When And How Long Should We Strength Train For?

gym weights

New clients often come to us with similar questions and one of the most common is how to fit strength training into a programme based around running.

When is the best time to train?

The conversation usually goes “I like to run first thing in the morning but is strength work different?” or words to that effect. My answer is always; “when can you strength train?”

Think about it this way. If I said 11pm was the optimal time to do your strength session, would you? It has to fit your lifestyle first and foremost. Training done is more effective than training not done.

Is there an optimal time of day to do your resistance training?

Maybe. Research suggests that you’ll adapt to almost anything if you do it long enough. Although you’re most likely strongest after around 10am (assuming you woke up at circa 7am etc) and you’ve had some food and maybe even a hit of caffeine, you can become used to training at 6am and get just as strong by doing so if all else remains the same (i.e. you sleep and eat well). Realistic and consistent trumps optimal in this case!

How long does a strength session need to be to be effective?

Most people view training sessions as a block of time that works well in someones diary. Most training sessions therefore fit neatly into 30/45/60 minute blocks. How long does it take you to run 5km? Is it any less effective if it takes 24 minutes rather than a nice round 30 minutes?

Rather than looking at how long you should train for, think instead about what training you most need to be doing. If you’re training to get stronger in the trunk and hips you may find 3-4 exercises give you everything required. 3-4 exercises where you perform 2-4 sets of each may take 30 minutes, or it may take 45, even 60. If you’re working intentionally, warming up thoroughly and not being lazy with your rest periods, the duration is semi irrelevant.

What happens if you have to run 20km? Do you stop if you’re not done in 90 minutes? Of course not. You focus on doing the required work rather than simply following a clock.

You could have a 15 minute rehab plan that done daily is really effective. Equally you may have a strength session that you perform twice a week for 75 minutes and it works. Judge the efficacy of a programme by it’s results, not it’s duration.

The only problem with the above philosophy is that there is always more you could do. Is more training better? Is 70 minutes more effective than 55? Sometimes, but not always. If a session goes on so long that you’re too tired to do quality work, it stops being as effective. To help you figure these things out, have a look at our introduction to strength and conditioning for running, The Prepare To Run Plan. You can receive this free programme by clicking here and entering your details. You’ll see how the programme is structured – by following principles of quality over quantity!

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