A week or two ago on Instagram stories, I asked what questions about running and strength training you had, and I got some really terrific responses! Instead of doing a Q&A on Instagram, I decided to compile all your questions and answer them in a blog post so they don’t disappear after 24 hours. Going forward, I think I’m going to make this a regular series! What one person struggles with a lot of other people are probably struggling with, so I think we can all learn from and help each other. If you have a question you’d like to be included in a future Q&A post, feel free to e-mail me or direct message me on Instagram. I’ll also be opening up a question box on Instagram stories again soon.
Q: On normal runs (not speed days, not easy days, more in between) what zone should my heart rate be in?
A: I don’t do a lot of heart rate training with my athletes, and the reason is not because I’m opposed to it – I just think there are better ways of training, and better ways of measuring effort. Your heart rate can be affected by so many things, from hydration status, to sleep quality, to stress and anxiety, and more. I find tracking heart rate to be something that really gets into my athletes’ heads – so for many people I personally feel it does more harm than good. They may be a little dehydrated going into a run and see that their heart rate is x beats per minute higher than it was on yesterday’s run. Cue fears about their fitness, wondering if the work is working, and lots of self doubt.
Also keep in mind that wrist-based heart rate monitors (i.e., what you’d get from a GPS watch) are notoriously inaccurate. So I don’t recommend basing heart rate zones off of that data. If you want accurate heart rate data, use a chest strap.
For easy days, the single best way to know if you’re doing it right is to go by effort. As cheesy or boring as it sounds, the ‘talk test’ is still the gold standard. If you can’t hold a comfortable conversation with a friend while running, you’re going too fast and need to slow down. If you can only get in a few words in between breaths, you’re going too fast and need to slow down. Also… because you mentioned ‘in between’ days… this is actually a huge mistake I see among runners! So many runners spend way too much time at this ‘middle ground’ pace, and they end up spinning their wheels because of it. You should be running truly easy A LOT of the time (roughly 80% of your total running, depending on what phase of training you’re in). And the other 20% of the time you should be running hard – doing targeted quality sessions that are really going to move the needle with your fitness. Training in the ‘grey’ middle area is an easy way to ensure you’re not recovered enough in between runs but also not actually stimulating the body enough to improve.
Q: Can you talk more about heart rate training in general? What are your thoughts on it, how important is it to know your heart rate, and is it worth it to get a chest strap for your Garmin? I feel like I have a higher heart rate while running than I should be, and it gets in my head sometimes.
A: Yes! See above! I see heart rate training get in SO many runners’ heads (completely unnecessarily), and that’s why I don’t personally use it often. If you are a data junkie who loves and thrives off of numbers, you might really like and do well with heart rate training. And in that case, yes – I would make sure you have a chest strap for your Garmin because otherwise you’re just throwing shots in the dark. But if that’s you, you should also be able to take that data with a grain of salt and look at averages and trends – not fixating on any one run or workout.
For the majority of people, checking in with your training periodically via either fitness test workouts or tune-up races will help you make sure you’re training at the paces that are correct for you (and going to lead you to improve). As will making sure effort is correct on your easy days and that you can hold a true conversational pace. No obsessing over heart rate numbers necessary!
Q: Strength first, or running first on days you have both scheduled?
A: It depends on a couple different things! First – What are your goals, and what are you trying to optimize? If your #1 goal is to improve your running performance, generally speaking you’re going to want to run first and lift second. If your #1 goal is to maximize your lifting (i.e., lift as much weight as you can) and/OR you’re in a phase where you’re really trying to make strength gains or gain muscle, you should run first. 99% of the runners I work with through my 1:1 coaching fall into the former category, though.
Lifestyle plays a factor, as well. One of the greatest barriers to strength training I see is just getting it in. If you’re likely to procrastinate strength training after your run, try doing it first instead! Note: you’re just going to want to slow down your run afterwards, as you’ll likely be more fatigued, and you should never lift right before a quality session or hard long run. But don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the good. Consistency is the most important thing when it comes to strength training, and if lifting first means you’re more likely to get it in, I’d want you to get it in in whatever way you can.
Q: Favorite strength moves for marathoners?
