Elisabeth: My guest this week is running coach and physical therapist Dr. Kate Bochnewetch. She joins the show to talk about a subject near and dear to her heart, and hopefully one that is becoming near and dear to all of our hearts too: heavy lifting for runners. The running part of running training seems to get sorted pretty quickly, right? You get your training plan, you get on your way, you're happy. The strength training part seems to be a bit more complicated. How much is up strength training? What kind of strength training is most effective? What do we mean when we talk about heavy lifting, talking about circuit training and HIIT workouts? What is going to be most effective for you as a runner to support your training and make you a stronger, better, faster runner? Kate, welcome to the show. I'm excited to have you here.
Kate: Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Elisabeth: So, all my guests have to answer this question, because I genuinely want to know, how did you become a runner? And how did you become a physical therapist?
Kate: Oh, this is a great question. So, I ran my first 5k when I was 9 years old with my twin sister and my aunt's, one of whom is a marathoner. So, she really kind of sparked my interest in the sport. I ran all through middle school and high school. And it was just a really huge part of my life. All of my friends from high school I met through running. And I had my first experience with PT when I had some knee pain that brought me to a clinic when I was... I think I was a freshman in high school. And my physical therapist was this really amazing running specialist. He was great. And it was the first thing that gave me hope that I would get back to doing what I loved, which was running without pain.
So, that kind of sparked my interest in physical therapy. And I knew that that's what I wanted to do with my life from a young age. So, I'm one of those lucky people. And I knew that I always wanted to work with runners. And I was lucky enough that, just over a year ago, I was able to kind of go in full-time on the running DBT business. So, I can continue helping runners deal with injuries, find balance, learn how to strength train, and just find the joy in it. So, it's been quite the journey with some ups and downs and twists and loops that I didn't necessarily expect this early in my career. But yeah, that's kind of what brought me here.
Elisabeth: Nobody ever expects the twists and the loops. That's... you’re like, “It's not just a straight line from A to B? What is this?”
Kate: “It’s so easy.”
Elisabeth: And I've had a number of physical therapists on the show. And this is something I also, I continue to want to point out because I do continually refer runners, “Hey, you should go get that looked at by physical therapists.” But kind of just like any medical profession, you have specialties, right? So, you might have physical therapists who are really good generalists, and kind of control a bit of everything. But runners, we are a bit of a different breed. And we do need some really special specific care sometimes. So, working with a physical therapist who really actually knows how to work with runners, probably a runner themselves, that is probably going to be the person who can provide the most specific care to a runner.
Kate: I 100% agree with you. And I also just feel one of the main reasons I went out on my own and went into like noninsurance-based style of practice is because I truly don't feel that the insurance-based system is necessarily set up in the best possible way to benefit our athletes and runners the way that we can when we aren't confined by the constraints of insurance. I could go off on a tangent on that, but I won't.
Elisabeth: You are not the first physical therapist to discuss the problem of insurance on this show. I feel like we need to have a roundtable to air our grievances, because I know a lot of people agree with you. But today, we're talking about strength training for runners, specifically, heavy lifting for runners. And we did cover strength training on the show last season, kind of a broad overview about basic ways to incorporate strength into your training. But the focus of this episode is going to be specifically on higher weight, low rep heavy lifting for runners, and why and how and all of the good things to talk about why it's important for you to do that as part of your training. And I always like to start by making sure we're all speaking the same language here. So, Kate, can you just tell us what is the definition of strength training?
Kate: So, strength training or resistance training is the performance of physical exercises that are designed to improve strength. So, that is the definition of strength training.
Elisabeth: I think it's really important to point out that there is a lot of strength training that's marketed towards runners that runners tend to gravitate towards that is actually just cardio in disguise. Like it may have a strength component or strength element in it, but it's actually also cardio. And we don't necessarily want to be doing more cardio when we're doing our strength training. We kind of just want to be doing our strength. And especially if you're a runner who comes from a fitness class world, or you've come from OTF, or maybe Peloton classes, like you're used to doing that kind of combo, that super high-intensity strength style workout. But that's not necessarily what we want to be incorporating into our running-specific training.
Kate: Mm-hmm. Absolutely, I think that when we think about this like cardio in disguise type of strength training that many runners will end up falling into, we think of those circuits with like a lot of fast paced movement, a little rest, maybe a lot of jumping, mostly bodyweight or lightweight, and just lots of reps. There's not much focus on the load that you're lifting, or any clear path to progression, which is the secret sauce to getting stronger.
The main focus on these types of workouts tend to be just getting your heart rate really high and burning a lot of calories. You're going to feel sweaty and tired, so it must have been a good workout, right? If your main goal out of the workout was to burn calories and get your heart rate up, then yeah, it was a good workout. But if your goal is to get stronger and work on strength training, then there's a better option. And that's not to say that you can't get stronger with those types of workouts. You can, but it's not the most effective option, or the most effective use of your time.
Elisabeth: The counterpoint when I point this out as well is that, well, isn't it better than doing nothing? And possibly, if you can handle doing that much higher intensity work, I know those circuit style sessions tend to be a bit longer. Because here's the kicker about proper strength training is you don't actually necessarily need to do as much of it or nearly as much of it as you think you do in order to make it effective for strength training.
Kate: So, true. I mean, you don't need to be spending hours in the gym every day to get your strength training benefits. Most of my runners who are in season are only lifting twice a week.
