Why is it important that you include strength training, warm-ups, and other ancillary work into your training schedule as a runner?
In this interview, we’re going to pick the brain of expert running coach and man behind the scenes at strengthrunning.com, Jason Fitzgerald. Jason has helped countless runners successfully incorporate strength training into their training schedule to become healthier, faster, and more consistent runners, and he’s on our show today to teach you everything he knows.
Jason is going to tell you why strength training and ancillary work is so important and how you can successfully integrate it into your training in just a few minutes a day, without a gym, whether you’re a beginner or advanced runner.
Jason was a successful runner in college, but after developing a severe case of IT band syndrome after his marathon debut, Jason realized he needed to focus on strengthening, dynamic flexibility, and taking care of the little things in order to run injury-free, be more consistent, and continue to PR.
We would all love to have unlimited time to run and train, but that isn’t the reality for most runners. With only a few minutes here and there, many runners just assume they don’t have time to do 30-40 minutes of strength training or get to the gym, which Jason thinks is a mistake and a misconception.
Many runners wonder if incorporating fitness routines, such as cross fit and P90X will help them avoid injury or run faster. It can be hard to dig through the marketing hype and accurately apply the training principles to running if you’re not an exercise physiologist or a trainer.
For runners thinking about or in the process of moving to a minimalist training shoe, strengthening the small muscles in the lower legs and feet is critical to staying injury-free and adapting quickly.
This is an awesome interview, especially if you’ve been wanting to incorporate strength training into your running schedule, but you weren’t sure how, when, or why.
Hi, Jason. Welcome to RunnersConnect. I appreciate you allowing us to interview you today. It’s a real pleasure to bring on an expert guest like yourself.
Jason Fitzgerald: Thanks for having me.
JEFF GAUDETTE Great, great. So, what we want to learn from you today is we want to learn a lot about strength work, how runners can use strength work to stay injury free, how they can use strength work to improve their performance, to run more efficiently and to train better. To get started, I want to let our audience know a little bit about you. So, let’s start with your background in running. How did you get started? What have been some of your biggest accomplishments and gone from there – how did you become such a big proponent of ancillary work and kind of start working towards that as a primary mechanism?
JASON FITZGERALD Sure. So, my getting started with running story is actually pretty funny.
JEFF GAUDETTE Good, we like funny stories.
JASON FITZGERALD I absolutely hated running when I was in middle school and we had the track and field week, I did all of the field exercises, the field events. So, you can picture me like as a 110-pound 8th grader trying to throw a shot put, so that I could avoid the mile run. So, fast forward to freshman year in high-school and I wanted to do a fall sport. And I was leaning towards golf because I liked the driving range and I enjoyed mini-golf. And it was actually my mom who suggested I try cross country and I’d never heard of it before, and she said it was like track. So, I thought, “Oh, great. I can triple jump and I can high jump” – which were the only two events that I actually really liked. So, I showed up to a cross country practice. I don’t remember what shoes I was wearing, they certainly weren’t running shoes, and I found out that all we did was run every single day. It was a good thing that the team was really great, the coaches were really good at what they did. So, I kind of just stuck with it and my love for running kind of blossomed almost immediately. I think I started to see progress and I kind of got addicted to that “how fast can I get” feeling. So yeah, I ditched basketball altogether. Everyone kept growing and I’m still 5 foot 7. I ran cross country indoor and outdoor track for all four years of high-school. And then, I ran for Connecticut College and I did the same thing there. I ran all three seasons for all four years. And then, after college I started getting into some of the longer races, you tend to do more road races after college. So, I tried the 10-mile distance which I really like and the half-marathon, and I eventually ran the 2008 New York City Marathon.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD I did okay for me. I think I ran 2:44, but afterward I had a really bad IT band injury and I was out for six months. I couldn’t help it myself – four physical therapists. And I was just doing a ton of research online trying to figure out what caused my injury, how I get better and I just really wanted to run again. So, it took six months for me to finally get healthy and that was sort of the catalyst for sort of designing better training and more holistic well-rounded training. I think one of my problems before was I wasn’t paying attention to all the little things that help keep you healthy in a long term. And so, that was one of the big reasons why I started strengthrunning.com. I do some online coaching, to blog to help other runners. I’m a big proponent of doing those little things and a big part of that is strength work, not necessarily weights in the gym, it also has to do a lot with body weight exercises, and flexibility, and mobility drills. And I think when you include those in your training you become a much better athlete. You have to admit that running is a very one-dimensional activity – you’re moving in one plane of motion, you’re just running straight ahead as hard as you can go. I think moving in different planes of motion and you’re working muscles that you don’t really use when you’re running you become more well-balanced, you target those muscles that don’t get used and I think it makes you a lot more resistant to injury.