Running Takes My Gainz
There has been a long-standing fear that steady state aerobic work will take away from your strength gains. And while this might decrease your single one rep max effort in the short term, it contributes much more than you can ever believe to your ability to do work or increase training volume. So in the long term, it actually gets you much, much stronger.
As a rule, our athletes don’t test their strength on the platform. They test it in the real world. They aren’t one trick ponies. If they need to use their fitness, it can’t be a one and done. They need reserves. They need to be able to go again and again, no matter how bad it hurts. I’ve often said that I’ve never been too impressed by what an athlete can do when they are well rested and fresh. I want to know what they can do in the suck. When there’s no glory or achievement. No ribbons or shiny stars. When it’s real.
If you were to break our athletes up into two groups – runners and non-runners – and put them through a session you would see a few really interesting things. First, you’d see that our non-runners for the most part are faster. They train fast, they are explosive in their lifts, and they are in a hurry. Even during endurance efforts they are the first ones out of the gate. They are fast.
Our runners are slow. They take a while to get going. They train steady, they have to be coached to be explosive in their lifts, and they are never in a hurry. During endurance efforts, they are usually in the middle, but they are steady.
As a coach, we can’t get the fast ones to slow down and we can’t get steady ones to speed up. This is because these are the energy systems they each have trained. And during a stamina or work capacity effort these results aren’t surprising.
So how do these runners, or “endurance athletes,” do during strength sessions? Exactly the same.
Runners and non-runners loaded at the same percentages of their 1 RM’s and working for max reps have totally different outcomes. In our programming cycle, a typical non-runner trying to get max reps while being loaded at the correct percentage of their 1RM would get around 10-14 reps. The runners working at the same percentage of their 1RM were getting closer to 20+ reps! At first we thought it was because they were working at lighter loads – most of our endurance athletes aren’t powerlifter strong. But as their loading went up they were still able to perform high rep max efforts. We came to find out that their superior aerobic systems actually allowed them to lift more weight. They could, in fact, push a higher volume of work at the same percentage as their non-running training partners.
“It’s important to keep in mind that even things we consider purely anaerobic still have an aerobic contribution, and it’s often larger than we think. For instance, this study showed that even for a 200m sprint (~20 seconds of all-out effort), about 30% of the energy produced was produced aerobically. For the 400m, 800m, and 1500m runs (considered heavily anaerobic events – especially the 400m and 800m), the aerobic energy system was already contributing more than half the energy produced by 15-30 seconds into the run. Even for relatively short efforts (like a heavy set of 5) the aerobic system is producing almost a third of the energy needed, and for higher rep sets, it’s producing more than half the energy.
The implication: The more powerful your aerobic energy system, the more reps you’ll be able to do with a given weight or percentage of your max, because every bit of energy you can produce aerobically is that much less that you have to produce anaerobically, which pushes off those factors that cause acute muscular fatigue. Also, if you do the same number of reps with a given amount of weight, less of the energetic contribution will come from your anaerobic energy systems, so the set will be less fatiguing. So you’re either looking at more work and the same fatigue or the same amount of work with less fatigue; either way, you win.” – G Nuckols
Essentially what this means is that the higher an athlete’s aerobic base the more work they can do. This is important for two reasons: 1) they are able to do more work and have the same level of fatigue as an athlete that has done less work, and 2) they are able to do the same work as another athlete and have less fatigue.
So with more aerobic capacity, you can train a higher level of strength volume and get even stronger. Or you can train at the same level of volume and recover faster. Meaning that when you are working through a high volume training session, you are able to maintain a much more high quality output at the end of training session.
To put it even more simply:
Better Aerobic Capacity = more lifting volume = more total weight = more strength.
- Form Maintains When Fatigued = better training effect = less chance of injury/ more carryover into other lifts
- Better Recovery = increased adaptation to training load = getting stronger, faster
THIS DOES NOT MEAN GO TO THE TRACK AND START RUNNING INTERVALS IMMEDIATELY!
Yes intervals will train your aerobic system, but they are also incredibly taxing and hard to recover from. You are more likely to get weaker by starting with intervals than get stronger.
What it does mean is start slow. Training aerobically is just that, slow and steady. You don’t have to start running 90 minutes a day. Start with 30-45 minute session twice a week in addition to your other training. Increase volume 10% a week until you hit 60 minutes per session, then you can start backing off the volume and adding speed work.
Also, you don’t have to run. You can do step ups, swim, airdyne, row, drag a tire or do anything that will get your heart rate up for an extended period of time. Be consistent, increase volume, don’t go crazy. If you are able to do these three things you will start seeing improvement in your volume of strength training within a 4-6 weeks.
Want to see how we’d do it? Try The Foundation. This is an 8 week program designed to build any athlete’s aerobic base and get them ready for action.