Elisabeth: The other thing that tends to throw runners, especially once they’re used to using heart rate as a metric in their training, is that your heart rate shouldn't necessarily be super high. Like, the goal of strength training is not to get your heart rate up. That's cardio. This is something different. You can get an effective workout, even if your heart rate doesn't get very high.
Kate: Absolutely not. No, you're certainly correct. And it's not even really something that I focus on when going through a strength training program. I'm not really looking at what my heart rate is during that session, because that's not the goal of the session. I think that it's important to kind of touch on like when strength training and circuit training, when you're saying training can kind of turn into circuits training.
And I wanted to mention that I actually looked this up, like the history of circuit training, because I was kind of interested in it. And it was developed in the 50s as a way to get cardiovascular and muscular strength benefits through one method. But in reality, just like you mentioned before, it's actually more beneficial to focus on one of those aspects at a time. And we get enough cardio in our weeks as runners, so why are we seeking it out in our strength training too? The overall goal of our strength training should be to get stronger, and we should be doing the thing that is the most effective in achieving that goal. Not saying that all circuit training is bad, but if there is a better option when it comes to our goals, we're probably better off choosing that option.
Elisabeth: Something that you've mentioned that we are definitely going to discuss in more detail is this concept of progressive overload.
Elisabeth: Because it’s so cool and it's so foundational. But something I want to briefly talk about before we move on is HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training, HIIT workouts. HIIT is super buzzwordy. Everybody says like, “I'm doing a HIIT this or a HIIT that.” You probably aren't actually doing real HIIT. Real HIIT is not a 45-minute circuit style strength workout. Real HIIT is like the hardest you can possibly go for a very specific short, short period of time. Like, I might puke on maximal effort on this workout. That has HIIT.
Kate: Yeah, that's a great point. You're so right. Most people use the term HIIT interchangeably with just like interval or circuit training. But true HIIT is max effort bouts of work, typically done in like 20-second sessions, with a 2:1 or 3:1 rest-to-work ratio. So, you might be doing 20 seconds of intense bout of exercise, and 40 seconds of rest, and just going through and repeating that for the designated number of times. So, that can be done with like cardio machines or like running, or also with different exercising moves like squats, burpees different things like that. HIIT is very effective in calorie burning, and it can improve athletic performance. And I don't necessarily have a problem with HIIT, and it can certainly play a role. But it's not... again, it's just not as effective in the meat and potatoes of your strength training as a runner should be, well, strength training.
Most people use the term HIIT interchangeably with just like interval or circuit training. But true HIIT is max effort bouts of work, typically done in like 20-second sessions, with a 2:1 or 3:1 rest-to-work ratio.
Elisabeth: Like HIIT is car... you can do HIIT in your running. You can do sprint interval training, which is basically HIIT while running. But nobody would mistake that for being a strength training workout, right? So, I think it's really important that, when we are... it's easy to get confused, right? You're not alone. But it's also important, let's like step back and say, “Well, what is the... what am I trying to accomplish here? What is the purpose of this workout? Am I doing something that is going to move me towards that specific goal?”
Kate: And I think that's what it all comes down to as well is, what are your goals? What is your purpose? If you're someone whose major goal is say maybe fat loss, then HIIT would be your better option. But if you're a runner who's looking to improve... decrease your injury risk and improve your performance, it might not be the best option for you.
Elisabeth: The other thing I think is confusing is that everybody wants to know, “How I can do more for longer?” endurance runners, right? “How can I increase my stamina?” I hate that word. Please don't use that word with me. It’s not even a real science word. “How do I increase my endurance? How do I get better at doing this thing, holding this thing?” And actually, what we want to do we increase our endurance is not necessarily to do more harder work, but to do more lower intensity work. And that's like a tough concept for some people.
Kate: Absolutely. To achieve specific training goals, we have to do specific things in our training that achieves those goals. And I think that there's some misunderstandings about what things allow us to achieve those specific goals.
Elisabeth: What are some of the most common, I want to say, errors, but when a new client, a runner describes the strength train that they're doing, what are the things you most often see them include or doing and that you think, “Wait, there is a better way that you can be doing this,”?
Kate: Yeah. So, the number 1 thing is that the vast majority of runners are not lifting heavy enough. And I know that we're talking about like heavy lifting, and that's kind of the biggest point here. But even those runners who tend to kind of fall into... there's this misconception about how runners should be lifting high rep with low loads for endurance, because we're endurance athletes. That is just not true. Runners benefit from heavier lifting. Even those runners who are kind of falling into the trap of low load and higher rep strength training, they're still not lifting heavy enough to elicit those adaptations.
When I say lifting heavy, it's all relative. I absolutely do not mean that, if you are currently using body weight for all your strength training, that you should walk into a gym and load up 2 plates on the bar, and just like bang out some squats. That's not what I'm saying. It's all relative for you and your abilities. Research just says that high load, low rep is more effective for maximizing strength adaptations. And just baseline, if you're not lifting heavy enough to... relative to your body's current capacity, the stimulus you're providing isn't enough to reach the threshold for those adaptations to occur for you to get stronger. So, we have to provide enough stimulus, enough load or intensity to elicit the desired outcome.
So, that's usually the biggest thing that I see is runners are like, “Yeah, I'm strength training.” But they've maybe... there maybe lifting a lot lighter relative to their abilities, or they haven't necessarily increase the load of what they're doing over time as they get stronger.