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I definitely agree with you there. And especially I think the runners kind of tend to come from two different worlds. There’s kind of the first where they probably weren’t good at anything else but running, if they started young like through high-school – running was kind of their sport of choice. I think Chris Derrick had a good interview after… He graduated college but how he was kind of a bad athlete in high-school, which I think obviously strength work can make a huge difference for those types of people. And then, there’s probably the other ones that maybe took up running later in life probably because they were unfit, they went through years of really not doing anything. So, I can imagine doing something outside of a singular plane of motion and kind of getting into different planes would really, really help.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, absolutely. I know a lot of guys from college who had essentially no background in running. They were soccer players and basketball players, they can’t run for the track team in college and all of a sudden they’re able to run a 4:30 mile with two months of training. That’s almost unheard of, but these people have huge aerobic basis from the other sports and they trained all through college without any injuries, they were never… They had those little aches and pains that a lot of runners who have been active for 10, 15-20 years typically have. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that all those stop-and-go sports you’re moving laterally, you’re moving in different planes of motion and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s really important and when you see runners or when you see athletes coming over to running they tend to be a lot more resilient and it’s kind of refreshing to see. They don’t have the base that someone who’s been running for a while does, but it’s great to have all those different types of runners on a team because I think you can really from each other.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, absolutely. So, now that we’ve probably get a pretty good idea of why strength running is important, I mean there are definitely probably some other things that we’ll give into, but how much I guess of your current training does strength or ancillary kind of a little things make up? Would you say it’s 30% of your training time is spent doing ancillary work versus running or how do you break it up?
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, that’s a good question. I tend to keep things as simple as possible and I try to break all those exercises down into routines. So, there might be a routine that’s more focused on flexibility and another one’s body weight exercises, and yet another one might be an actual gym workout we’re using barbells and things like that. So, I’d say for total training time I typically run roughly 70 miles a week personally and if I’m training for a marathon or a half-marathon, I’ll definitely bump that up from there. So, for me that’s a little over an hour a day of running time and I’d say before every run I do a warm-up dynamic stretching, a routine that takes 8-10 minutes.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD And then, afterward I’ll probably spend 10-15 minutes doing some type of body weight strength or flexibility routine. Maybe it’s 25% of my total training time. And now that I say that it seems like a lot, 25% of my time is not going to be running. I think 10 minutes before and after is really all you need. You can do a lot in 10 minutes if you know the exercises, you know the order of the exercises. You just go through them and you can do 20 exercises in 10 minutes.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, right.
JASON FITZGERALD At the door and you’re warmed up, and you’re loose, and your heart’s going, and you open up capillaries and all that kind of stuff that really makes you ready to run and ready to perform well. I think on some days I certainly don’t do 20-30 minutes of ancillary work. I don’t think you need to do that much every single day. I tend to be a little bit of a perfectionist in that. It’s been working for me for so long and I haven’t had a major injury, to knock on wood, over three years now. So, I really feel that when I don’t do that stuff, when I tend to slack off… Last week I was on vacation with my family and I didn’t have the space to do all those kind of leg swings and all that stuff, so I didn’t do it. And after five-six days I could feel I was tired and I felt inefficient, and just clunky when I was out running. So, if you have the time to spend 10 minutes before and after doing a warm-up and a warm-down routine, I definitely recommend it.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah. I mean, I think that’s probably really great for our audience to hear because I think so many people get intimidated by the thought of… When you say we’re going to add strength work or core work, or something to their schedule, they just automatically seem like, “I got to go to the gym, I got to make time to go to the gym for 30 or 40 minutes a day and I’m already doing all these other stuff.” And so, I think it should probably help people if they’re not doing some type of strength running now that it really doesn’t need to be a trip to the gym for 30-60 minute type session.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, absolutely. I tell a lot of the runners that I coach that you don’t need the gym… It’s not really necessary for runners, especially distance runners. For a sprinter that’s probably a different story, that heavy-weight type stuff. But you can do so much with body weight exercises I think that come a long way from just sit-ups and push-ups from maybe 20-30 years ago. I do go to the gym once a week. I’ll be honest, I hate lifting weights and 20 minutes in I’m done, and I leave because I like to do compound exercises – like I’ll do the bench press and some deadlifts and pull-ups, and I’m like, “God, I’m bored.” And I do. I think if you’re hitting the big major muscles and you do… I’m doing bicep curls and that kind of stuff, you can get a lot out of it and it doesn’t need to be that time-consuming. And if you wanted to, you could do everything with just body weight exercises.