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How to Balance Running with Yoga and Cross Training without Losing Endurance and Speed

I received a couple running related questions from readers last week that I thought would make a great blog post. When I started this blog six years ago I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon and mostly focused on running. Over the years my workout mix has evolved to a blend of strength, running and yoga and I love it! In my recent reader survey I was asked if I ever consider changing the name of my blog since it’s not really focused on running anymore but I still consider myself a runner even if I’m not the kind of runner I was years ago.

How to Balance Running with Yoga and Cross Training without Losing Endurance and Speed

I think there can be tendency in fitness to get attached to labels and identities – whether that’s runner, CrossFitter, yogi, triathlete, climber, spinner or any of the million styles of workouts there are. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sense of community that comes from getting engrained in sharing a workout love with others but I also like to spread the love! I have become such a more well-rounded athlete as a result of mixing my workouts between running, yoga and various forms of strength training. Injuries are few and far between (knock on wood!), motivation is through the roof and my body just feels good and strong.

So…let’s talk about one of those running questions…because it’s all about how to balance running with other activities.

Hi Jen! I am fairly new to your blog but I love all your posts and have really enjoyed catching up on posts and following along!

I was hoping you could give me some advice! I am a runner and I have recently noticed a lot of improvements in my running, which I love, but I find myself wanting to really do more yoga. I am afraid to cut down my running too much because I don’t want to lose the speed/endurance I have built up, but I really want to practice yoga more often and it is difficult to find the time to run as much as I am now and practice yoga as often as I would like. Do you have any advice? How many yoga classes per week does it usually take to start seeing strength/flexibility improvements? – Megan 

I’m so excited to address this topic! Here are my thoughts and advice for Megan.

Quality Over Quantity

When I first started running, I thought I had to run all the time. I’d try to run at least 5 days per week. There was nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t sustainable when I started becoming interested in other cross-training activities. If your concern is maintaining the speed and endurance you’ve built up while you add in other things, make sure that you are incorporating quality runs into your weekly mix. Maybe one easy/free run, one speed or tempo workout and one longer run. Try to eliminate junk miles and running just for the sake of running because you feel like you have to.

I credit three things for making me a faster and stronger runner. 1) Speed Work, 2) Strength Training and 3) Mobility. Let’s break them down.

Embrace Speed Work

Let’s first talk about speed work. In my experience, even incorporating one hard speed workout into my weekly routine has had huge payoffs. This is why you’ll frequently see in my weekly workout recaps (which I haven’t posted lately) a lot of hill and sprint interval workouts. They are hard and they push me but they also push my pace and build my running endurance with a minimal time investment. This is one of my favorite treadmill interval workouts.

Strength training for runners

Get Stronger

Many runners get stuck in mindset that the only thing that is going to make them a better runner is running more. I get it because I was this way for a long time. But it’s not true. Making your muscles stronger (and increasing your aerobic capacity through speed work) makes you stronger and faster…and quicker! Will you get faster and stronger the more you run? Yes. But you can get there on an expedited timeline with even more strength gains if you incorporate strength training into your routine. Another benefit of strength training is that by strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints, you reduce your risk of injuries. This is especially important for runners when it comes to hips, knees and ankles.

Strength training doesn’t have to be this huge commitment to lifting multiple days per week. You just fit in as much as you can. Maybe it’s a quick 20-minute dumbbell circuit that you do at home a few times a week (try this workout). Or maybe you only have time for one quality session at the gym each week but you can spend an hour doing it (try this workout or this workout). Whatever you do, don’t get stuck thinking that it’s not worth it if you can only get one strength workout in per week. One is better than none!

Mobility for runners

Become More Mobile

I am so happy to hear that Megan is enjoying yoga. I truly, passionately believe and want to scream from the rooftops that runners need more yoga, stretching and mobility in their routines. And this actually extends beyond runners and to all athletes. I can’t tell you how many high school athletes that we get at the studio with severely limited mobility at a young age. This type of work is important for people of all ages!

Yoga and mobility work can help to correct muscle imbalances, relieve tightness and improve flexibility which in turn results in less injuries. I also think that yoga can help runners so much with breathing and mindfulness during races.