Elisabeth: I used to think, because, I mean, it sounded like it made sense, is that it didn't really matter the distribution of weight and repetitions, as long as like the total matched up, right? So, that a lower rep, higher weight set would be equivalent to a higher rep, lower weight set. Like, I thought that that was the same thing. And that is not true. That is absolutely not true. Low weight, high rep is not the same as high weight, low rep exercise strength training.
Kate: Yep. I think that many of us who like initially go into strength training fall into a little bit of that trap. And that's not to say that you can't get stronger doing like low load, high reps. You can, but it's just not the most effective way. And honestly, doing it that way, this is kind of a tangent, but that actually makes you like more sore. It's harder to recover from. So, like doing like so much higher volume in order to get those strength adaptations. But yeah, so that's really the biggest thing that I see with runners when it comes to strength training.
Elisabeth: Now, to be fair, some of this could be an access issue. It's kind of hard to find heavy things to lift sometimes.
Kate: Absolutely. And there's so many... there's so much conflicting information out there that it's kind of hard to wade through everything that you see. If you Google strength training for runners, you're going to get a ton of misinformation. And it's not easy to wade through that if it's something new to you. So, I totally get it. I mean, I think that this is something that will take time to kind of overhaul in the running community.
Elisabeth: So, when we talk about heavy lifting, and you said, “Of course, it's all relative. What one person's heavy might be is another person's practically unweighted warmup,” what do you... what criteria do you use to help define what one person's adequate load is?
Kate: Yes. This is a great question. So, I use a system, I use reps in reserve and rate of perceived exertion. So, it's important... we know that it's important to make sure that we're lifting heavy enough for those strength adaptations to occur, right? Because if you're just prescribing exercises with sets and reps, but not giving anybody any more info on how it's supposed to feel, how do we know that it's effectively challenging them strength wise, right?
So, this system that I use is all perceived effort based. But looking at... I'm sure you're familiar with the rate of perceived exertion 10-point scale RPE that's used for cardio. But it's kind of arbitrary to ask someone after like a set of exercises, “Hey, on a scale of 1 to 10, how hard was that?” Like, what does that even mean? I don't know. But we can take that 10-point perceived exertion scale and use reps in reserve in conjunction. And reps in reserve is how many reps you have left in the tank at the end of a set.
So, it's a lot easier to ask someone, “Hey, you just did 8 squats with 30 pounds. How many more squats do you feel like you could have done with that weight before you would have failed or had to stop?” than asking, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard was this?” So, your reps in reserve is how many reps you have left in the tank at the end of that set. So, say you did that set of 8 squats at 30 pounds, and I asked you, “How many reps do you feel like you had left in the tank?” and you say, “5 plus more,” but I've prescribed 2 reps in reserve, you want to increase that load.
This is a very tricky concept, and it's a lot to kind of take in. And it takes a while to get used to and learn and really feel what that proximity to failure feels like. But I really like using this system, especially with my runners because it's all perceived effort base. So, I'm not giving you, prescribing you a specific weight to lift, and then maybe if you're feeling a little bit off that day, you're doing too much intensity for what you can handle. That is the system I use for my runners to make sure that we are in that proper intensity zone, so that we're getting those strength adaptations.
And it takes a while to get used to and learn and really feel what that proximity to failure feels like. But I really like using this system, especially with my runners because it's all perceived effort base.
Elisabeth: Conversely, that same exercise, 8 reps at 30 pounds, like if you can't even get to 8 reps, that weight’s probably too heavy for the purpose of that specific exercise.
Kate: Absolutely, absolutely. And I tend to prescribe anywhere from like 1 to 4 reps in reserve, depending on your experience level, where you are in your season, different things like that. I often am not having my runners lift like maximally, like 0 reps in reserve. There's a lot more research coming out that we can train like with a proximity to failure and still have effective gains. And some research actually shows it's more effective than continually maxing out. But yeah, it is something that is tricky to implement, because it takes some time to learn how that feels.
Elisabeth: Just like running, everybody, learning to do anything by effort is a skill that just is refined over time. So, while we might... just like and running, we might use things like pace and heart rate and power, if you’re using a power meter, we have a general idea of our abilities, but it's always going to be effort that guides us, that rate of perceived exertion, like what it actually feels like. And lifting is no different. And just if you don't get it immediately, like it's okay, because it is a skill that you have to develop over time.
Kate: Exactly. Yes.
Elisabeth: For runners who are used to doing like super high rep, low or no weight exercise, they're like used to doing 50 or 100 of something, this concept of low rep might be a little... like when we're talking about low, medium, and high rep strength training in the concept of like actual strength training, like heavier lifting, what are those rep ranges that we're looking at? Like, we're never going to do 75 of something, right?
Kate: Yes, yes. And honestly, it really depends on what reference you look at. Like, some references give minor differences between rep ranges or set ranges for like strength versus hypertrophy versus endurance or whatever. I typically like to err on 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 12 reps using a load that brings you within 1 to 4 reps shy of failure. Depending on your reference, once you get up into like the 8 to 12 rep range, you're going into more hypertrophy, still gaining strength benefits at that point. With my runners, I tend to prescribe within the 6 to 12 rep range. But yeah, it can be... it can look very different to runners who are potentially just looking at high volume and transitioning to a different style.
Elisabeth: Thinking like, “I’m supposed to do... what do you mean 6 to 8? That's it? That's it?” Yeah, it’s supposed to be heavy.
Kate: And then the biggest sticking point is the amount of rest between each set.