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, right. So yeah, you mentioned that you do it maybe like 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after, somewhere in that range. If a runner only was only able to do one, either 10 minutes before or 10 minutes after, what do you think would be the most important one? Which one should they choose, if they can only do one? A tough question.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, a really good question. I’d actually maybe flip this and just do five minutes on either end.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD And just pick some of the more important exercises to do beforehand, even if you only did three minutes. Jay Johnson who has a website coachjayjohnson.com, he has a great warm-up routine called the lunge matrix. And this is something I do almost every day, and I recommend it to almost anyone. It’s just a series of lunges in different planes of motion – forwards and diagonals, and backwards, and using a twist on one of them. That takes about 2.5 minutes.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, yeah – it’s not a long routine.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, it’s not a long. And once you get used to it, and you’re not getting sore doing that lunge matrix, because I think it’s like 50 lunges if you do the whole thing straight out. So, you maybe start with 20 and see how you feel after that. But if you can do that 2.5-3 minutes before you run and then afterwards maybe focus on some stability-oriented core exercises and that stuff, and not just abs – it’s other, lower back and hips, and glutes, and stuff like that five minutes afterward, you’d be miles ahead of the average runner who doesn’t do any of that stuff and they come down with an overused injury every couple of months. An injury is kind of abysmal right now, I think some people put like 70% which is… It pains me.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, that’s pretty high. And it’s true that I’ve seen too in that range that at some point if you train for a marathon over 16 weeks, that’s about the injury rate that most people go through.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah.
JEFF GAUDETTE So, let’s try to delve in a little bit to kind of like what your strength training schedule looks like. So, what types of routines do you do on a weekly basis? Where do you vary them up, do you focus on particular body parts each day, what’s your emphasis, that kind of stuff?
JASON FITZGERALD Sure. So, I do probably a combination of four or five routines plus a gym workout. And again, I’ll be totally honest and say that I slack often a gym workout almost every time, but…
JEFF GAUDETTE So, just to be clear, you’re doing some type of strength work roughly four-five times a week.
JASON FITZGERALD Four-five different routines, I’ll do something maybe five or six days a week.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay. So, some of the routines repeat themselves.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, some of the routines repeat themselves because I think they’re really valuable and some of them I do multiple times per week.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, okay.
JASON FITZGERALD So, for a warm-up I typically do… I kind of put together a warm-up routine that I call the standard warm-up. It starts with a couple of exercises you’re standing up and then you get down on the floor, and you do a few mobility drills. The lunge matrix from Jay Johnson is included in there. And then, I end with leg swings. That usually takes me seven or eight minutes and I do that almost every day before I go running. I think before a long run or a workout I might do a couple of minutes of extra warm-up drills. So, I’ll do the lunge matrix, I’ll also probably do the Kenneth ball routine which is another Jay Johnson routine. He’s heavily influenced my thinking on ancillary work. I think it’s crucial. So, that’s really what I do for warm-ups. I kind of just go back and forth. I don’t think you need to make it too complex, you don’t need to do 20 minutes of this stuff because it really works and 8-10 minutes is probably all you need.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD And then, for strength-oriented routines I have a core routine that I do probably two or three times a week. This is something that we started doing in college. It doesn’t really have a name. So, I very cleverly start calling it the standard core routine. It’s six exercises. Some of them are more calm exercises – plank, side plank, bird dog. You’re doing some supine leg lifts and you do that two or three times for about a minute per exercise. So, the whole thing takes anywhere from 15 to 20-21 minutes.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD And that’s probably the longest routine that I do. I think it’s a really good general core routine for runners. It includes all the major muscle groups that we use – it works the glutes and the hips. I think they’re really important for injury prevention. Again, it’s the longest one that I do. So, I’m not doing 25 minutes of core work after…
JEFF GAUDETTE Right. You said it’s about six exercises. So, it probably takes in the range of 10-15 minutes, probably closer to 10.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah. So, I go through the six exercises and I’ll take like a minute rest. And then, I’ll just go through them again.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD And then, couple of other routines that I do real quick. Coach Johnson has another more flexibility-oriented routine called the Myrtl routine and that kind of focuses on hips and the pelvic area. I do that maybe once or twice a week. I think that’s really great, especially if you’re pressed for time because you probably do that one in about five minutes. And when I was recovering from my IT band injury after the New York marathon what I took away from my time with all those physical therapists and some of the research that I was doing, I put together a lot of the exercises that I found were most successful at treating IT band syndrome and I put that into a string of exercises that I call the IT band rehab routine.