How to Balance Running with Yoga and Cross Training without Losing Endurance and Speed

Give Yourself Freedom

Megan, I would encourage you to give yourself some freedom to explore your yoga practice (and overall workout mix) and play with a ratio that feels good for you. Let go of the running guilt that you should be running and the fear that you’ll lose the gains you’ve made. Remember, quality over quantity!

When it comes to how much to practice in order to see benefits, it depends on the person….and also remember that something is better than nothing. I find that my body feels pretty good when I am able to practice 3-4 times per week but it’s not always realistic with my schedule and other workouts. Sometimes I’m happy just to get in 1-2 practices a week but I will say that there is more “undoing” to be done in those practices because I’m usually recovering from running or strength training and I have to work a little harder to get my body feeling open and good when I’m not practicing as often.

I think that fitness and workouts ebb and flow. Sometimes you get in a strong groove of loving one thing and then it may shift over to something else. I think the key is learning to listen to your body and to keep “following the feel good” as one of my favorite yoga teachers says! Our bodies are these incredible things that do incredible things for us. It’s our duty to honor them and treat them well. I think there is a reason why yoga is calling to you right now and you should listen and see what’s there for you.

I can honestly say that I’m a stronger, faster and far less injured runner now that I run less and focus on those other three areas than I was when I was running all the time. Remember, balance is different for everyone and what works for one, may not work for another. You have to allow yourself freedom for exploration!

Fellow runners, how have you found a balance between running and other cross training activities without feeling like you’re losing speed or endurance? 

What’s cross training activity has had the biggest payoff for your running? 

If you incorporate yoga, how often do you practice to feel that you are seeing benefits? 

Side note: I’m always open to addressing questions like this so feel free to send them my way! 

{ 43 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Heather May 17, 2016, 6:44 pm

    I wish you would have posted this one years ago! It took a hip fracture and slightly over a year (getting over it in my own mind) that I needed to incorporate all those things you talk about, to become injury free and yes stronger and faster when I did want to run. By changing my routine, I have put on weight in the form of muscle and am truly happy that I can go out and run when I want to. Sprinting has made me efficient. Those quick bursts or just short bouts of hill work has impressed me the most. I don’t need to log miles every day to become better. Deadlifts and squats give me the power I am looking for to run with quality. Yoga in the morning not only is a great start to my day, but helps relax and lengthen the muscles in my legs and hips. Then after work depending on the day is either that heavy strength training or a run with ab work. Thanks again Jen for posting this!

    • 2
      Jen DeCurtins May 17, 2016, 7:34 pm

      Hey Heather – I really appreciate you sharing your story and how you balance it all out now. I think it will be super helpful for other readers!

  • 3
    Emily My Healthyish Life May 17, 2016, 7:08 pm

    Jen, I love this post! You have become my fitness-inspiration because you incorporate a little of everything into your weekly training. I find that I’m much happier (and “better,” fitness-wise) when I vary my workouts. Although I will be training for MCM this summer (need to go back and read your posts!) I am very conscious of incorporating yoga, rest and strength, especially after having a stress-fracture last year. I’d rather run fewer weekly miles than sacrifice strength and mobility.

    • 4
      Jen DeCurtins May 17, 2016, 7:34 pm

      Emily – thanks so much for your kind words! I’m an ambassador for the Charlotte Marathon this year so I’ll be training for a fall half right alongside you! We can all work on our balance together! 🙂 You’ll LOVE MCM! Such an awesome race!

  • 5
    Erin May 17, 2016, 7:23 pm

    Thank you for this post! This is a question I have had many times and tried to figure out for years. Promise you’ll do more Q&A post like this!

    • 6
      Jen DeCurtins May 17, 2016, 7:33 pm

      Yes, if y’all ask the questions! 🙂 Glad it was helpful!

