My Running & Strength Program


I’ve got a trail race coming up this weekend in Steamboat Springs. It’s the Ski Haus Continental Divide Trail Race. It’s 15 miles with 4800 ft. of elevation. This is the longest race I’ve ever run and it’s by far the longest race I’ve run in over two years–and I’m hugely excited about the prospect. It’s going to be reasonably brutal but beautiful and fun.

I feel like I’m fairly well prepared. I’ve used a modified version of the FIRST half-marathon program. It’s a three-day per week program that uses speed work on the track, tempo or moderately fast runs, and long slow runs. I’ve also been strength training twice per week. The main feature of my workouts have been various types of jumping. A notable Finnish study has shown that explosive jumping-type movements improve running economy in a way that simply running will not.  (I’ve written previously about strength work for runners, here and here.)

(Jumping work like this is sometimes called plyometrics. The definition may vary depending who’s doing the defining. Some insist that plyos must be a rather high magnitude type of activity such as depth jumps off of a high box. Simply jumping or bounding from the ground doesn’t necessarily count as true plyometrics. In any event, the stuff I’m doing for this workout plan involves jumping. You can decide whether or not to call this jumping a plyometric workout.)

I based my plan loosely on this one from the Running Times. I added work each week for three weeks. Plans of this type vary in nature. The Finnish study involved a 9-week plan. The Running Times plan was a 6-week plan.

Plyo workouts are very intense and there’s a lot of loading on the muscles and connective tissue. For this reason it’s very easy to quickly overload things and become overtrained or injured. Further, my run plan involves both track workouts and hill workouts. Those type of workouts are in some ways similar to plyometric workouts and they can be quite taxing. For these reasons and because I know that more work doesn’t always equal better work, I opted for a 5-week plan. I didn’t want to grind myself up too much. Going forward, I may try a longer plyo plan.

Jumping exercises:

  • Week 1:
    • 2 leg jumps up from the ground 2 x 10 reps for both workouts.
    • I simply focused on jumping as high as I could into the air and then landed as softly as possible with as little noise as possible.
    • The soft-as-possible landing approach was used on all jumping exercises.
  • Week 2:
    • 2-leg box jumps x 6 reps
    • Workout 1 is 3 sets
    • Workout 2 is 2 sets
    • First week was onto and off of a 1-ft. high box.
    • Following weeks were onto and off of a 2-ft. high box.
  • Week 3:
    • 2-leg box jumps x 6 reps
    • 1-leg hops onto and off of a small box x 10 reps each leg
    • Workout 1 is 3 sets
    • Workout 2 is 2 sets
  • Week 4:
    • 2-leg box jumps x 6 reps
    • 1-leg hops across a basketball court
    • 2-leg long jump across a basketball court
    • Workout 1 is 4 sets
    • Workout 2 is 2 sets
  • Week 5: Taper week–this week!

I’m backing off my workload this week in order to allow all my previous hard work to take hold. I wasn’t sure at the start of this plan whether or not I’d do any plyos this week. Doing more work this week definitely won’t improve my race performance by much if any. Doing too much work this week can definitely have a negative impact on my race.

Barbell clean & press: Lifting weight overhead is known as a press. Before the bench press became popular in the 70s, the press was the original weight exercise that indicated your manhood.  To get the weight overhead, one must bring the weight from the ground to the shoulders or clean the weight.  The ability to do these things is tremendously useful, fun and generally wonderful. My goal is to clean and press my body weight (200 lbs.). This exercise may have no effect at all on my running. That’s fine with me.

  • Workout one is 3×5 reps. Most recently I used 100 lbs.
  • Workout two is heavier at 3×3 reps.
  • Taper week is only one workout.

Pistol squat: The pistol is an interesting exercise. It’s essentially a squat on one leg. They’re nearly impossible when you first try them, especially if you have long limbs like me. I’m doing them because running is a one-legged activity. Also, I’ve been doing a lot to get my glutes to work correctly. If your knee caves in on this exercise then the glute isn’t doing its job. I keep the knee aligned with the outside of my foot when I do these. This exercise works everything from the foot to the glutes and spine. I figure getting strong on one leg is a good idea.

  • Typically I did 3×3 reps. Other days I did double or singles.
  • I varied the exercise. I started by doing a short-range squat onto a high box, then working down to lower boxes then no box at all.
  • Right now I can do three good pistols on my right and two on my left. I’m fairly excited about my progress. I’ll add weight at some point.

Pull-ups/Chin-ups: What can you say? Pull-ups and chin-ups are very challenging. Done properly they are a tremendous upper body exercise. Hands, arms, shoulders, back and abs all get work here.

  • Workout one is about 4-5×5-6 reps
  • Workout two is 2-3×5-6 sets.
  • I superset most of these sets with the following exercise, the glute/ham raise.