JEFF GAUDETTE Okay.
JASON FITZGERALD It really focuses on hip and glute strength. It uses thera-band for some of the exercises. You get a little bit of resistance. If you don’t have one, you could not use it. That’s totally fine. I think after doing this for… I’ve been doing it now for over three years even though like I don’t have any IT band problems right now, I still do it regularly because I think the hip weaknesses is such a big contributor to running injuries these days and it should be done even if you don’t have IT band problems.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, I agree.
JASON FITZGERALD I probably shouldn’t have called it the IT band rehab routine, even if you don’t have IT band problems or like, why should I do this? But it is just another type of core strength workout where you’re doing kind of lateral shuffle with an IT band around your ankles. You’re doing some bridge type workouts to work with glutes and pistol squats is the more advanced body weight exercise that is turning there too. So, I think all of them can really work together, all the routines together to make a more well-rounded athletic runner.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD And the runners that I work with, their injury rates are super low. I haven’t do the stuff all of the time and a lot of them grumble a little bit because they have to wake up 5-10 minutes earlier to do everything, but I think the results speak for themselves. They’re really successful and I haven’t been hurt for three years. I’m not the only one doing it. A lot of this comes from other coaches, but it’s something that I believe in very, very strongly.
JEFF GAUDETTE Absolutely. I mean, I think you kind of hit on the head there when you said it’s worth waking up 5-10 minutes earlier if you can stay healthy because there’s nothing worse than being injured. Any runner that has been knows that it’s terrible, you feel terrible all day. So, waking up five minutes earlier every day is totally worth months and months of injury-free running.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, absolutely. Any runner who’s been injured just knows how depressing it is and all you think about is, “I wish could go running.” I won’t go running on hot day and suffers with the heat – that’s nothing compared to this.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right. Yeah, absolutely. So, kind of moving on to that I’m guessing the same idea or I guess a different idea – what’s your take on programs like CrossFit or P90X, Insanity – those types of programs that you see on TV? And I ask because it’s a question that we get all the time, I would probably say once a week at least somebody asked about whether it’s good to incorporate that type of training into their schedule. What are your takes on it?
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah. So, most of these programs are circuit-based and… I’ve actually done a couple of P90X workouts, I’ve done some CrossFit workouts. I’m not as familiar with Insanity but my understanding of it from a couple of friends who’ve tried it is that it’s very similar to P90X.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, I think it’s the same thing as P90X, just a different brand.
JASON FITZGERALD They swapped a new name on it and then selling it over again. I’ll be upfront and say I’m not a huge CrossFit fan. I think the workout of the day that a lot of CrossFit people do, it’s not individualized at all. Anyone who shows up to the gym that day to do the WOD, workout of the day, is doing the same thing. And from what I hear from people who are doing it and from everything I’ve read about CrossFit is that there’s no real purpose to these workouts except this really general kind of like, we’re getting fit. We’re torching fat, we’re in shape, we’re getting strong. They’re kind of just random compound exercises mixed with some sprinting to help you lose weight… Yeah, you do get fit and you do get pretty strong during these workouts. I just don’t see it as a goal-oriented in terms of like running performance. Like certainly if your goal is to lose weight, CrossFit and P90X will help you. But from a running perspective it’s really hard to fit that into a training program just because they’re very high intensity and they’re going to leave you really sore… Just one little side example, one of the P90X DVDs that I went through, “What is the core…”
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, I’ve done that one.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah. And it’s an hour-long. I do cores up all the time. My wife actually calls me a core-whore. Whenever she’s coming in the living room I’m doing some wacky exercise. But I try this core hour-long routine or whatever you call it, and I could not do every exercise for all the reps. And for someone who… I consider myself pretty advanced when it comes to these body weight exercises just because I do it all the time. You don’t need to be super strong, it’s all relative to how much you weigh and your own body weight. And I’m amazed at how folks who aren’t in great shape can complete some of these workouts. Anyway… So, right. These crossway workouts have really high intensity. They look favorably upon people who can put themselves through a lot of suffering and that’s hard to integrate into a training plan. I did just right a marathon training program for someone who loved CrossFit. They were doing two workouts a week, they really wanted to keep it in…
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, that must have been hard.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, it’s hard. And I said, “Okay, we’re going to keep it in” and I did the best that I could. We did CrossFit on the two days of the week where he wasn’t running. We tried to do the running workout before… The fast work up before these workouts because you leave these workouts… They’re very strength-oriented, but they’re also very metabolic. They don’t take a lot of rest, they’re sprinting involved. And I told this runner, “Dial it down if you can. I don’t want you to go 110% on these lifting workouts and then have your running workout suffer.”
