Gym versus Running

I wanted to ponder this question to all the coaches on the forum. Is the modern day athlete spending to much time in the gym and not enough time on the track?

on what sport. If it’s sprinting, I think most sprint year round, unless weather screws them up like here in Michigan. Almost every other sport, they could do with more time in the gym and less time playing. The hockey players I train skate so much that they never really recover. Most would be better off focusing on more dry land strength in my experience. Hoop, most are weak as kittens but highly skilled. All the best players(Jordan, Kobe, and Lebron) all got better when they got stronger. Lebron was always a freak but Kobe and Jordan became champs after they committed to getting stronger. Baseball, obviously we see the results of the recent era when strength was at a premium. I always tell my kid’s, you can only get so good at a given sport. The difference at the highest levels is speed, strength, and psychological make up of the athlete. Success in the weight room can build all 3 when done correctly.

There’s no doubt that getting stronger helps these guys, Bolt too, but I think some of the confusion happens when everyone starts thinking they are doing heavy doubles and triples or are surprised to find out they are doing pretty generic strength routines. People are surprised when they see someone doing leg press instead of squat or hammer strength bench instead of barbell but the thing is, they don’t need much, they just need a basic strength increases and some injury prevention.

It seems like everyone, especially former powerlifter or weightlifter gym rat type guys think athletes should be doing tons of heavy heavy sets when in reality they probably are not doing that and probably should not. That old weights follows speed thing that CF always talked about.

If you do 5x5 or 4x6 at 225 week one and 8 weeks later you are doing 5x5 at 235 that’s proof you just got stronger and never did nor do you have to max out.

I agree, it depends entirely on which sport and how much the athlete and/or their coach insists they play that sport. I see way too much playing year around with not nearly enough training so they end up with a lot repetitive motion/over-use issues. Often times I feel if they took the time to devote to training, their performances would improve but they get scared by their own misconceptions (but mostly from the coaches-“you have to play all year”) that they cannot take away any time from their sport.

They often don’t see that some of what holds back their advancement as athletes in terms of speed, strength, power etc. could be corrected by a well planned, consistently performed training program.

In basketball, it’s laughable (though we see similar examples with other sports) what some sport coaches refer to as skill development is just hours and hours of pick-up/scrimmaging and no actual attention to skill development work.

I think the best plan would probably be very much vertical integration-like where a small to moderate amount of true skill work could be done year round (with no playing for at least a month of the year but likely more) but if the volumes are kept in check the athlete would still have enough time and adaptive energy to benefit greatly from a program and not at all lose touch with the skills of the sport.

I’ve seen one guy on the “1000 shots program” per day. To me that is not a program it’s just a number. At what point do you simply not benefit by shooting more shots in a single day? How many must they do to improve their ability to shoot and then most of them are set shots anyway and not having to move to get in position to make the shots. He has convinced himself and his coach that he’s really working hard but it’s just an excuse to avoid actual training. Another point is this “program” does not entail anything other than shooting. I must be mistaken to believe a guard might have to dribble, occasionally have to play defense, etc. Hours of shooting is not a program-imo.

I’d say it largely dependent upon which athlete and which program. Maybe some are spending too much time in the weight room relative to the amount and quality of track work, some need to spend more time in the weight room but I’d say the majority need to be sure they are spending more productive time in the weight room. That is some are lifting but in viewing the programs I believe many here would question if the athletes are truly deriving general strength/power benefits from their weight sessions.

Certainly, when in doubt the sprinter/hurdler needs make sure the track work is in order since that should be the priority. Still, poor strength/power levels that could, be at least, partially remedied in the weight room might be a limitation in their track performances.

I would say that not enough time is spent on high quality running relative to time spent on other qualities (including lifting). Having said that, I would also assert that not enough time is spent on high quality - period - in a training program.

If Charlie’s experience told him that a high performance athlete (in speed and power sports) requires that all training needs to be broken down as 35% high intensity and 65% low intensity, most training programs are missing the mark. More often I see the following breakdown:

  • <10% high intensity
  • >40% medium intensity
  • 50% low intensity

So, even if the ‘modern day athlete’ is spending enough “time” on the track, it is doubtful that it is in the high quality/intensity zone.

Good points thus far.

In my judgment, there’s, on the whole, far too much over emphasis on weight room work, very little actual speed work (according to the true definition) low quality work in all areas, and too little knowledge of sport science in general.

At the end of the day, however, more than favoring one side versus the other (in terms of track work versus weights), the question is what each athlete, as an individual, requires to heighten sport results.

In your situation you have more control over what your athletes face on a daily basis. I tend to have to temper my programs based on what the kids are exposed to in school or university setting. I agree that oft times strength alone is the only priority given to many of these athletes. I see some pretty idiotic programs that my athletes are supposed to follow. I had to tell the parents of one of my hockey players, “If you want me to work with your child, I will, but I need to set some basic parameters.” The kid is a great hockey player. He is a shoo in D1 player(rated #3 nationally last season). They wanted him running 2 miles daily and 5 miles on Sundays. I told his Dad if you are going to do the runs, I can’t train him. We have follwed more short speed runs, multi direction agilities, with relevant rest regarding the game. He has been the best player in his age group in Tier 1 AAA and tests off the charts doing simple strength, flexibility and speed. Nothing elaborate. I just hate when they skate him so much in the off season. He plays a 100+ games plus 2 practices per week. Then camps in summer. I think they could get by doing very little preseason conditioning as they play their way into serious shape by week 3. How would you deal with the process? I can’t tell you how often I have to radically alter the training volume. Thanks in advance


Very true. In fact, you pointing out that my position affords me different opportunities that one such as yours does, in the private sector, is what allowed me to realize that I am a coach and not a trainer.