  • 7
    Megan May 17, 2016, 8:04 pm

    Jen, thank you so so much for answering my question!! This was such an awesome and thorough post, and so helpful!! It’s great to know that I’m not alone and that there are ways to enjoy everything instead of just run, run, run!
    I agree with Emily – you are definitely my favorite fitness inspiration! I love that you do a little of everything you enjoy instead labeling yourself as one thing! I am definitely going to work on finding this balance as well and look forward look forward to practicing yoga more often!
    Thank you again! <3

    • 8
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:02 pm

      You are so welcome Megan! I’m happy I could help and I really appreciate your kind words! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • 9
    Katie H May 17, 2016, 8:29 pm

    I was definitely my fastest when I was also doing spin class twice per week. I have had to cut back on both due to complications from a foot surgery. Now I focus on yoga (love love love) and light strength training. I do a couple runs each week because I miss it, but I have zero expectations on my speed or endurance. It’s definitely a change in mindset letting go of trying to beat my old PRs!!
    Love all your posts Jen! Thank you for giving me something to look forward to in my inbox! 😊

    • 10
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:04 pm

      I’m so happy to read that you’re loving yoga and strength. And it sounds like you’re in such a great place with the running. It is a change in mindset but a pretty freeing one! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words! I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  • 11
    Danietta May 17, 2016, 8:41 pm

    Jen,
    I have a very inflexible 13 year old daughter. She is an athlete and always moving, but can’t touch her toes (not even close.). Has Y2 thought about a program or classes for teenagers.

    • 12
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:05 pm

      We have but it’s so tough for us to find a time that works for them given the various school and extra-curricular schedules. I would suggest having her try our “straight shot” classes upstairs. They are smaller and not as hot as the classes downstairs and also a little slower. We do get a lot of teens in our normal classes. Our 8:30 p.m. twilight flows are packed with high schoolers!

  • 13
    Mandy May 17, 2016, 8:45 pm

    I literally have NO IDEA how to do a treadmill interval workout. Do you watch the time and kick your speed up and down? How do you speed up and slow down without falling off? When you say rest, do you jump your feet off to the side and literally rest? Maybe I’m over thinking this, but I would love to see how someone puts an interval workout on the treadmill into practice.

    • 14
      Erica May 18, 2016, 2:43 pm

      I think the treadmill is the best place to do an interval workout! I do it for both time and distance. So run 1 minute at a sprint( whatever that is for you 8.5-11) and then use the buttons to slow it down to a jog or walk( again, whatever that is for you, 4.0-6.0). You can mix up the time you go faster and add an incline in too. If I am going really fast I have had to jump off but usually, I can use the button to slow down while holding on.

      • 15
        Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:13 pm

        Hey Erica – thanks for chiming in! Super helpful! 🙂

    • 16
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:10 pm

      Hey Mandy – let me help you! It’s so easy to do treadmill interval workouts. I use the timer on the treadmill as my guide and I hop to the sides of the treadmill (VERY CAREFULLY!) for the rest intervals and adjust the speed/incline as needed.

  • 17
    Emily May 17, 2016, 9:06 pm

    Love this! Thank you! Would you consider posting an update on your strength training and work with your trainer? 🙂

    • 18
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:13 pm

      Yes, I’ve had a few requests!

  • 19
    Ken C May 18, 2016, 9:22 am

    Jen – Good post and good advice. We do need to remember to do what we love and look for balance.

    • 20
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:14 pm

      Thanks Ken!

  • 21
    Mariel May 18, 2016, 9:40 am

    I couldn’t agree more with this post, so I wanted to let you know how I appreciate you writing it. I think balancing work outs and listening to what your body needs is so critical to staying healthy and injury-free. I do a mix of running, strength training, plyo, and yoga and find that has been really great for me. Thanks again for posting this!

    • 22
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:15 pm

      Thanks Mariel and you’re welcome! I am happy to hear that you mix it up and enjoy it!

  • 23
    Jessica May 18, 2016, 9:50 am

    Great post!!!!!

    • 24
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:15 pm

      Thanks Jessica!

  • 25
    Rebecca May 18, 2016, 10:19 am

    This is so interesting to me because I’ve been working on this myself!

    I’ve been a runner and yogi for many years. I think a yoga class once a week (maybe twice on a good week) really benefits me as a runner, lots of great stretching that I wouldn’t get in otherwise, plus doing hot classes is beneficial to my endurance.

    Back in January, I had just finished my fourth marathon and had a spring season full of shorter races coming up. A friend of mine introduced me to Camp Gladiator and I loved it! Not sure if you are familiar, but it’s kind of boot-camp style workout, lots of HIIT and strength. I honestly thought the workouts would be easy for me (I am a marathoner after all!) but they kicked my booty every time! I started doing CG two or three times a week and was only running about 20 miles per week, which is way less than my normal weekly mileage. (Plus keeping up with my yoga classes.)