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD Some of these CrossFit workouts are really like 13-14 minutes, but it’s built as 14 minutes of hell. If you finish, you’ll be vomiting everywhere…
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD So, he will do that on Friday and then on Saturday he’ll go for the long run and you’re toast, and your goal is to run a marathon, then I have a problem with CrossFit, because it’s unconducive to you reaching your goal. I would rather have you get the gym lift for strength and take enough rest that you’re getting strength benefits, but you’re also recovering enough and it’s an appropriate workout for you, so that when you get your long run or your tempo run, or whatever you’re doing, you’re ready to complete it and you’re ready to hit the times that you need to reach your goal in a marathon. So, I guess the bottom line is that if you’re running for fitness and you’re not super goal-oriented towards a race or a particular time, then surely they can be integrated into your overall training, that’s fine. If you’re serious about hitting your goal time, I’d be cautious about putting them in because I don’t think they’re designed for runners, especially for distance runners.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah. That’s great advice and I appreciate you saying… If you don’t mind actually, if we can go a little bit into did the person you write the training schedule, have they completed their marathon yet or are they still in progress?
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, it’s actually a funny story. I just wrote an article about him today. He did take 16 minutes off of his marathon PR, he had a great race. He didn’t actually tell me if he went through with all of the CrossFit workouts, but they were in the plan. He said he really enjoyed them and he felt that he was getting stronger from them. So, I think it worked for him and every individual is going to be different how fast to recover from those types of workouts. Maybe he was kind of sandbagging some of the really intense stuff at the CrossFit gym that he goes to. So, it all comes down to how hard you work at the CrossFit workouts or the P90X. So, you can dial down the intensity and make it work for you. And some of the P90X DVDs are… They’re also very like isolated to different muscle groups. There’s like a bicep and back…
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, they separated the days. Yeah.
JASON FITZGERALD And they separate the day. So, if you want to go through the entire P90X workout program, you really have to work out, you have to lift like every day. And most marathoners aren’t going to work out in the gym every day. They’re going to be running most days, but they should be in the gym maybe twice a week. It’s probably a pretty typical gym schedule for a marathoner.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, right.
JASON FITZGERALD I see the benefit in these types of workouts and they can be used appropriately for runners, but I think it’s a gray area.
JEFF GAUDETTE I appreciate you sharing your expertise on it and your experience with coaching somebody from it. Like I said again, it’s definitely a question that we get a lot and obviously you do as well since you had somebody that was die-hard enough to continue to try to do it. So, I think it’s important for people to know the strengths and weaknesses of those types of routines so they can make the best decision about what their goal is. If they really want to qualify for Boston and that’s like all they care about, then we need to prioritize things and it’s kind of like, “If I break four hours, great. If I don’t, no big even”. Yeah, CrossFit can be integrated. Kind of going along the same lines you mentioned CrossFit and a lot of these routines being like very high intensity. So, when you’re incorporating higher intensity type training routines or something where you’re going to go a little heavier, maybe you’re doing some gym work or doing maybe some lower body exercises where you’re doing a lot of lunges and somebody’s getting a little sore – what theory do you prescribe to in terms of like… For me, I do like the “hard days hard, easy days easy” philosophy where if we do our hardest strength training days on the hardest workout days, that way we completely recover. Do you follow that theory or how do you kind of work things in?