A: My favorite strength moves for marathoners are the same as my favorite strength moves for all distance runners! We want to get the big ‘prime mover muscles’ (hips, glutes, core, quads, hamstrings) strong in order to make you stronger, more powerful, more efficient, and more resistant to injury. For runners, I love making squats and deadlifts the main exercise of lifting sessions (there are so many different variations of each of these!), and then playing with different accessory movements from there depending on any specific weaknesses or goals the runners has. Squats and deadlifts are amazing, super functional movements that will never go out of style, and most runners will see great benefits from working on and optimizing these movement patterns.
Q: Are there benefits to wearing different kinds of shoes for different kinds of workouts?
A: There certainly can be! Having a couple different pairs of running shoes you rotate between for different occasions can be helpful for getting the most out of each session. BUT, a couple things to keep in mind… one, I think it’s very ‘trendy’ right now to be really into shoes and to have a ton of different pairs. I’ve always been of the opinion that shoes are just the icing on top and that it’s the training (and all the other little things) that make the runner. I think a lot of people give excess importance to the shoe. In reality, all you NEED is a really good pair of trainers that fit you well, feel good, and don’t get you injured. (And maybe one good racing shoe… depending on your goals and race distance.)
Two, having multiple pairs of running shoes can get expensive quick, as good running shoes are usually upwards of $100 a pair. I’d rather see you focus on optimizing your training first (this is where 90% of your running gains are going to come from), and maybe using that money instead to hire a running coach.
Also, if you’re injury prone, tread cautiously with new (especially lighter-weight) shoes. If you’ve finally found a great pair of trainers that are working for you and keeping you healthy, trying to bring in too many new shoes can be a recipe for re-injury.
If you already have a great training foundation and good running/sleeping/eating/strength training habits, and you want to experiment with rotating in a couple different shoes… go for it! Beyond a great pair of trainers, others to look into include:
- A lightweight trainer – Good for tempo runs, moderate-pace workouts, and road races.
- Event-specific racing shoes – Racing flats (for short, fast interval workouts on the track or grass, and for track or cross country races), or spikes (for track or cross country races). If you don’t plan on racing on the track or cross country, you don’t have to worry about either of these.
- Carbon-plate racing shoes – NOT a necessity, but if you have the $$, these can certainly help you towards your PR goals. These shoes are built with technology that helps you run faster with less effort, so they’re a great option for runners who are working on optimizing that last 2-10% of their potential.
Q: What’s your favorite workout to prescribe to runners?
A: This is a great question! I don’t think there is any one workout in particular. It totally depends on the athlete, their goals, their training history, etc.
A few favorites that I’ve recently loved assigning: short speed ladders (2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds ‘on’, with short rest in between reps and 2-2 1/2 minutes in between sets is a fun one)… I love having even my marathoners do these to infuse a little turnover work. The paces and how many sets I assign will vary based on the athlete.
I’ve also been loving wave tempos for my half and full marathoners, and I always love prescribing lots of steady-paced running… great for building the aerobic system and transitioning to faster (half marathon and marathon paced work) down the road.
Q: Normal to have to stop to pee every 2 miles while pregnant? I’m 19 weeks.
A: Yes!! (And congratulations on running through 19 weeks of pregnancy! That’s an amazing accomplishment!) At 19 weeks baby is really starting to grow in size and may be pressing down on your bladder. It’s super common to have to make multiple pee stops while running. If you’ve not already invested in a maternity support belt, now might be a great time to get one… they can really help to alleviate some of that pressure on your bladder, pelvis, and low back. ReCore’s Maternity FITsplint is a popular model that gets great reviews.
Q: What is a good weekly layout for 3 runs per week + strength?
A: This depends on how many days you’re strength training! The majority of my runners lift 2 days per week, and this is a great sweet spot for many people.
Here is what a sample 3 days of running, 2 days of lifting split might look like:
- Monday – Full body lift
- Tuesday – Easy run
- Wednesday – Quality session
- Thursday – Full body lift
- Friday – Off
- Saturday – Long run
- Sunday – Off
For more advanced lifters/strength trainers, a 3 day lifting split might be feasible. Here’s what that could look like:
- Monday – Lower body lift
- Tuesday – Easy run
- Wednesday – Quality run
- Thursday – Lower body lift
- Friday – Upper body lift
- Saturday – Long run
- Sunday – Off
Q: Are band workouts still effective? Or must you lift heavy all the time?
