Perhaps the most significant discovery in the field of exercise over the last 20 years is this: To receive health protective benefits, we don’t need very much of it. Two, brief strength training workouts per week maximize our benefit (a brand new massive literature review found that strength training was incredibly beneficial for warding off all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease-related death, and cancer death; but interesting, there were no additional health-protective benefits of strength training more than 60 total minutes in a week). The same is true with our cardio-respiratory exercise. We maximize the health protective benefits by working at a higher level of intensity (higher heart rate) for a shorter period of time).
This is good news as the greatest barrier to exercise in most of the developed world is a perceived lack of time.
However, what if we want to do more? After all, we make the commitment to improving our strength, muscle endurance, cardio-respiratory capacity, and performance potential, so what if we want to enjoy our improved physiology by competing in sports, being active, and engaging in a variety of other fitness activities?
5 Tips for integrating strength training with the rest of your active lifestyle:
1. If you are going to do intense cardio on the same day as your strength training (running, biking, rowing, or swimming for example), aim to do the intense cardio before your strength training. Run hard or hit your Peloton early in the AM and then strength train later that morning.
2. Based on your nutrition preferences and GI tolerance, you may want to consider consuming a small snack or meal including some protein and carbohydrates between these workouts (especially if they’re in close proximity). As a general rule of thumb, back-to-back workouts/bouts of activity require fueling.
3. Suppose you are doing lower intensity, longer duration physical activity (a long, slow run; a scenic hike; or a few hours on your road bike). You can probably strength train before or after that activity. Note: Doing prolonged cardio does not inhibit the strength and muscle-building benefits of your strength training (this is great news).
4. Avoid physical activity or exercise that involves tension or load on your muscles for one to two days before and after your strength training workouts. For example, if you are going to a climbing gym, consider planning your strength training workout so you have a day or two of rest before this climbing session as the climbing session will place significant tension on your skeletal muscle. This is true for a yoga sculpt or Pilates class as well – try to add a few days of recovery.
5. As you commence the workout, class, or activity, you should always be able to answer “What’s my objective?” Examples include: Why am I strength training? Muscle strength, endurance, cardio-respiratory adaptations, bone health, cognitive function, and injury prevention. Why am I taking this yoga class? Mindfulness and relaxation. Why am I going on this hike? To enjoy the beautiful scenery, spend time with a loved one, and enjoy the mental health benefits of being outdoors. Why am I running 20 miles around the lakes? Running 20 miles will improve my running economy as I prepare for my upcoming marathon. One caveat: Your answer should ideally be connected to scientific research. Stated otherwise, we should try to have the correct answer to these questions. Because the answers are not intuitive, this is why we defer to the preponderance of scientific research.
Take Home Message: Let your strength training workouts build a foundation of strength, endurance, and resilience that allow you to enjoy the sports, activities, events, and adventures that make life magical.
Bonus: How I apply this to my marathon training-
I’m in week nine of an 18-week build-up to the Boston Marathon. I run marathons NOT because they are good exercise (they really aren’t exercise at all; they are a sport), but because I enjoy having a challenging event on the calendar many months from now and preparing for that event. For 18 weeks, my training will look like this:
Monday – Strength Train.
Tuesday – Interval run (400-meter, 800-meter, or mile repeats for example to improve speed and VO2 max – about 5-8 miles total).
Wednesday – Easy 7-mile run (for aerobic development).
Thursday – “Tempo” run (between 3 and 10 miles at an uncomfortably hard pace to improve lactate threshold – about 5-10 miles total).
Friday – Strength Train.
Saturday – Long run between 15 and 23 miles (often including specific marathon pace work and because I’m training for Boston, a hilly course, I try to include hilly routes for these long runs).
Sunday – Stairmaster Stepmill – 30 minutes with intervals (more aerobic adaptation while minimizing injury risk of too much pounding/running).
Note: I’ll do my last total body strength training workout 13-14 days prior to the marathon so my legs are “tapered.”