Q+A: Should weight training count as a hard day?

Q I’m training for the Flora London Marathon and as well as following the RW schedules, I’m cross-training with weights. For legs, does lifting count as a heavy day, an easy day, or something completely different? I keep the weight relatively low and the reps high, but I’m worried that doing weights means I’m overtraining.

A I go with ‘something completely different’. Like you, I’ve always felt that the best approach for distance runners was to use light weights and high reps. You’re much less likely to bulk up and add weight from ‘too much’ muscle that way. If you’re interested in running fast times, you don’t want to be carrying muscle that isn’t going to help you run faster.

There’s also the danger that developing the ‘wrong’ lower-body muscles might inhibit your running. Consider, for example, the massive quadriceps of some professional cyclists – some of them seem to hang over their knee-caps: great for cycling, but useless for running.

I use strength training less to run fast or to look good on the beach, and more for maintaining my lean body mass. If you’re interested in good health, as opposed to performance, you definitely need to do some strength training. This is particularly important as you age, and also for women, to help protect against osteoporosis.

I’d be cautious about doing too much lifting in your marathon build- up, though. I’d recommend that you decrease the amount of strength training as the marathon build-up continues, and particularly as you reach the long runs near 20 miles. The mileage build-up in marathon training puts enough stress on your body, so you don’t want to stress it with too much weight training. Do the strength training on one of your off days when you don’t have a hard running session scheduled. After completing the marathon, and have taken several weeks of rest to allow your body to recover, you can get back to more serious weight-lifting.

Hal Higdon, RW USA Senior Writer