Glute/ham raise (GHR): This one is a tough one to describe. This article describes it well. This is an essential assistance exercise used by Olympic lifters and powerlifters. Very strong people often do them, so why shouldn’t I? We don’t have a genuine GHR machine at my gym, so I’ve done a modified version. Similar to the article, I’ve hooked my feet under a pull-up machine. These are very very tough! So, I’ve used bands wrapped around the machine and myself to give me further assistance in doing the exercise.

You might wonder if a hamstring curl could provide the same benefits. Probably not. The GHR calls on the glutes, hamstrings and abs to contract together. This is similar to how we actually move when we run, jump or lift. In contrast, the hamstring curl isolates the hamstrings. This rarely if ever happens in typical human movement. Further, I’ve found hamstring curls promote overextension of the lumbar spine which is rarely a good thing.

  • Workout one is 3 x 8-12 reps
  • Workout two is 2 x 8-12 reps
  • I typically supersetted this with pull-ups.
  • I used different thicknesses of bands to provide either more or less assistance.

Kroc row: The “what?” The Kroc row is a slang term for a version of the one-arm dumbbell row. Read the linked article to get a full description. I’m doing this to 1) get a stronger upper back to help with my pressing and 2) build my grip for deadlifting which I will resume in the Fall.

  • Workout one is 3×12-15 reps depending on the weight
  • Workout two is 2×12-15 again depending on weight.
  • I superset this one with the ab rollout

Ab wheel rollout: You’ve seen the ab wheel on an infomercial. Doesn’t mean it’s not a very useful tool. This is a very good exercise to engage the external obliques and thus keep the pelvis in neutral. Keeping a neutral pelvis is very important in avoiding back pain. I know because I spent a lot of time not keeping my pelvis in neutral. Mike Boyle’s article dissects the ab wheel rollout very thoroughly.

  • Workout one is 3×5-6 reps
  • Workout two is 2×5-6 reps
  • I superset this with the Kroc row.


Ski Conditioning


The ski season is very (VERY!  VERY!) close at hand and appropriate preparation is in order, so here’s a plan I put together.  Several capacities are key to good skiing performance: endurance, flexibility/mobility, strength/power, and power-endurance.

The periodized plan is composed of three four-week training blocks with each block separated by one week off.  The first two training blocks consist of three gym workouts per week.  The final block has two gym workouts per week.  The week off should allow for thorough rest and recuperation prior to beginning the next block.

Emphasis is placed on training a certain capacity in each block, but the other capacities are trained as well so that nothing is lost as the plan progresses.  For instance, though strength is emphasized in the first block, endurance and balance training also takes place.  The skiing performance capacities I’ve addressed and my thoughts on each are as follows:
1.    Endurance (already established over the summer through running and biking): I must have the endurance to stay on the mountain all day at altitude.  The endurance base will be maintained over the course of the plan.
2.    Strength: Skiing is very thigh-dominant thus I must have very strong legs to ski well.  A strong trunk and upper body is essential for powerful turns.
3.    Mobility/Stability (two sides of the same coin): Effective ski technique requires tremendous hip and leg mobility during turns, especially at high speeds.  While the legs and hips must be mobile, the trunk typically must be rock-solid and stable during turns.
4.    Power: Strength must be transfered to power.  It’s not enough to be strong and slow to ski well.  I must be able to express strength at high speeds.
5.    Power-endurance (Here’s where the training gets very specific to skiing.): Skiing requires one to be powerful over and over again for several minutes.  Then the skier typically gets a rest of several minutes while he or she rides back up to the top of the mountain.  So it’s not enough to be powerful once and then rest.

Here’s the plan:

  • Block 1: Strength & Mobility
    • Strength Day
      • front squat: 3-6 reps, 4-8 sets
      • bench press: 3-6 reps, 4-8 sets
      • face pull: 8-12 reps, 3-4 sets
    • Balance Day
      • single-leg squats from a box
        • heel reach forward
        • toe reach back
        • toe reach forward
        • rotational squat
      • single-leg bent over dumbbell row
      • single-arm overhead dumbbell press with frontal plane hip drive
    • Mobility Day
      • multi-directional lunges with varied arm drives
      • dips
      • rotating cable pulls from various angles
    • Endurance: running and biking throughout the week
    • One week off
  • Block 2: Power
    • Day 1
      • multi-planar jumps/hops: 6-10 reps, 3-4 sets
      • barbell clean to front squat: 3-5 reps, 4-6 sets
    • Day  2
      • Kettlebell swings: 8 reps, 3 sets
      • Kettlebell swipes or chops: 5-8 reps, 3 sets
    • Day 3
      • long jumps: 6 reps, 3 sets
      • dumbbell or barbell push press: 3-5 reps, 4-6 sets
    • Endurance: same as block one
    • One week off
  • Block 3: Power endurance
    Due to the high stress of these workouts, only two are performed per week.

    • Day 1:
      • barbell complex
      • clean
      • front squat
      • bent row
      • Romanian deadlift
      • floor press
      • followed by multi-planar jumps/hops
    • Day 2:
      • Kettlebell complex (may vary widely)
        • snatch
        • clean
        • chop
        • press
        • swing
      • running or rowing intervals