Kate: Because we shouldn't be taking 1 to 3 minutes between our sets to recover. Runners often are like, “Well, I want to keep my heart rate up. I want to keep going. Like, let's move this along.” And that rest recovery period is so important. And that is often one of the pieces of this that is the newest to people who are used to that like circuit style where there's such little rest.
Elisabeth: It feels like you're doing something wrong when you just kind of stand there.
Kate: Yes. And it's funny though, because it does feel wrong, but if you like look around for a little bit, all the people in the gym who are like experienced, they spend most of their time just like sitting and looking at their phone because they're resting.
Elisabeth: Or just like kind of wandering around like...
Elisabeth: Getting some water, staring at the ceiling.
Kate: Yep, absolutely. Looking at reels on Instagram.
Elisabeth: Why do we need that rest? Why is that rest so important?
Kate: Well, our goal is strength here, right? Our goal isn't to keep our heart rate up and challenge our cardiorespiratory systems. We want to make sure that we're recovering in between our sets, so that we are able to achieve the intensity, the desired intensity that we want out of that set. So, we don't want to be fatiguing ourselves throughout that workout. So, implementing that amount of rest time for those physiological systems that were challenging is important.
Elisabeth: You've mentioned hypertrophy a couple times. And for people who don't know what that means, can you explain what that is and why it's not always the goal of strength training, but it can be?
Kate: Yeah. So, hypertrophy is really just like increasing muscle size, like cross-sectional area of the muscle. Often, when you get into like a higher range of reps, not quite as much in endurance, but a little bit more than strength, we get more of those hypertrophy benefits. So, that's a lot what you see with like bodybuilding, those types of workouts. But it's to actually gain muscle mass and build hypertrophy, it takes a lot more volume in the gym than many runners just lifting twice a week are going to get. That's not to say that you're not going to like get more defined muscles and your muscles might grow. But it's often not the main goal of our workouts when we're focusing more on strength. And not only does that require more volume, but it also requires a lot more food. And with the amount of running and cardio that runners do, we often won't see... it's really hard for runners to like bulk up. So that's kind of... hypertrophy is kind of just increasing like muscle size. But as you said, it's not necessarily the main goal.
Elisabeth: I've actually... I mean, that's something I've heard about people who don't want to strength train because they don't want to get too bulky, or they don't want to get too big because it will interfere with their running. And kind of to your point, yes, there are some people who can naturally build muscle mass more easily than others. But do you know how hard it is to gain that much muscle? Oh my gosh.
Kate: Yes. Anytime I hear that I'm like, “Such disrespect to the bodybuilding community.” Like people do not understand, it does not happen on accident. You don't just walk into a gym, and then a year later, you're like...
Elisabeth: The Rock.
Kate: ... super huge. Yeah, exactly. It takes so much more than just weightlifting to get to that point. And I hear that a lot too, “Oh, I don't want to get too bulky,” or you hear it from women, like, “I don't want to look manly.” And it's just those types of things don't happen. Like, you don't get bulky unless you're trying to get bulky.
Elisabeth: Something else people have asked me about strength training is that, “If I'm running hills, isn't that enough strength training?”
Kate: So, there is some talk about a lot of people will call hill running strength training. And does it build strength, muscular strength in your legs if you are progressively increasing what you're doing over time, maybe running steeper hills, running them at a faster pace, increasing your volume? Yes, to a certain degree, it does make your legs stronger. But it is not the same as strength training. It also only provides strengthening in 1 plane for like targeting specific muscle groups. So, we just, we need more than that.
I hear that from runners all the time, like, “Oh, well, I run, so my legs are strong enough.” It's just not necessarily the case. And when it comes to injury prevention, it is all about improving the capacity of your tissues to tolerate more. Strength training is something that brings that to the table, then allows you to do more in your running. But yeah, I definitely hear that all the time of like, “Well, isn't hill training enough?” and I say, “I don't necessarily agree with that.”
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Yeah, I mean, if all we needed were hills, nobody would get injured, right?
Kate: Exactly. You'd be fine.
Elisabeth: Alright. So, you've mentioned this concept of progressive overload, and you even threw it in right there and talking about, “Yes, technically, if you were doing progressive overload in this specific kind of training, this is the foundation of how you build strength. This is the foundation of how you build anything.” What is progressive overload? And how does it apply to strength training?
Kate: Yeah, great question. And this is that piece of strength training that is so important that so many people are missing. And I made the same mistake when I first started strength training too. I just felt like, “Man, I'm stuck using these like 5 to 10-pound dumbbells forever. What gives?” So, progressive overload is gradually increasing the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training routine over time. As I mentioned before, it's not just arbitrarily adding weight, it is gradually increasing loads over time as you get stronger, so that you can stay within a certain approximation to failure so that you can continue getting stronger over time.
So, if we don't increase our loads over time, we're not seeing those benefits. We are plateauing, right? Hence why I could never get past the 5 to 10-pound dumbbells for upper body day back in the day. I think that the most important piece to this though is that in order to implement progressive overload, we can't be doing new workouts every week. Generally, we should really only be switching our workouts up every 6 to 8 weeks. There's some nuance to this. But we want to be spending enough time to be able to progressively overload the exercises in our training block, right?
I think that the most important piece to this though is that in order to implement progressive overload, we can't be doing new workouts every week. Generally, we should really only be switching our workouts up every 6 to 8 weeks. There's some nuance to this. But we want to be spending enough time to be able to progressively overload the exercises in our training block
Elisabeth: So, you're saying that muscle confusion is not really a thing.
