Photographers call the 60 minutes of soft, supple light when the sun is on the horizon the “golden hour.” It’s when many of the most beautiful images are made. For endurance athletes, adding just 60 minutes of supplemental training each week can also help create something beautiful by adding speed, increasing durability or enhancing flexibility.
Is one hour really enough to make a difference? Coach Alan Culpepper, a two-time Olympian, thinks so. “Two or three days a week—on either off days or recovery days—is the best approach even if this means cutting back some of your running. Substituting 10 to 15 minutes of running with a 25- to 35-minute strength routine is a good approach,” Culpepper says.
Coach Culpepper’s advice focuses on strength training, and for good reason. Studies repeatedly show that strength training is good for runners even when the sessions are limited to an hour or two per week.
“Hey,” you might be objecting. “This story promised I could see improvements with just one extra hour per week—now you’re sneaking in another hour.” Fair enough, but that will depend on what kind of baseline you are starting from—if you are already doing focused strength training, or other supplements to running such as flexibility sessions, you may need to go beyond the 60-minute mark to keep improving. However, for many people who are currently only running for exercise—perhaps with a few additional minutes of unfocused post-run stretching or some push-ups—devoting an hour to supplemental workouts each week will be enough to see real-world improvements.
Look below for one scheme that could add a “golden hour” to your training week. Of course, countless variations are possible. Think about the areas of your running that most need improvement. Are you hindered by poor flexibility? Devote more of the extra supplemental training time to mobility work. Did your legs turn to jelly at the end of your last race? Consider focusing on strength movements and/or hill work. The key is to make a concerted effort a few times a week to focus on non-running activities like the ones described below.
20 Minutes of Strength Training
When it comes to strength training, keep in mind that a little is loads better than doing nothing at all. One 20-minute session per week might be just the starting point, but it’s a reasonable way to begin. If strength training becomes the priority in your extra hour of supplemental training you will likely want to add a second, and perhaps a third, session a few weeks after getting your feet wet.
20 Minutes of Yoga
Yoga is great because it emphasizes both the mental and physical aspects of supplemental training. It’s one thing to absentmindedly go through some stretches on the floor while watching television, but it’s an entirely different experience to focus on your breathing and your body while learning the various poses yoga offers.
10 Minutes of Plyometrics
“Plyometrics, or jumping exercise, is something that every runner should do and that most runners don’t do,” says running and nutrition author Matt Fitzgerald. “Running is a form of jumping. Plyometrics isolates and exaggerates the jumping element in running and thereby improves running performance in a way that running itself does not.”
10 Minutes of Hill Sprints
As with the other exercises described here, adding a weekly 10-minute session of hill sprints might eventually expand into longer bouts of hill work, but for the first few weeks it will be plenty to provide a stimulus and begin adding power to your legs. Running hills is, obviously, a form of running so it’s an extremely sport-specific form of supplemental training, and because these uphill blasts are highly demanding you probably won’t want to start out with anything more than a 10-minute routine.