    At the end of March, I ran a half marathon. Before the race, my husband asked me how I thought I would do and I told them I wasn’t sure since my mileage had been so much lower than it normally would be before a half. Imagine my surprise when I crossed the finish line with a 4 minute PR! I was really amazed. I definitely think more cross-training has made me a stronger runner.

    I’m about to start marathon training again and will definitely make room in my schedule for cross-training, even if my mileage is a little lower than usual.

    • 26
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:17 pm

      I’ve never heard of Camp Gladiator! Thanks for introducing me to it! And isn’t it crazy how you can be so fit in one area but so challenged by something different?
      And haha, if I hit 20 miles a week these days I feel like I’m really doing a lot of running. 😉 All relative, right!?

      And how incredible about your PR. That’s really so awesome. I would definitely encourage you to try a similar approach for your next marathon training cycle! Keep me posted. 🙂

  • 27
    JennyV May 18, 2016, 12:03 pm

    “Maybe one easy/free run, one speed or tempo workout and one longer run. Try to eliminate junk miles and running just for the sake of running because you feel like you have to.”

    YES!! When training for my first (and only) marathon I ran a 3:45:52 by running only three days a week – yes, even for a marathon. I followed the “FIRST – Run Less, Run Faster” program as I simply didn’t have time to log in all the miles. I worked hard on the days I ran — speed day, tempo day, long run. I worked to hit my paces with each workout and didn’t log any ‘junk’ miles. My other workouts I supplemented my plan with were strength training and interval training (burpees, body weight squats, jumping lunges, etc.) It might not be for everyone but it certainly worked for me and my goals at that time.

    Great post, as always!

    • 28
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:20 pm

      Hey Jenny – thank you so much for sharing your experience with training three days a week. And a sub-4 finish…so inspiring! I’ve done a few three day a week training programs and really love that each day has a purpose. It keeps me motivated and focused…while keeping me healthy. 4 days a week is the most I’ll ever run in a training plan.

      Do you think you’ll ever run another?

      • 29
        JennyV May 24, 2016, 10:51 pm

        I highly doubt I have another marathon in me. I was aiming for a BQ (with my first marathon… I was naive 😉) and had been training with some amazing people while living in Florida for a year. One of the guys was pushing to do a marathon in every state and convinced me to help him check off Iowa. Long story, but the timing was just right for it — so October 2011 I became a marathoner! I have so many fitness interest now and responsibilities with our office that I don’t know if I want to commit 2 hours to long runs. I won’t say never… Just not now 😉

        • 30
          Jen DeCurtins May 26, 2016, 3:36 pm

          Haha, I couldn’t agree more with having too many fitness interests to dedicate all your time to marathon training! It’s super time consuming. I’m always in awe of people who train for Ironmans because they have to live and breathe it.

  • 31
    Lauren Cosentino May 18, 2016, 1:11 pm

    Such a great post, Jen! I just started going to a gym here in Raleigh called ‘Heat’. Under new owners they have started to incorporate more mobility, yoga and strength training and I can definitely see a difference in my running already! If you ever make it up to Raleigh, I’m sure the owners would love to see you stop by the studio!

    • 32
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:21 pm

      Thanks Lauren! So glad you’ve found a gym that values this type of training and that you’re seeing a benefit from it. I need to get up to Raleigh to teach some yoga soon! 🙂

  • 33
    Tara May 18, 2016, 1:24 pm

    This is an awesome post ! thank you so much for being so thorough ! i struggle with this. i like to vary it up for my body and my mind. i do ebb and flow but know a mix of run, yoga, strength is good for me now and long term. and i get bored easy. plus time is always a problem. always. but here is my issue….soreness ! a great example is this week. i had a long run on sunday (long for me right now is 10K). then did yoga on monday which felt awesome though i was a bit sore/tight from the run (back and hips always). Then tuesday AM i did strength training with a warm up on the eliptical. i did squats, lunges, chest, back 3 sets each nothing super heavy but not tiny girly weights either. by tuesday night i was pretty sore. originally i was going to do a run wednesday AM but i am sooooo sore that i didnt. i went for a quick walk at lunch to try to loosen up but its so hard. this is just one example of how i have found it hard to mix running and strength. i just seem to have a lot of soreness to the point that either can seem a pretty big chore. i should note i have a desk job so that doesnt help and i do take rest days but i prefer to at least do something each day. any thoughts on this ? have you experienced ?

