Aerobic Training — What About Strength Workouts? (Part 3)

In the two previous parts of Principles of Aerobic Training, Dr. Steve Gangemi, aka Sock Doc, reviewed the critical components of building a healthy aerobic base that can lead to enhanced performance for all runners. In this part, Sock Doc turns his attention to strength training.– NRC

We all can agree (hopefully) that strength is important. There is some disagreement as to when one should add in, or begin strength training. Some say to develop the aerobic system first and shun weights initially one hundred percent as it will impair proper aerobic development. Others say the opposite – start with weights because you’ll burn more calories and see results quicker than when training your aerobic system alone.

I feel it’s very individualized but I don’t see strength training to be harmful as anaerobic endurance workouts can be when there is an insufficient aerobic base. For example, if I saw a patient who was doing absolutely zero daily exercise I would first encourage him to start walking. That’s going to be aerobic. Moving – it’s fairly important. I also want to know what he’d like to do so he’d hopefully stick with an exercise routine. So although I’d love it if he were walking and doing some dynamic, natural movements every day and eventually also some strength work too; but that may not happen for some time for some folks.

If the person is already under a tremendous amount of stress and eating poorly he’s living an anaerobic lifestyle already, so no way do I want him training too hard either via anaerobic endurance or heavy strength training. Deep squats, balance work, and maybe some carrying of weighted objects would be a good way to get this individual integrated into more strength training. Now if the person just doesn’t know where to start and they are eating well and under very little stress then I’m all for some weight training to start.

So the point here – take a look at the whole picture and don’t just do what everybody else is doing; do what works for you, do what you like to do, and make sure your body is able to handle the workout. Unfortunately, if you’re often involved in group-training sessions, this may be difficult to do as you will be pressured to train with the group versus doing what is ideal for you. Therefore, the group setting is often not best at least for the majority of your training program, especially if you start in a class that is above your current fitness level.

People often go from one extreme to another. It’s somewhat like diets, going from the high carb, low fat diet to a low carb, high fat diet. Endurance athletes fear strength work and too much anaerobic, while sprinters, lifters, and power athletes fear workouts that are overly aerobic. The marathoner wants to steer clear of the weight room. The bodybuilder avoids the treadmill, track, or trail.

But strength training is very important for every athlete, even for marathoners and ultrarunners who might think twice of carrying around too many muscles. That doesn’t mean the runner needs to be squatting massive weight just as a shot putter shouldn’t be running several miles every day. How much weight and how many miles respectively? That depends on the individual – what he’s trying to accomplish and what their goals are. Clearly a long distance runner doesn’t want the over-development of Type II muscle fibers or use a lot of energy trying to develop such; and a strength athlete doesn’t want to expend too much energy into his aerobic system. But for the runner, power developed by carrying a heavy load up a hill can be very beneficial at various times in one’straining just as a strength athlete can achieve some benefits by running for a prolonged period of time – even 30 minutes – to develop one’s  aerobic capacity. That brings us to the next point.

Train Your Weaknesses

Yup, that's me...Sock Doc doing strength training. Outdoor workouts are much more fun and creative than doing reps in the gym.

“Train your weakness” is stressed as a MovNat principle, one of the many I learned last summer while attending a MovNat camp with a dozen other participants. (see my MovNat Guest post.) Training your weakness is important in becoming a well-rounded athlete. This can mean training your body more on the weaker side (the less dominant side) so you become more balanced, but it also means you should train what you’re not very good at so you can become a more fit and healthy individual. So if you’re more into lifting weights, work on some easy long runs to develop your aerobic system. You’re not going to lose your strength and develop skinny legs! I’m talking some 30 minute runs, maybe even up to 60 minutes every so often. Keep it slow; walk if you need to. Carry a kettle bell or a log if it makes you feel better (or cooler), or benefits your training. If you’re more of an endurance athlete as I am, work on strength – carry heavy objects, lift, throw, and jump – things that help develop power. Find the fine balance between what your goals are, what you like to do.

Aerobic conditioning may not benefit the strength-only athlete as much as the endurance athlete can benefit from strength, but they can both can help (or hinder) to various degrees. The strength-only athlete will lack many of the health benefits of true aerobic training, such as reduced stress hormone levels, increased immunity, and resistance to fatigue. Those incorporating aerobic activity are thought to live longer too.On the other hand, the endurance athlete shunning anaerobic will lack power and speed and have impaired glucose metabolism.

I’m not going to lift heavy everyday even if I was able to keep my running up. That would impair my ability to run a one to three hour race as fast and as efficiently as I possibly can. But I do want to develop power and anaerobic endurance, so I incorporate strength training at different times in my training cycles during the year. Strength training is fine but the more you do, the less time and energy will go into your endurance training (which will hopefully be primarily aerobic) and the greater chance you’ll develop an aerobic/anaerobic imbalance. These aerobic/anaerobic imbalances lead to muscle imbalances resulting in pain, injury, illness, and lackluster performance. Lackluster is an old word; thought I’d bring it back.

Likewise, if you want to lift a whole lot of weight, integrate some aerobic activity into your workouts but not so much that it impairs your strength. The more developed your aerobic system the longer you’ll be able to sustain certain workouts and the faster you’ll recover. Even in a very anaerobic sport, such as ice hockey, soccer, boxing, or MMA fighting, the athlete who is going to still be strong physically and sharp mentally til’ the end is the one with superior aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

6 Responses to “Aerobic Training — What About Strength Workouts? (Part 3)”

  1. Chuck W says:

    Great articles! I am just starting out with the heart rate monitor training, using the 180-age formula. Where do plyometrics (box jumps) fit in? Can plyometrics be done during the aerobic base-building phase, or are they more like HIIT, and should wait until the aerobic base is established?

    And if I could harp on a particular exercise, where do burpees fit into this scheme? Burpees usually feel like HIIT to me, so I’m guessing those should wait. Thanks for your advice and insight!

  2. Sock Doc says:

    Thanks Chuck! Plyometrics are anaerobic for the most part but depending on the intensity they can be more strength anaerobic (and therefore possibly okay during the aerobic base period) or they can be very lactic acid producing anaerobic – like a HIIT – in which case they should be held off. Same with burpees and similar Crossfit-type activities.

  3. Diana says:

    I always have wondered how much and how often strength training during marathon training season. I do at least twice a week when off (marathon) season. During marathon training, as soon as the mileage starts cranking up, I completely stop strength training. I am not sure this is the best thing to do since it means a good 3-4 months of only running and no strength training. Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated!

    • MarkC says:


      as we get older strength training becomes more important. i do functional strength like sock doc. for the running power add drills and plyos in a safe progressive way. push ups, glute work (see glute training piece on NRC by Sarah and Jenn), and yard work are good!


  4. Hugh Scorgie says:

    I think I heard Dr Mark talk about ‘alactic workouts’, specifically hill repeats short enough to keep the heart rate within the aerobic range. My question is if I do an hour’s workout of form drills which I do as a series of repeats that raise my heart rate to my max aerobic heart rate (according to the 180- formula) interspersed with jogging to bring my heart rate back down, but continuous, would this still fit the bill of aerobic training? Could I call it an hours aerobic training?

    • MarkC says:


      thanks for the note. the short sprints and hills are supplements to the year round aerobic training. they work the coordination and strength without too much taxing on the body. keep them short and relaxed.


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