How to Make a Well-Rounded Training Schedule So You Don’t Feel Overwhelmed

Cross training, mobility work, foam rolling—here’s how to fit it all into your schedule.


Whether you just signed up for your first 5K or your first marathon, one of the most important steps in prepping for race day is finding a training plan that works for you. Both beginners and experienced runners alike should consider mileage and frequency of their run workouts when choosing a training plan, but when planning out a weekly schedule, every runner should also take into account activities other than running.

While running boosts cardiovascular health, endurance, and mental well-being — and of course, running more will help you become a better runner — cross-training, strength, and recovery are also worthy of your attention to optimise performance and prevent injury.

But what, exactly, should you do besides running to train for a race and how do you fit it all into your week? We talked with RRCA-certified running coaches Jes Woods and Ashley Mateo to help you streamline your training plan.

Before diving in, it is important to understand the concept of stress and recovery. Stress, in this case, refers to any activity that places a demand on the body, such as running, strength training, or an intense workday. Recovery refers to the activities that help the body recover from stress, such as sleep, nutrition, and relaxation techniques like meditation. To ensure that your training plan is balanced and you’re not overtraining, it is essential to include both stress and recovery activities on your plan.

How to Build a Training Schedule: The Activities You Need and Those You Don’t

1. Strength Training
Don’t underestimate the importance of strength training, as it can provide the key to unlocking performance improvement and that sought-after PB. “Because strength training tends to be the most overlooked piece of a runner’s training routine, I like to tell my runners 10 minutes is better than no minutes,” says Woods. “Strong foundation first, then we layer brick after brick.”

Mateo agrees that strength training is crucial. “Every runner is different, so every runner’s training and schedule will look different. But all runners can benefit from prioritising two things: 1) easy running and 2) strength training,” she says. “And because running is such a high-impact sport, developing your strength outside of running helps prevent injury while improving your endurance. Research shows that all you need is as little as 20 minutes twice a week.”

While those new to strength training should start with body-weight exercises to learn the form and technique of common exercises, once you have that down, it’s important to pick up some weights. “Heavy weights will help you make bigger gains than relying on your own body weight,” Mateo says.

How often: 1-3 days per week

When to do it: Consider replacing your second speed workout of the week with a strength class, or double up and do your favourite weight-training moves on the same day as an easy run, or opt for an upper-body workout the day after a long run

Who should do it: Everyone

Who can skip it: No one

2. Cross Training
You can cross-train in many ways, including taking an indoor cycling class — research actually suggests cycling is one of the best cross-training methods for runners — hitting up a barre class, or spending time on the elliptical or rower. When it comes to choosing cross-training activities it’s important to “engage in a low- to no-impact aerobic activity that offers the same benefits as repetitive running,” says Woods.

The point of cross-training is to continue to challenge your cardiovascular system, but also work different muscle groups in different ways than you do running. You might swap an easy run day for a cross-training day, especially if you’re feeling any aches and pains and need some time off the road.

Regular racers can probably get away with skipping out on cross-training, or doing these workouts on an as-needed basis, as higher mileage might take up more of the training schedule (along with strength training), leaving little room for other types of workouts.

How often to do it: 0-2 days per week

When to do it: The day after a long run, tempo run, or interval run

Who should do it: First-time racers, newbie runners, and those coming back from injury

Who can skip it: Seasoned racers

3. Rest Days
A total rest day is one that doesn’t involve exercise at all — but you should still move around throughout the day instead of spending most of the time on the couch. “[That means] lower-intensity cross-training that doesn’t put additional stress on your body,” Mateo says. A casual stroll, yoga, or a light bike ride would work.

Sleep is also crucial throughout your training schedule, but especially leading up to a race. It actually may be the most important part of recovery, as that is when the body rebuilds and repairs from stress. “Runners who are training for distance races should aim for at least eight hours a night,” Mateo says.

How often: At least once a week

When to do it: The day after a long run or tough speed workout

Who should do it: Everyone

Who can skip it: No one

4. Recovery Practices
Recovery is just as important as the running itself. Scheduling and allowing recovery is vital so that your body can perform better for the next workout, and “without sufficient recovery, you’ll find it difficult to continue having quality runs and workouts,” Woods says.

Additionally, it’s important to take the stress out of the recovery and simply do what you can to relax. “It matters less what exactly you’re doing for recovery, whether it’s foam rolling, compression boots, infrared sauna, or simply legs up against the wall,” Woods says. “What matters most is that you make recovery a daily ritual.”

How often: 7 days a week

When to do it: Every day

Who should do it: Everyone

Who can skip it: No one

Can’t decide which recovery method will work best for you? Here’s a little more guidance on adding these go-to practices to your schedule. The key, though, is finding what feels best for your body. Try out a couple tactics and tune into how you feel the next day or on your next run.

Mobility Work and Stretching
For runners, incorporating mobility and stretching exercises into a training schedule is essential for optimal performance and injury prevention. “Mobility is crucial for running, in that it gives you the strength and efficiency to move through a normal range of motion,” Mateo says.

Lack of mobility in specific areas of the body, such as the hips or ankles, can negatively affect running efficiency and increase injury risk. In fact, some research suggests including hip mobility moves, specifically, in your warm-up can help improve sprint performance.

When to add it to your schedule: Incorporate mobility exercises to your plan at least once a week for about 15 minutes.

“Dynamic stretching pre-workout [can] improve performance, as can static stretching post-run or on recovery days,” says Mateo. Research says you need less than five minutes of dynamic stretching before a run to gain the performance benefits.

While offering another form of cross-training, workouts like yoga can be highly beneficial for both mobility and flexibility and, depending on the intensity of the class, may offer a form of active recovery.

Integrating elements of yoga into a regular training schedule doesn’t require attending an hour-long class. Try a shorter session to see how you like the workout (these beginner-friendly apps offer shorter time commitments) and how it affects your running, then dedicate more time to it if you want to gain more benefits.

The beauty of yoga is that you also get a mindful benefit. With a connection to breathing, it can help ease anxiety, according to research.

When to add it to your schedule: If you enjoy yoga, consider adding it to your training schedule once a week, after a long run or hard workout. You can also incorporate elements of the practice in your warm-up (focusing on deep breathing and more active poses) or your cool-down, opting for more restorative poses.

Similarly, a massage gun a.k.a. percussion therapy, which involves using a vibrating device on specific muscles, can also help you sidestep soreness and both prepare for and cool down from a run, according to research.

When to add it to your schedule: Research recommends foam rolling as a warmup activity. All you need is about 30 seconds per muscle group, like the quads and calves.

You can also swap foam rolling for the massage gun, or foam roll before and opt for the percussion device after a run. Both can also come in handy on rest days when you want to give your body some extra attention.

No matter how you choose to incorporate foam rolling or percussion therapy into your routine, it doesn’t have to take up more than a few minutes of your time.

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