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, absolutely. I 100% agree with that. I think a big trap that most runners fall into is that their hard days aren’t hard enough and their easy days are nor or near as easy as they should be. So, they’re running too fast on their easy day and they’re throwing in a fairly difficult strength routine on their easy day when they really should be recovering.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD So, what I tend to do is… For some of my more advanced runners there’s one day a week where they’re not really doing much. It might be a four or five-mile easy run with a couple of strides at the end, some flexibility stuff, but that’s really it. And for a runner running 50-60+ miles a week that is a really easy day.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD And for lifting, I try to schedule… I don’t think I do schedule a gym workout on a running workout day. I’ll tend to do it on a more moderate day where they’re not running as much, just because I found that it works from a scheduling perspective. A lot of runners just… They work a full-time job and they have family commitments, and if they’re running seven miles, they might have time for a gym workout right after the run. But after doing 10 miles and a track workout – track workouts tend to take longer… Changing shoes and all that stuff. So, they just don’t have time to also go to the gym. So, my philosophy is that – yes, easy days need to be super easy. So, I’d never give a gym workout on an easy run day or on an off-day that’s reserved solely for recovery. But I think it works pretty well to do it on a moderate day, sort of a medium effort day where it’s just a maintenance mileage and you throw in a gym workout. But I do subscribe to the lift-heavy for runners. I think runners need to work on their strength in the gym. I don’t have runners doing 20-30 reps of anything. I think runners should be doing four-eight reps of whatever exercise they’re doing and focusing on strength. I think runners, they work on endurance when they’re running and when in the gym they need to work on strength.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD And there have been some studies that show runners who lift for strength, then they lift very heavy weights, it improves their finishing kick at the end of a race, for example. So, I think it can be really beneficial and there’s a sort of a continuum. There’s doing two or three, one to three really reps with really heavy weight… You’re really lifting for __, you’re lifting for mass and that’s not something to do with just as running obviously. And then, there’s that middle four-eight rep range where the weight is appropriate and that will be for every person. You’re getting strength but you’re not really getting big. And it’s also practically impossible for a distance runner to gain too much mass because just metabolically they’re using way too much protein to rebuild their muscles from running to gain a kind of significant mass. And then, you could lift 10, 12, 15+ reps for endurance. I think that can have a place in sort of a general fitness program, but for a distance runner who’s focused on performance, I think it’s best to focus on the strength.
JEFF GAUDETTE No, absolutely. I think El Guerrouj who’s a world record holder in the mile was saying this for being able to squat a tremendous amount – I can’t remember, the number’s out of my head, I remember reading it a long time ago – but I was amazed that somebody of his size and then obviously being such a distance power house running under 13 minutes for 5K was able to and did squat so much. This is impressive.
JASON FITZGERALD I don’t doubt it at all. That was a guy who’s probably in the gym doing things that people of that size probably shouldn’t be able to do it.
JEFF GAUDETTE You’re a fan of Jay Johnson, I’m sure you’ve seen some of his videos where Sara Vaughn is doing some… She’s doing gym work, she doesn’t do as much of it now, but she was and he has a couple of videos of her squating and doing some that type of work. And it’s impressive if you’re familiar with gym weights like what she’s doing concerning when I was running I couldn’t be that…
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, absolutely. It’s pretty crazy what some of these elites can do. Seb Coe was really into working on the gym. He used to be able to do – again, I don’t remember the number, but squats with incredible amounts of weight. It recruits all those muscle fibers, it gives you something that you really only get when you’re sprinting all out in a high percent… You’re getting that full, maybe not 100%, but you’re recruiting as many of those muscle fibers as possible. Another thing that I do and I have some of my runners do is hill sprints. I think Brad Hudson popularized this… I think it’s a Renato Canova training technique but… You find a really steep hill and you sprint up at a 100% max all out effort for 8-10 seconds. And then, you take a full walking 1-2 minute recovery. It’s really only meant for… It’s basically extremely running specific lifting your legs in the most specific way that you can do it. I try to do a session of those once a week and I can tell that you feel burnt just like you do when you’re weigh-lifting.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah, those are great. I incorporated those towards the end of like my professional running career and they definitely made a big difference. I know Nate Jenkins uses them quite extensively and those types of things. I find the biggest issue that runners have with doing that type of work is really understanding that there needs to be a full recovery between them. A lot of times I will sign them and I’ll try to like bold it and underline it, like full 2-3 minute recovery. The first time they’ll do it they come back and they’re like, “I only took 45 seconds recovery because I felt recovered.” And I’m like, “No, there’s no way you went from doing 10 seconds 100% effort, there’s no way you went back to being lactic, using the lactic system.” So, I think when people do that and even if they’re lifting heavy, I think it’s good to point out that they really need to listen to the rest that are in any suggested program that they’re doing, if they get it from somebody knowledgeable like yourself, because it’s important that they stay within the right energy systems.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, absolutely. I think the issue of that runners, distance runners in particular, run into when they do these types of workouts is that everything that they’ve done pretty much in their running program up until this kind of work has been an aerobic kind of distance runners workout.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right, they’re breathing hard.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah. You’re getting to hill sprints, you’re getting to lifting really heavy weights… Excuse me, that’s a sprinters workout. Sprinters are famous for, my workout today was four by 200 and all of this is __. But they took 10 minutes of just chatting in between and hanging out. But they’re running those 200 as fast as they can. So, the effort level needs to the really sky-rocket on these things, but the recovery needs to go on the opposite direction. It needs to be falling 100%. And so, that kind of goes back to the “make your harder days harder and your easy days easier” concept that is really important. When something is supposed to be really hard, make it really hard. And when it’s supposed to be easy, make it easy because you’re really cheating yourself if you don’t.