    i also agree with the commenter on spinning…oddly it helped me i think because it helped strengthen small muscles in my glutes/hips. after a winter of some tough spin classes (only 1 or 2 a week) i noticed my legs seem to “snap” back better on my first few spring runs. it was crazy !

    • 34
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:29 pm

      Hey Tara – regarding soreness…running makes me feel tight but usually not sore. So I definitely feel like I have to “undo” my running with my yoga practice and it is frustrating sometimes that you feel so tight in the hips and hamstrings. I can relate to the strength training making you sore but I’ve kind of backed off on going super heavy with my weights so that I’m not so sore I don’t want to do anything the next day. My trainer kicks my ass but I’m never so sore the next day that I can’t run or do yoga. It’s an awesome balance that I’m now incorporating into my own routine.

  • 35
    Miche May 18, 2016, 6:13 pm

    Hi Jen! I really enjoyed this post, as I am always striving to find a balance between strength training, cardio workouts, and stretching/recovery work.

    One thing I would love to hear more about is whether you follow any particular regimen in the weight room, such as alternating rep/set schemes or assigning certain days to specific muscle groups. What are your thoughts on these types of regimens? Are there any resources you might recommend?

    Thanks!

    • 36
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:47 pm

      Hey Michelle!

      Thanks so much for the comment. I do not have time to workout different muscle groups on different days. I go for a total body lift 3-4x a week (usually 3 because of schedule) and within that I might alternate between a focus on legs/pulling/pressing/upper body/etc depending on what I’m wanting to work. So even though I’m doing total body one of those sessions might have a ton of pulling in it and another a lot of pressing.

      I always love super sets and frequently break my workout into 4-5 chunks of 2-4 exercises each that I usually do 3 sets of 10-20 reps of and this is how I workout with my trainer as well.

      What has seemed to work best for me over time is moderate weight at a slightly higher volume versus short heavy sets. I also add in plyometrics, compound exercises, resistance bands, tons of bodyweight exercises, etc. I really focus on my movement and engaging the muscles that I’m working with the exercise I’m doing to get maximum benefit out of it.

      This is just how I like to structure my strength work! Remember everyone is different in what works for them. Try out different things!

  • 37
    Sarah May 18, 2016, 10:44 pm

    I agree 120% with this post! I run more than I do any other sort of workout, but if I don’t take the time to stretch and work on my mobility, I can’t run efficiently. And I’ve been incorporating more strength training the last few months and I can’t even begin to share how much of an impact it’s had on everything! Without hip opening exercises and cross training, I don’t think I would be able to run 25-30 miles/week.

    • 38
      Jen DeCurtins May 19, 2016, 12:51 pm

      Thanks Sarah! I’m really excited to hear that you’ve had noticeable results with strength training! 🙂

  • 39
    Jenny C May 20, 2016, 4:11 pm

    I feel like this was me asking this question! I’ve struggled with finding the running/yoga/strength balance so much as I start new half/full marathon training plans because so many are focused on just lots of mileage. I just started training for a half and hope to do the Novant Marathon this fall and have missed my yoga day/s, but didn’t know how to work them back in. This was perfect and what I need to regain my balance. Thanks Jen (and other commenters!) for the feedback! Your blog always seems to hit the right spots 🙂

    • 40
      Jen DeCurtins May 22, 2016, 1:19 pm

      Hey Jenny! I’m so glad that this post helped you out. Do make time for your yoga in your training program. It’s worth the time investment in helping you stay healthy!

  • 41
    Glennda June 24, 2016, 2:26 pm

    I’m so glad I came across this post. I’m just starting to train for my first 1/2 marathon (yikes!) and am trying to figure out how to balance boot camp classes, yoga (I’m a beginner) and running during my training. I’m glad to know that I’m on the right track but still need to do some work to figure out how to make it all work. Thank you!

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