Resources/training plans to balance strength training and cardio?
October 2, 2014 7:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking at starting a beginner strength training program in a few week's time. But I've also taken up running in the past year, and don't want to regress on that front while I'm concentrating on the weights. I know I need to build in proper rest if I want to see improvements strength-wise, and I'm trying to figure out how to balance all this stuff. Any pointers/resources that tell you how to build a workout plan that can accommodate both goals and not leave me exhausted?

Snowflake deets: I've lost some weight in the past year and the running's helped with that, and I'm finally getting to the point where I actually enjoy it. So I don't want to lose out on that. But now that I'm closer to a healthy weight I definitely want to work on getting stronger. Having looked at some different programs, I'm leaning towards Starting Strength, since that seems simple enough to follow and a lot of people seem to have good experiences with it. But I'm a little worried about it, because my experience in the past year has been that when I've stepped up my effort with running (e.g., training for a 10K, running 3-4 times a week, 15-20 miles total) I was too tired to do the bodyweight workouts I had previously been doing on my days off, or if I did, the running suffered. Starting Strength also calls for 3 workouts per week, and pretty much everything I've read everywhere says you need to rest to allow your muscles to rebuild when you're doing this stuff. So I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep up with my running while accommodating that --- if I do one long run on the weekend will that be enough to maintain? Is it okay to do a couple short runs in the morning during the week and then hit the gym in the evening? Stuff like that. Personal experiences or good web/book resources welcome. Most of the stuff I've found online so far seems pitched one way or the other --- from what I can tell, weightlifters seem to resent cardio and try and do it as little as possible, and the lifting-for-runners stuff obviously prioritizes the former, and that's not what I want to do.
posted by Diablevert to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I do both running and lifting, and have found it easiest to maintain both when I'm not doing them on the same days. So I lift (using large compound lifts a la Starting Strength, followed by smaller supplemental exercises for those body parts) four days a week, and run two days a week. My schedule is usually:

Sunday: long run
Monday: rest
Tuesday: Lifting - squats day
Wednesday: Lifting - shoulder press day
Thursday: short run
Friday: Lifting - deadlift day
Saturday: Lifting - bench press day

So that way, it goes more or less like: lower body, rest, lower body, upper body, lower body, core, upper body. That means that I'm usually switching from one area of my body to another each day, allowing for a bit of rest time.

It seems to work okay for me, as it has resulted in slow-but-steady progress on both the running and lifting fronts. And since a large part of why I exercise is to keep my blood flowing and endorphins running high enough to stave off depression, this means I can do something each day, which helps me from sliding into bad emotional space.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:29 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

What works for me, based on my personal experience only, with no consulting of anything (except my doctor, who said "Keep it up!") is my routine below. I am a runner first and foremost, and the other stuff is just to complement my fitness. My last half marathon time was 10 minutes faster than the one I did before I started the strength training. I was really pleased.

Running: Mornings 6 days a week (5 miles Monday-Thursday, 4 miles Friday, and 10-12 on Saturday).

Strength training: Evenings Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday I do some variation of these bodyweight workouts: This is not weightlifting with actual weights and gym equipment, so I don't think I am using my muscles in the same way (i.e., probably not anywhere near as vigorously?).

Yoga: Evenings Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday (iPad Yoga Studio, usually the relaxation or flexibility classes).

You might find this book helpful: Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? I checked it out from the library awhile ago and I believe it covered the kinds of questions you have.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:35 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I do both cycling (8-10 hrs/week in the offseason, 10-15 hrs/week in season) and weight lifting. In the offseason I'm doing a program based on Starting Strength, and aiming for 3x/week.

I found that after a few debilitating weeks, the two fatigues wind up separating, and the two sets of workouts (cycling and lifting) stop affecting each other.

I taper off my lifting when bike racing season starts, and I resume in the offseason. You might have to do something similar when you're training for a specific event rather than just keeping your general running fitness.
posted by entropone at 9:12 AM on October 2, 2014

If you're worried that reduced training volume for running will damage your performance, consider this anecdote: I trained for a 5k, running only, and struggled my way through 5k hating every minute of it. I started weight training (barbell lifts, compound movements, with some endurance running), and two months later was absolutely shocked when I went out for a jog and realized I'd accidentally run 8k without noticing.
posted by lizifer at 10:00 AM on October 2, 2014

Note that some of the lifting will be 'cardio', but not good for your endurance per se as running is. Also note that the jury is out on a perfect answer to this.

If you read Rippetoe, these activities really are somewhat orthogonal; if you do both WELL near your limit that drives adaptation, then both will suffer (and you will likely be exhausted!). The question is; how much can you afford for progress in your lifting to be 'hurt' by running and vice versa?

I personally would prioritize one, then maybe ease back on that one after a goal is met e.g. after a race, do some serious lifting not interrupted significantly by running for a while, then recondition etc.

Read ludvig van's comment (penultimate paragraph) re: strength training vs endurance work.
posted by lalochezia at 10:50 AM on October 2, 2014

Starting Strength is really designed towards being the only workout you do. Doing SS without modification will interfere with your running and your running will interfere with SS. What I've done, and it works okay when I'm doing 2 or 3 running-sport workouts a week, is to modify Starting Strength so that I lift twice a week and add weight once every two or three workouts.

Another solid option is to look into something like 5/3/1 (which is remarkably similar to Greg Nog's excellent answer), where you basically do one heavy barbell lift (squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press) plus some lower-priority accessory stuff (pullups, dips) in each lifting session. This gives you plenty of progress on the strength side while leaving plenty of recovery resources for your running.

The evidence seems to say that you want as much time between your lifting and cardio as possible, so maybe do something like morning runs on MWF and the lifting on T/Th/Sat.

In terms of prioritization, I find that if I want to get good at X then I should put Y and Z into maintenance mode: don't try to improve lifting while I'm doing a lot of sport, just try to keep my strength level (and vice versa).
posted by daveliepmann at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2014

I have been doing this for years. I think you do need to decide what's most important to you, and with regard to weights, accept your gains will be slower, and don't rush it too fast yourself. You can still get a totally awesome weights work out in between moderately serious (hobbyist) running. Don't do them on the same day. For, depending on what I was training for, it looks like Running: Mon, Wed, Fri, sometimes Sat or Sun. Weights: Tues, Thurs. It was fine.
posted by smoke at 2:02 AM on October 3, 2014

5/3/1 (which is remarkably similar to Greg Nog's excellent answer)

That's basically the program I'm doing right now! It's lovely! I had been doing Stronglifts 5x5, which was wonderful, but which had led to something of a plateau. But yes, the Wendler 5/3/1 has been very nice. I was recently at a wedding where I met some this very muscular guy, and at some point in the reception part of the evening, I was drunk enough to be like "DUDE WHAT IS YOUR LIFTING ROUTINE" and he said "It's called Wendler-" and I finished "531! THAT'S WHAT I'M DOING!" and we both raised our glasses and clinked them together and said "YAY"
posted by Greg Nog at 5:12 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all the good advice in this thread. It seems like there's no one right way to do this, so I'm going to have to play it by ear a bit. Might try a couple short runs during the week and then a medium to longish one just to keep my hand in on Sundays, and see how that goes. I'm going to wait until after I've done this 10k I've got scheduled to really get going, but I'm sure I'll be back to review all your suggestions as I'm trying to hammer together something that works. If anyone else has other thoughts/strategies, please, please add them.
posted by Diablevert at 10:28 AM on October 3, 2014

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