JEFF GAUDETTE Definitely. So, moving into like maybe a different phase, obviously minimalist running is pretty popular I think nowadays. I guess first I should ask if you prescribe to that, to the minimalist movement, and then if so, what type of strength work do you recommend when people are transitioning to running barefoot or running into a more minimalist shoe?
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah. I call myself a cautious minimalist. I think you can use the minimalism in a training program and get outstanding results. I think it’s a spectrum where on one of the ends you have people running in the Brooks Beast for 100% of their mileage and people on the other end who run barefoot all the time. I think that’s more kind of a lifestyle thing than performance improvement and maximizing how fast you can be. So, for most runners I think they can transition to a more neutral trainer than what they’re probably running in and occasionally do some barefoot or running in a much more minimalist shoe. But again, you have to be really cautious. Most runners have been running in stability or most-control shoes for years and years. So, that transition needs to be very gradual and that’s I think common sense and everyone kind of knows that, but they think gradual is like all over a week and it really should be over the course of like four, five, six months. But from a strengthening perspective running in a little bit less shoe and occasionally doing some barefoot or very minimalist shoe work it can help your running form, it can help strengthen your feet and your lower legs. I think it’s very, very beneficial. One of the best models of how to incorporate minimalism into a training plan is sort of what I think college teams do just without even thinking about it is you run in sort of a neutral cushioned runner for most of your mileage, but when you do a workout you change into flats or if you’re on the track, maybe you’re in spikes. You race in spikes or you’re in cross-country spikes and if you’re finishing up just the maintenance run, maybe you will do four, six, eight barefoot strides on the track in-field or on a field __ you’re finishing your run. Just that I think is perfect. I think that’s the perfect model using a little bit of barefoot work to maximize its benefits while minimizing its potential pitfalls of getting hurt. So, that’s kind of impossible for most runners, they can’t end every single run at a synthetic turf field. I long for the college days… That was perfect, that was my dream. A lot of runners don’t have access to a track, so they can’t do a very controlled workout in spikes or for flats. But in general, I think if you do maybe one or two runs a week in a more neutral shoe, one really short run a week in a minimalist shoe as long as you’ve dialed down the intensity, you go slow, you feel it out, you make sure you’re not overextending yourself. And then, if you’re getting to barefoot strides gradually… I think barefoot strides are one of the best things that runners can do if they have access to a place where they can do them either a field or a synthetic turf field that’s close to their home. You guys talk about strengthening work. I think barefoot strides are the perfect feet and lower leg strengthening that you can possibly do. There’s some more isolation type stuff that you can do – you can scrunch up a towel with your toes, you can pick up marbles and put them in a glass jar a cup with your toes, step more time barefoot just in your house. There’s all those kind of things and I think those are beneficial, especially if you have a history of plantar fasciitis or something like that, that’s probably part of a good treatment plan. But barefoot strides I think is where it’s at in terms of maximizing the benefits of barefoot running.
JEFF GAUDETTE Cool, yeah. I agree with you 100% on all those points. That’s pretty much how I assign things when people ask me what my opinion on it is. That’s kind of how I would say. And I’m kind of funny because… I feel funny about it because I’m one of those trained in a… I trained in the Brooks, not the Beast but the Adrenaline which is kind of their motion… And I had an orthotic. So, I mean I might as well have been in the Beast, but what I say to people is whatever allows to run healthy. And for me, I was mostly healthy minus little niggles here and there. So, it worked for me but for others that type of __ control would probably kill them. But I prescribed very much the same thing you did. When I was in college it was… Race, do workouts, race with spikes and flats, and then with the strides… I think it’s great for people to hear that from you and kind of confirm that that’s a good way to approach the movement into doing some strengthening work for the feet and also minimalist work.