Kate: Yeah, that's not a thing. Not a thing, not a thing. That is something that you hear about a lot though, isn't it?
Elisabeth: A lot of the runners I work with, I do prescribe basic strength training to them. But I do have a number of runners who come to me and said, for example, because I know this is the most popular one, “I really like to use those strength training classes from Peloton.” I'm like, “Great, I get it. You're paying for it, right? It's cool.” And they say, “Which one should I do?” And I say, “Look for ones that contain squats, deadlifts, lunges, and just kind of do that same class over and over and over again.” Because things like Peloton, I have the treadmill and I have the bike. Like, I'm not anti-Peloton, right? But places, things like Peloton and Tonal and all these other fitness content providers are content creators first and foremost. You don't need to do a different workout every single day or every single week. In fact, you might be not getting benefits if you are doing that.
Kate: Absolutely. 100%. How can we expect to improve and grow in a movement if we're not repeatedly doing that movement? I think that's super great too. I also have had clients in the past who use those types of workout systems, and I say the same thing, “Pick 1 or 2 of them for the week, and then you're going to do those over and over and over again. And then once we stopped seeing improvements, we will pick new ones, or adjust accessories or whatever.”
There's a bit of an art and a science to creating a strength training plan. There's no like, “These are the best exercises that you should do, X, Y, Z.” So, I think that those types of subscriptions can be beneficial, as long as we're using them in a smart way. And I liked how you said that, “Just keep doing them over and over again.”
Elisabeth: I think that's like that maybe it confuses some people when they start working with a coach somebody like you are like me, and that the weekly structure, what they're doing in any given week, doesn't really change that much from week to week. Like, I'm not here to like shake it up every single day, right? You're going to be doing a lot of the same stuff over and over and over again, because that's how we get better at that stuff. We have to just keep repeating it as part of our training.
Kate: Yes. And I think an important piece about progressive overload too that I didn't mention is that it's not necessarily that your workouts are getting harder over time, you are getting stronger. So, you are requiring a higher level of stimulus to get that same result that you were previously able to achieve with a lower stimulus.
Elisabeth: So, for somebody who is following their own strength training program and they're thinking, “Alright, I'm going to try this progressive overload thing. I have my 2 workouts a week. I am in the gym. I have access to weights. And I'm going to try to do this on my own,” what are the signals they should be looking for in when it is time to level up?
Kate: To increase the load.
Kate: We're going to... we'll go into a little bit nuanced here. I tend to prescribe rep ranges for my runners for their exercises. So, I might prescribe a set of 6 to 8 goblet squats. And a general rule of thumb that I usually will tell my runners is, “Once you can do all the sets at the maximum amount of reps that I've prescribed to you, so say you get to the point where, ‘Okay, the first week... the first couple weeks, I can only do you know, 6 reps at 30 pounds. And then you know, maybe next week I do 2 of my sets of 6 reps with 30 pounds, but then my third set, I feel like I can maybe do 7 or 8 with that same weight,’ right? As you get stronger, gradually, you may increase that rep.”
I typically will tell them, “Once you get to the point where you can do those 3 sets at that max rep range at 8 with that weight, then it's time to increase and see how many you can do with that weight. So, that's bringing you back lower down into that rep range.” So, that's one way to do it. I like to use that because it gives people a little bit of wiggle room. But generally, if you're doing your set and you get to the end, and you feel like you can do way more reps than what is prescribed in your reps in reserve, like that example before, if you do those 8 squats and you're like, “Yeah, I probably could have done 5 plus more,” then it's time to increase that load.
Elisabeth: Of course, there are going to be huge ‘it depends’ factors here. By how much are we looking to increase when we do increase weight?
Kate: Yeah. So, I mean, it's not like a massive increase. That's where like kind of the art and science kind of comes in. So, often, I'll just have them go up to either whatever the next dumbbell is. Or if we're using like plates, we might just use those like little 2 and a half plates. It is gradual increase. It's not like you're going from like 40 pounds squats to 100 pounds squats in a matter of a week or 2. Also, there's a lot of nuance in this. Depending on your experience level and your training age, you're going to make a lot bigger jumps in improvements when you are newer to this as you start to improve. People who are a little bit more experienced won't see that quick of change over time. But it's all just about checking in with your body and just considering your effort level and really beginning to explore and learn those proximity to failure. And that comes with experience.
Elisabeth: And that's a really similar experience that a lot of runners have when they're new runners and it feels like, every single time they go for a run, they're running like their new fastest mile because they are improving so rapidly because they have so much improvement to make. As you get fitter, we all know those like mid-run PRs stop happening.
Kate: Yeah. And you might be going up and up and up and up in weight, and then you just plateau. And oftentimes, when we plateau like that, that is what tells me, “Okay, it's time to maybe switch up our main lifts, or change up our sets and reps to try something different.” But yeah, absolutely, it is very similar to when you first start in running, or any sport. You're going to make improvements a lot quicker in the beginning.
Elisabeth: One of the other big questions about strength training I get is, after we figure out what to do, when to do it, when to fit strength training into your week as a runner. Do you have any guidance on like when they... when we should or should not place our strength training throughout the week? And I give my general guidance to runners, like, “Don't lift your lower body the day before a speed workout or a long run.” But beyond that, it kind of seems to be, “Well, it really does depend on a lot of other factors.” And people don't really like to hear, “It depends,” in the context of their training so much.