I state this will all due respect because I too ran my own facility as a trainer while concurrently coaching at the high school level.

To your question, no doubt that hockey training presents an interesting problem. I agree with Charlie in that the special work capacity is more than taken care of by the game and practices themselves; particularly with respect to the higher stages of sport competition in which the competition calendar is tremendously long.

I would also back Charlie in that it makes sense to take the relatively short time that is available in terms of off-season, to first ensure that adequate therapy options are in place and then, as for development, seek to improve max output in the necessary areas- be it speed, power, strength, and what have you because so much of the practice environments never touch on max out put in favor of operational capacities.

It appears to me as if you do an excellent job speed coach.

Interesting to read everyone response. Great feedback and discussion.

One of the reasons I was prompted to raise the questions is I am always constantly amazed by the amount of talk and reading with an emphasis on what is taking place in the weight room. Just reading some of the athletes who blog on here about there training so much is described in detail regarding the weight lifted, sets and reps and exercises and there doesn’t seem to be as much description in their programs i.e. 6 x 60m (6min). How were they run, what was the focus etc. Obvioulsy we all like the weight room as we can get a quantifiable and real time feed back on how our strength is unfolding so no matter what happens on the track their is always one lift we can do in the weight room where possibly we can PB quite regulalrly.

I always find it interesting in talking to different coaches in track (who coach running based athletes) to see the difference in the language spoken. Lots of coaches I talk to in their 50-70s barely talk about what happens in the weights room and if anything is actually takes place in the strength area there is very little sophistication. Okay its a given the field of strength training has evolved in the last 30yrs quite dramatically and a lot of todays coaches have been well educated in preparing their athletes in the weights room. We get to the younger coaches 30-50yrs and its incredible to hear and see how much time is spent sophisticating their gym programs and then the track sessions seem to not be as detailed.

Maybe I am being simplistic and its not my intention to pigeon hole a specific age group or generalise a sport but I was just wondering…are many of us nowdays running and forgotten that we lift to run?


‘…are many of us nowdays running to lift and forgotten that we lift to run?’

I think a lot of it comes out of the fact that improvemnts in the weight room is relatively ‘easy’ to track. If you do X and max goes up, X worked.

When you get out of the weight room into actual sports performance, determining what factor improved what (esp since you may only see a new best performance very infrequently in the first place) becomes more problematic. And with so many different things going on, determining simple cause and effect becomes harder.

So people tend to get overly fixated on what’s going on in the easily trackable area to the detriment of the one that can’t so easily be tracked.

“Aha, weight room numbers are going up, my training is effective.”

You see this in a lot of strength coaches who start ‘chasing numbers’ figuring that if they just get that next 50 lbs on the squat, the magic will happen.

Not realizing that what goes on in the weight room beyond a certain point is far less relevant to what happens in the sport itself.


I appreciate the response. I do what I can to get my kids ready for the rigors of college sports both physically and psychologically. I tell them the things I faced both good and bad as a college athlete. I have applied many things I have learned from people like Ian King, Charlie, and through your books and postings. I have been able to do what I do thanks to those who openly share information. I appreciate your feedback. I wish I could send them all to you at Pitt. I know you and buddy would’t ruin them.

Just like speedcoach said, here in michigan its cold so it all depends on the weather and the sport. In my county every kid thinks he’s the next kobe or lebron (standing all of 5’9) and yet cant break into the starting lineup of his own high school varsity team. In the other sports Ive had parents ask me how come I wont train there kid in speedwork everyday. Not to mention a kid told me that a DIII college is gonna test him in his agility using the agility(crappy)ladder. I almost fell out of my car laughing. Strength wise alot of kids I think up here are allergic to the weight room or they go BENCH like every 8 days or so.

good points, the weight room is generally easier to quantify. That doesn’t mean it is less of a focus though. Whatever goes first should be the priority and if a sprinter that should in almost every case be speed work. One of Charlie’s true genius gifts is vertical integration in that all things have a part to play at all stages and it is the emphasis that shifts therefore where and at what volumes things are placed over time is a real indicator of things.

Although I don’t follow CFTS rigidly, I keep learning year after year to de emphasize weight work and work more on speed starting in May-June for my football players. They get almost zero spped all winter unless they attend my speed camps starting in December. You get about 1/3 of the athletes due to their commitment to other sports. The big problem is the college coaches all test right when they come back for fall so its hard not to emphasize max strength as they will be frowned upon for not “being in shape”. They don’t test their speed, but they all seem to test timed 110’s these days. I just tell my kids to do tempos all summer and their fall running tests will be a joke. As the years go by, I tend to see that many of my kid’s have high levels of max strength so it becomes more about maintaining strength and gaining as much speed as possible.

I’m not a coach, but as an athlete who has spent 15 years in the gym, I can tell you from my observation that too many athletes have gotten away from the simple basic compound movements such as the squat, pull up and dead lift.

On the other hand, I have also seen many athletes using Olympic lifts who were not instructed in how to do them properly. You can CLEARLY see it when you watch their form. And to make matters worse, the “coaches” just stand around a watch the athletes throwing weight around with bad form.

Yes, exactly. When I’m in the weight room I see athletes screwing around for 2 hours doing arm curls, weighted sit-ups and leg presses while having a good ole time. But when I go into the gym I will do something like 3 sets of 5 reps with 495 then finish up with reverse hypers and be done in 50 min or less.