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.
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.
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!
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.
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!