Kate: Yeah, that's a great question. So, one thing that I will often do for my runners when we are in season where we have quality sessions or speed work in our running schedule, that obviously, our biggest goal is our running goal. So, that's what we're focused on. And when that is the case, we want the strength training plan to reflect that. So, oftentimes, I will even recommend doing your lift on the same day as your speed work session. And people will call this like keeping your hard days hard. This just opens up your schedule for more active recovery days, or full rest days. As opposed to if you're someone running 5 days a week and lifting twice a week, if you do them all on opposite days, you're not going to get any rest. So, being strategic about where you're placing it, and like you said, like not doing a heavy leg day the day before a quality session or the day before a long run. But that's something that I will often have my runners do when they are training for a specific race to opts for more opportunity for recovery.
Elisabeth: You talked a bit about being in season. And I think that what a lot of people don't realize is that, just like your training year is periodized and arranged in a certain way to kind of ebb and flow and reflect different goals of the immediate training period you're in, race-specific, offseason, base building, your strength training should also be doing that, right?
Kate: Yeah, yeah. So, there's a lot... it's a lot of like where the art comes in. But absolutely. And I often will encourage my runners to kind of have their strength training ebb and flow with their running schedule. So, if you are having a period where you're not racing, maybe you're in an offseason, bump up that strength training a little bit. Maybe add in an extra couple days during the week, or a little bit more volume to your sets. when we're in racing season, obviously, we're not in the gym all the time and that's not our main goal. But no, you're exactly right. I mean, things should kind of ebb and flow throughout the year, depending on what your goals are, and depending on what you're working on.
Elisabeth: A tricky bit for a lot of runners seems to be in the peaking and tapering weeks of their race-specific training. Like, if you can't get your strength training in during your peak weeks, that's fine.
Kate: You’ll be fine, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely.
Elisabeth: But then we also want to make sure that we are reducing our full total training load in our taper. So, running and strength.
Kate: Yeah. So, there's a couple different ways to do it. And some people who are... and I've seen this with a lot of like collegiate athletes, some people who maybe are a little bit more experienced in their training or are used to a higher level of experience and intensity, sometimes those athletes will keep the strength training piece in on their taper, but they will just get e on less volume and just shorter bouts of more intensity. So, less sets, less reps, you're just doing the compound movements that you're used to. You're not doing anything new. Don't do anything new leading up to your race, please.
The other way of doing it, and this is kind of tends to be how I do it with my runners is, as we're tapering, we just start either shortening the workouts or decreasing the number of workouts we're doing in the week, until we're not doing any in that week leading up to the race. So, it really kind of depends on your level of experience. And training intensity, there's a couple of different ways that you can do it. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with just taking a week off of your strength training. You're not going to lose your gains.
Elisabeth: Yeah, that's another cool thing about strength training. And it’s, again, one of the things people really get concerned about is fitness loss, taking a day off, “Am I going to lose all my fitness?” Your strength gains, the residual gains from your strength training are fairly long lasting. You can do a strength training session, and then like a couple of weeks later, you will still be experiencing or still have benefits from that single session.
Kate: Yes, absolutely. So, I believe that it's they say it takes around 2 weeks to start seeing the effects of detraining. So, yeah, you're absolutely right. And I think that a lot of people get... rack up a lot of guilt on themselves went like, “Oh man, I missed one of my lifts this week,” or, “I missed like a whole week of strength training this week.” And it's, in the grand scheme of things, it's really not the end of the world.
Elisabeth: Understanding that, of course, building a strength program is an art and a science, there are things that we know, movements, exercises are going to be more beneficial for runners. What are the things that runners should focus on, those exercises or movements in their strength training?
Kate: Yeah. So, you definitely want to be focusing on foundational movement patterns. Obviously, so like squat, hinge, like deadlift, hip thrust, lunge, push, press, different things like push-pull, different things like that. But we also want to be incorporating things that make it running specific. So, a lot of that is looking at different single-leg variations, different single-end variations. Focusing on different movement patterns and muscle groups that are important for runners, different things like that. So, I often will include a lot of those single leg variations for runners, because running is a single-leg sport.
Elisabeth: Going back to that running is not strength training thing, I think a lot of runners will be shocked at how weak their single-leg strength actually is.
Kate: Yes, yes, absolutely. And I think that is just kind of a testament to being like, “Well, I'm a runner. I'm strong enough,” right? We often think that. But in reality, when it comes down to it, we might be surprised.
Elisabeth: So, let's talk about muscle soreness for a bit. Anybody who started any new activity, started strength training, they're like, “Wow, I'm really sore.” That is normal, but we also want to make sure that we're not like so sore that we can't do our running. Like, I never want you to be so sore from lifting that you cannot do your run. But also, soreness itself is not the marker of a successful workout. Just because you were sore when you started strength training does not mean that you should continue to be sore every single time you lift, or that chasing that muscle soreness is means that you received an effective workout. That's not the hallmark of a good workout.
Kate: Muscle soreness in itself is normal, something that we normally experience. Something that people end up experiencing that we want to avoid is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, which could like actually represent like damage, or whatever. But soreness is going to happen, especially when you start like a new training block. This is something that I talk to my athletes about when we start a new strength training block. And we're never starting a new strength training block like right before a race, right? Basically, the general gist is do new stuff, get sore. Your body is adjusting to a new training style and adapting to something new that you're doing. That should improve as we work through the training block, as you adjust to the style of training. You shouldn't really be seeing those same levels of soreness after every time you do that workout. It should improve as you go. Going by how sore you are the next day to see if your workout was quote ‘effective’, it doesn't tell you anything at all.
