and ensure that you perform the exercises with proper form. The more tired you get, the easier it is to cheat or put your body in positions that could lead to injury.
To overcome this potential issue, focus intently on your form by performing each exercise slowly and use lighter weights to start. It’s much more effective, and safe, to perform exercises with a light weight and slow movements as opposed to rushing through a workout and trying to lift as much as you can.
Hard workout days are already your longest days
For most runners, hard workout days already consume quite a bit of time. Add together the warm-up, stretching, rest intervals and cool down and 5 x 1 mile takes much longer than running 5 miles straight. Therefore, it may be impossible to fit in a 15-30 minute strength-training session after what has already been a long workout.
One potential solution is to split up the running workout and strength routine into a morning and afternoon/evening session. Generally, strength training sessions don’t take too long, so it can be squeezed into your routine when you get home from work or before bed.
Putting it together
The final piece of the puzzle is how to incorporate the “hard days hard, easy days easy” principle when you have multiple strength training sessions or only one workout per week. In this case you should schedule:
- your hardest, most running-specific strength routines after your hardest workouts
- your medium effort routines (like basic core or hip routines) on your regular running days
- any preventive routines on your off or recovery days
Below is a sample week that incorporates 7 days per week of strength training that you can modify to fit your needs (you don’t have to strength train 7 days a week, but this outline should help you see where each type of routine would fit):
Monday Easy Run + core routine (moderate)
Tuesday Speed Workout + Leg training (difficult)
Wednesday Off or Recovery run + preventive exercises (easy)
Thursday Easy Run + core routine (moderate)
Friday Tempo Workout + plyometrics (difficult)
Saturday Run + general strength – gym or bodyweight (moderate)
Sunday Long run + speed and form drills (easy to moderate)
If you’ve been struggling with how to incorporate strength routines into your training plan, try using the “hard days hard, easy days easy approach.”You’ll ensure that you recover before your next hard workout while still getting maximum benefit from your time spent strength training. If you want an exact prescription for how to add strength training to your schedule for any race distance, check out our strength training for runners program.