A: Bands are great, and can be effective for people of all goals and abilities! Like anything, it depends on how you use them. The concept of progressive overload reigns true here. If you’re just starting out with strength training, you’ll likely see benefits from just bodyweight and banded workouts. But at some point you’re going to need to pick up some weights – or else you’ll start to plateau. I am an advanced lifter and frequently use bands in my training, but I use them as either part of my warm-up or for accessory movements. Last year we invested in this door spine set from TB12, and we’ve gotten a ton of mileage from it. You can basically use this the way you would a cable machine – so we do all kinds of different rows, pull-downs, chops, and Pallof presses with it. These would be my accessory-type movements, and then I would still do my ‘big movements’ (squats, deadlifts, presses, carries, etc.) – and some of my accessory movements – with weights.
Q: I have no races ahead… how do I train?
A: The fact that you’re even asking this question is AWESOME and shows you’re super motivated to improve! So congratulations! So many runners are motivated by races only (which is not necessarily a bad thing) – but right now is actually the best time to build your base, create good habits and consistency with your running, and work on any weaknesses. And doing these things now will help take your running to the next level for when races do resume.
This is a pretty loaded question, but first I would start by identifying what you feel your weaknesses are – whether it’s speed, pacing, mental toughness, just plain running consistently enough (or enough mileage), etc., etc.
Pick 2-3 things and devote a focused 2-3 month ‘microcycle’ (mini training cycle) to improving them one at a time. For example, first, focus on just building your mileage up. Then, focus on sprinkling in some targeted speed workouts. Then, devote a cycle to doing longer, strength-building workouts that will set the stage for more race specific work (if you’re aiming for a half or full marathon) down the road. In between, take 1-2 weeks of easy running so that you don’t burn yourself out. And make sure to incorporate either some fitness test workouts, time trials, or benchmark workouts throughout each cycle so that you’ll get concrete feedback on how much you’re improving!
Q: What’s the best strength training to improve shin splints?
A: Getting stronger, period! I tend to see shin splints in a lot of newer and/or younger runners. Most of these runners would benefit from just a great, well-rounded strength training foundation… and most importantly, strength training consistently. But bigger issues I see with people who get shin splints are making training errors (trying to do too much too fast, or not allowing enough recovery time in between runs), or running in the wrong/old running shoes. If you’re struggling with shin splints, make sure you’re replacing your running shoes every 300-500 miles, AND get fitted (or re-fitted) at your local running store to make sure you’re wearing the right running shoes for you.
Q: What’s the best way to build back endurance after lots of time off?
A: Slowly, cautiously, and patiently. Put your ego aside and commit to a slow, patient build… it will be worth it tenfold in the long run to do things the right way and not rush the process. (This is a SUPER common way I see runners get injured!) Be really gentle with yourself, and celebrate every little win along the win. Getting back into shape is hard, and it’s easy to think you’re chugging along for weeks on end without seeing any progress… but the reality is, you’re probably already seeing progress (even if it’s small).
Also – be open to run-walking! I do this with a lot of athletes coming back from extended time off, and it’s a really great way to ease yourself back. Find the amount of running that feels comfortable for you right now (note: comfortable means comfortable, not the most you can do). If that’s only 2-3 minutes of running… great! Start there! Try a few sets of 2-3 minutes of running + 1 1/2 minutes of walking, and over the coming weeks, gradually increase your running intervals and gradually decrease your walking intervals.
Q: I’m turning 40 this year, and while I’m running consistently and well with no injuries right now, I know I need to start strength training to keep doing so. What’s the best way to begin to incorporate it when you’re an avoider/beginner, and during the pandemic when it’s not so easy to go to a gym and have someone check your form?
A: I love this question so much, and I love that you’ve identified that you’ll need strength training to continue running healthfully and strong down the road. Many people don’t realize this until it’s too late, so kudos and congratulations to you for being so wise! There are a couple ways you can go about doing this, but the biggest thing I would emphasize to you is just start. There are a million different programs and philosophies out there, and over time you will find what resonates the most with you and what your body responds to best. But in general, as long as you’re not doing anything dangerous or doing any truly ludicrous programs, consistency with strength training trumps finding the ‘perfect’ program. And at the beginning, you’ll likely see improvement from almost any program because you’re so new to it and ripe with potential.
If you’re a runner looking for strength training programs, the coaching group I’m a part of, Lift Run Perform, offers great monthly programs. I would also consider buying a virtual consult or 1 to 2 virtual 1:1 sessions with a great personal trainer to learn the basics and have someone teach you you proper form. (Feel free to e-mail me if you need recommendations!) Nothing replaces in-person, hands-on care and attention, but there’s a lot you can do via Zoom… you’d be surprised!