Elisabeth: And it could be a sign that you're doing too much, or that you're not recovering in the right way. I know we tend to try to fit in all the things, like, “I want to do all of the running, and also all of the strength training, and also all of the other things in my life at the same time.” But being mildly sore every now and then is way different from feeling like debilitatingly sore or even in like pain routinely, or really any time after a run or a strength training session.
Kate: Absolutely. And if you're experiencing discomfort that is preventing you from doing your normal weekly activities, your normal runs, or even just like your normal activities of daily living and work, then you're probably overdoing it, right? And that is telling us that we should be changing something in your plan if you're not adapting to it over time. It's one thing to say like, “Okay, I'm sore, like the first couple times I do these workouts, and then I'm adapting to them and I'm doing well.” It's another thing entirely to just be constantly sore, unable to participate in the things that you want to do, preventing you from doing your training plan. That would tell me that we're doing something wrong.
Elisabeth: I was taught about strength training, that it was going to be more effective for runners to use things like free weights, dumbbells, barbells, etc., over weight machines, because it will help with the stability and other things required in our running. So, is that true? Should we be avoiding weight machines?
Kate: That's a great question. I think that oftentimes, weight machines get like demonized, and people always say like, “Oh, free weights are always the better option.” I don't necessarily agree that you know, we should never be using the weight machines, but I often will have my runners do most of their moves using free weights. It just it challenges a little bit more, especially when we're looking at exercises in single leg or single arm, we're recruiting more core, we're stabilizing, as opposed to having a machine that is helping us stabilize to isolate a certain movement pattern. So, I'm not saying that like one is better than the other, I think it's okay to have a mix. But I tend to err on the side of typically using more free weights. And also, that tends to be more accessible to people, because sometimes they end up having them at home to use, versus going into a gym setting.
Elisabeth: Going back to that access issue, like I know that it can be hard to find things that are heavy enough to lift, I have to say some of the best deals I've found are actually at T.J. Maxx. You can get 20-pound kettlebells there for like 20 bucks, which is super cheap.
Kate: Whoa, really?
Elisabeth: Of course, you have to go into the men's section to find them, but yes.
Kate: Wow, that is really, really cheap when it comes to weights. Another option too is purchasing a set of adjustable dumbbells. They are fairly pricey. But if you plan to continue strength training over time at home and don't want to buy every set of weight at every weight there is, then that's also an option too.
Elisabeth: Kind of pivoting a little bit, something I wanted to ask about, social media is great for a lot of things, but I do find that using even as a professional in this space, that the bodybuilding, weightlifting community is a pretty harsh place to be sometimes, because they can be so critical about things like form and always pointing out that you're like squatting wrong. And it's kind of hard to learn that way.
Kate: Yes. I think there's so, so many people will claim that doing exercises with poor form will get you hurt. Okay. And I say there's no such thing as like a bad exercise, just bad like prescription, like maybe doing too much in a position that your body isn't used to doing. That doesn't necessarily mean that it’s wrong. But these different like variations like get demonized so much. Like, if you're... say someone's like max squatting and their knees go out just a little bit, someone might call that dysfunctional, right? Or say that they are going to get hurt. And I kind of err on the side more of, I don't know, if you've heard like the concept of movement optimism, floating around social media. It's kind of the idea that we shouldn't be focusing on everything looking perfect and being pretty perfect form before we're progressing. While I think it's important to have the movement patterns down so that we are doing the exercises efficiently, that is important, but perfect form on every single rep that you do for every single set is not realistic in reality.
Elisabeth: And this is just like running form where you can have good form for your body shape, proportions, bone lengths. Like, we're all shaped differently. Just because it looks different doesn't mean that it's wrong.
Kate: Yes. This is something that I actually recently have been working on in myself. So, I'm someone who has a shorter torso and really long femurs. So, barbell back squatting is very hard for me, just anthropometrically. Because, because of my torso length relative to my femurs, I have to have a lot deeper hip flexion to be able to get into that position, and I just don't have it. That doesn't necessarily mean that there's anything wrong with me, that I'm doing something wrong, that my form is bad. Someone might look at that back squat form and say, “You're leaning forward too far.” But like you said, we're all built differently. So, I think it's important to recognize those different nuances as well.
Elisabeth: If something, I think we're so used to pushing past discomfort that sometimes, we do things that we genuinely shouldn't be doing, that causes pain. Like, don't do exercises that genuinely feel physically uncomfortable to perform. Like, don't do things that your body can't do comfortably.
Kate: Yeah. So, I think that just comes down to like, okay, that's a situation in which we might look at like, “Okay, what does your hand placement look like? Are there any like little tweaks that we can make to make this more efficient or make this more comfortable for you?” There's always like little tweaks that we can kind of go in and do. It's not abnormal to like feel discomfort when you're like heavy lifting, but there's a difference between discomfort and pain. And I think that that's important, an important distinction.
Elisabeth: Going back to that periodization of our strength training, it used to be that we used to be told (this is what I was originally told, but we know this is not true) that you could not get stronger and faster, like you could not become a better runner and become stronger with strength training simultaneously. That's not true. We know that you can do them both together effectively. However, you cannot train to your peak performance in more than one thing. Like, you cannot simultaneously chase your marathon PR and your max squat PR. Like, those 2 things cannot be chased simultaneously. You got to pick one and chase them one after the other.