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah. Just the whole cautious aspect to it is just so important and finding what works for you too is such a crucial piece of the puzzle here. A lot of runners look at it and they think the end goal is to be able to run in your five fingers for all of your runs. That’s not the end goal. The end goal is to run a PR or maybe just hit a certain mileage that you want to every week, whatever your goal is.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD If you want to be a barefoot runner that’s certainly kind of a more lifestyle I think choice. And if that’s what you want to do, I’d say go ahead and do it. But if you want to get into races, a little bit goes a long way when it comes to minimalism and barefoot work. Me personally, when I was in college, besides races I never wore flats for workouts until my sophomore year just because I was… I don’t know, I was kind of scared to. I thought it was overkill even though everyone told me I should. And once I got into it, I think it was one of the best things I ever did. It took a couple of years of gradually getting into it and I think it’s important for people to hear that the whole gradually getting into barefoot or minimalist running it’s not a weeks or a months issue. It really is kind of like a years issue.
JEFF GAUDETTE Yeah.
JASON FITZGERALD It kind of also goes beyond what you’re running in. What are you wearing the other 20 or I should rather say 15 hours of the day that you’re up and around. Are you wearing __ if you’re a woman or really clunky formal shoes if you’re a guy? I wear like Sperry Top-siders. If I have to wear __ just because I find them super comfortable, there’s no heal lift, they’re flexible, I love them. I wear sandals, I wear flip-flops a lot and I think the casual shoe side of things is really important too. If you’re always on a high-heel dress shoe and then you go into a five-finger or a very minimalist shoe, then you’re going to have some problems. So, I think you tack the problem from multiple angles.
JEFF GAUDETTE Definitely. So, to finish things off, the last question I ask just everybody because I always find it interesting to hear different people’s answers… But if you can go back five or 10 years to your younger self, what is the one thing that you would tell yourself in regards to your approach to training and racing that you wish you had known then and that hopefully you would take your advice when you’re younger?
JASON FITZGERALD Yeah, that’s a good question. I probably have two… You want one, but…
JEFF GAUDETTE That’s okay, we can get two.
JASON FITZGERALD Maybe above all, I would say be patient. When I was younger I always thought, “Okay, I ran 50 miles this week. I can run 55 miles next week and the week after that I can bump it up to 60 miles.” Two months later if you run 140 miles a week… It doesn’t work that. I remember my sophomore year in college I went from maybe 75-80 miles a week over the summer and within two weeks I was running 90 miles a week. And boom – IT band syndrome. So, patience is something that’s crucial to distance running. You got to take a long term perspective. You need to really think in terms of years and not in terms of days and weeks. I feel like I’ve been saying that on and on. It’s just really important because how you adapt your training takes a little bit while longer than you think it will. So, if you want to stay healthy and if you want to continue to improve, take a long-term approach, be cyclical in your training, allow for enough recovery. It’s just something that I didn’t necessarily do as much as I should have back in the day.
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD And maybe the other thing that is really important that I didn’t do up until maybe two-three years ago is pay attention to all those little things. I think everyone kind of looks at me as like the strength training coach. That’s one of the topics that we talked a lot about tonight – it is really important for injury prevention, for being healthy long term and for your gradual improvement as a runner. You need to pay attention not only to strength training, but to flexibility, to sleep. Don’t burn the kindle at both ends. That’s something that I __ time. In college I wasn’t always focused on running and I paid the price in times. So, do little things and just be patient, and most runners will see a lot of success just with those two little lessons.
JEFF GAUDETTE Great. I think that’s fantastic and I feel the same way. If somebody asked me that question, I would say, “I don’t know, maybe there’s like 12 things I’ll come back and tell myself.”
JASON FITZGERALD I know, yeah.
JEFF GAUDETTE But I think those are great responses and I think people if they really apply those to their training now and in their outlook and approach to running, they’ll definitely prove and be more consistent. So, I think those are great lessons to share.
JASON FITZGERALD Right. I always crunch when I hear someone say like, “Hey, just started running last week. Can I run a marathon in four months?”
JEFF GAUDETTE Right.
JASON FITZGERALD No. Maybe you’ll come a way on __ but 80% of time that person is going to have some real problems. So, start with the __.
JEFF GAUDETTE Exactly. Well, thanks, Jason, for joining us tonight on our show. I really appreciate it. We’re going to first and links up at the bottom of this episode for people that are listening on the podcast or watching the video. We’ll have a link to Jason’s site and just some of the information that he shared with you today so you can look out some of the exercises and routines, and those types of things. So, Jason, I really want to appreciate you again coming on, taking the time to share your wisdom with everybody and I appreciate it.
JASON FITZGERALD Right, thanks so much.
JEFF GAUDETTE Thanks, Jason.
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