Kate: Yes, I completely agree. I mean, peeking in training is all about your training specificity, right? So, it depends on what your specific training goals are. You cannot train in a way that will best improve your endurance and also best improve your maximal strength at the same time. Although I have been following Ryan Hall’s quest to run, what, like a sub 5-minute mile and deadlift 5... is a 500 pound deadlift like in the same bout?
Elisabeth: He's just a beast. I mean, to be fair, talk about talent, right? First, he's been lifting for 8 years, but before then, he was an elite marathoner. Like, a 5-minute mile for him is really nothing.
Kate: Also, he's a... that's his job. Like, he spends all of his time doing that. It's just not realistic to say like, “Hey, I'm going to like PR in the marathon and compete in a powerlifting event like in the same month and have my best performances in both,” right? So, if you're looking for maximizing your strength gains, your strength training routine, not necessarily your routine, but your frequency of training, your volume, different things like that, it's going to look different than when you are focused more on your running goals. And I think that's important to remember.
Elisabeth: And nobody's saying you can't do both. We're just saying you can't do both at the same time. Like, you totally should chase strength goals, and you totally should choose running goals. It's probably going to make you a better runner to be a stronger runner. But there is a time and a place for everything. There is a season for everything that you're doing. And you cannot do all of your seasons in one season simultaneously.
Kate: 100%, I totally agree. And that's why I think goal setting is so important. Like, what is important to you? What do you want to achieve in the year, in this training cycle, X, Y, Z? I think it's really important to keep that in mind when we are planning what we're going to do in our training.
Elisabeth: So, some runners love lifting. We don't have to convince them. We may have to talk them out of the gym every so often. For runners who are gritting their teeth and saying, “I know I have to do it. Just tell me the minimum dose I can get away with,” how many times, the minimum, can we get away with lifting per week?
Kate: Absolutely. So, I recommend at least twice a week. I tend to recommend 2 full body sessions if we're only doing 2 times per week. And I will often split that up into a workout more focused on squat and pushing patterns, and a workout more focused on hinging and pulling patterns. You don't have to do it that way, but I tend to do that, because then we know that we're hitting all of our movement patterns throughout the week. So, I would typically recommend 1 to 2 compound exercises for each muscle group, plus 1 to 2 accessories for each muscle group. You can also opt to group some of the accessories into super sets where you take rest after performing the 2 exercises. That is an option as well. But yeah, that is kind of what I would recommend to at least be doing in your week.
Elisabeth: So, that's a little bit more than I recommend. And obviously, you as the specialist in this field, I beg and plead and I say, if you get a lower body and a core, I'm happy. And then when once you get it under a belt, we'll talk about doing more. Because, really, it is anything. Like, we want to do anything is better than nothing. In a perfect world, it’s a minimum of 2 sessions per week, but something's always going to be better than nothing.
Kate: Absolutely, I totally agree. And I think that, for me, I am someone who doesn't just coach for running performance, right? And I'm also just focused on general wellbeing and life, right? So, strength training doesn't only support our running, right? It also just helps support our life. It helps with our bone density. It helps with our joint health. It helps with our mental health, our brain health, all of those different things. So, for me, I'm about doing, not just the bare minimum for running, but doing enough to support those different aspects of your life as well. I heard someone say once that if there's a fountain of youth, it's strength training, and I really like that. That's pretty cool.
Elisabeth: That's a good one. I've had conversations with a number of runners over the year who have come to me expressing a desire for body composition changes. And I've looked at them and said, “If you really want the goals that you're stating, running is not how you get those goals. Lifting is how you get those goals.”
Kate: So true, so true. Absolutely. Running really isn’t... endurance running isn't really an efficient way to lose weight.
Elisabeth: No, especially not... so, the time investment you talked about, you're saying you'd love to see people 2 days a week. But we're not talking about multi-hour sessions here. Like, how long, realistically, might those sessions take?
Kate: About 30 minutes.
Elisabeth: That's so little time. And it includes all that rest.
Kate: Yeah. I mean, you might have to tack on a little bit more time driving to the gym, going home, all of that type of thing. But I think it's more doable than most runners think that it is.
Elisabeth: Well, I think we look at our running load, and we think, “God, I'm running 6, 8, 12 hours a week, and I have to strength train on top of that? How many hours is that going to take me?”
Elisabeth: And like, you buy some weights, you can do it while watching TV.
Kate: Exactly. It doesn't have to be that crazy complicated. It's just about getting done what needs to be done.
Elisabeth: This has been a really helpful conversation, I'm sure, for many runners. Kate, thank you so much for sharing your time with us. And obviously, you do work with runners, but with a bunch of other people. How can we find, follow you? What do you offer that we can take advantage of, not literally take advantage, that we can participate in?
Kate: Absolutely. You can find me on Instagram @the_running_DPT, or my website, therunningdpt.com. I offer both run and strength coaching plans. So, if you're interested in hearing more, you can follow the link in my bio or just go to my website, fill out a contact form, and I will reach out to you shortly after.
Elisabeth: That's amazing. And all that will be linked in the show notes so you can find and follow Kate. Because if you're not following her, you should. She's putting out really useful, valuable content that I think all of us can benefit from. So, thank you so much for being here today.
Kate: Thank you, Elisabeth. It was super fun.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition.