5 Concepts to Consider When Starting a Strength Training Program if you’re a runner
For decades, endurance runners believed the best way to become a better runner was to run a lot. And then run some more.
Eventually, the thinking shifted, and it became the norm to add hill running, tempo running, sprint training and interval work to the training program, as it consistently proved to help performance. But for many, it has ended there.
The gym? Lifting weights? Why would I do that? It’s only going to bulk me up and slow me down!
This is, of course, a myth. More and more research shows strength training should be an essential part of any runner’s training program, for strengthening muscles, joints, ironing out imbalances, and ultimately reducing the chance of getting injured.
We’re not suggesting running more won’t improve your running, however, since running is a repetitive sport to say the least, injuries—often overuse injuries—ensue.
This is because, although your cardiovascular system might have improved from more and more running, your muscles and joints might not be prepared to handle the amount of volume your cardiovascular system has adapted to, which can lead to muscle and joint injuries in a hurry. Or because the lack of variance in your training means you have only strengthened your running muscles. And strengthening the auxiliary muscles will pay off in your running.
ENTER STRENGTH TRAINING: Adding strength training to your program helps prepare your muscles and joints to handle the amount of running you’re doing. Not only that, strength training has even been shown to improve your VO2 max. What runner doesn’t like the sound of that?
Where to begin? It’s not as simple as just showing up to the gym and working your way through the machines a la old school circuit training.
1. Train smarter, not harder.
You’re a runner first and foremost, so the type of strength training you do should be, for the most part, sport-specific (i.e. designed in a way to improve your running).
Though everyone has different strengths and weaknesses as a runner, there are some common tendencies to consider. For example, one of the common problems many runners face—what slows them down—is the inability to drive the quad forward with the same range of motion on every stride in a way that maintains their speed. What happens then is stride length shortens and the pace decreases. In this case, strengthening the hip flexor can go a long way in improving a runner’s stride, and ultimately speed.
BOTTOM LINE: Don’t just start lifting weights without a plan. Best case scenario, hire a coach to assess your strengths and weaknesses and build an individualized, running-specific strength program designed in a way, not just to make you stronger, but to make you a better runner.
To get started, however, even a simple three days a week squat program, with some accessory work, might be beneficial.
Here’s an example that includes just four basic movements.
- GOBLET SQUAT – 5 sets, 10-12 reps. Work between a 5/10 and 7/10 rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This means 5/10 to 7/10 on the effort scale, so to speak). Rest 60 seconds between sets.
- Rotate between three exercises, resting 30 to 60 seconds between movements:
- RUSSIAN KB SWINGS – 4 sets, 20 reps. (7-8/10 RPE)
- BANDED GLUTE BRIDGES – 4 sets, 25 reps.
- LAYING LEG RAISES – 4 sets, 20 reps per leg. If those feel easy, try these banded leg raises.
2. It’s not just about the muscles
Because running is a repetitive sport involving some serious impact on your joints, your joints are bound to take a beating. So your strength training needs to involve, not just your muscles, but also your joints.
Two particularly hard hit joints for runners are the knees and the ankles. In fact, the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine reported that knee injuries account for 28 percent of injuries in runners.
- KNEE CARS (controlled articular rotations) – 3 sets, 5 rotations each direction. These simple joint rotations are a great way to strengthen the knee joint, and so can movements like squats, lunges and even calf raises. Do 3 sets, 5 rotations in each direction on both knees before and after a run.
Sometimes the reason your knees are weak is because the muscles that support them are also weak, so by strengthening your muscles via squats or deadlifts with either a barbell or dumbbells, you can effectively “kill two birds with one stone:” (aka your muscles and your joints).
3. Push-ups for the win.
When you’re a runner, you need to be effective at flushing out lactic acid.
Let’s say you start doing push-ups, or even burpees, where you’re effectively doing a lazy push-up each time you stand up. Depending on how strong and conditioned your shoulders are, eventually your muscles will start creating lactic acid.
Now I’m going to turn your world upside down: Lactic acid can be used as a muscle fuel.
As the world-renowned running coach Chris Hinshaw explained, if you’re doing push-ups or burpees, the lactic acid is likely to begin in your upper body, but eventually it will move down into your legs. The stronger you are, both in your upper body and lower body, the more effectively you’ll be able to pull that lactic acid out of your system and use it as fuel. This will, of course, translate to your effectiveness to do the same when you’re running.
The point: Even improving upper body strength and muscular endurance can translate to better running performance.
4. Don’t neglect the core
You might have heard this before, but your core supports everything you do. For runners specifically, a strong core improves stability, balance, posture and control, which all play a role in becoming the most efficient runner possible.
Never was this more obvious to me than recently when I had a rib slip in my upper back, between my shoulder blades. As a result, the muscles around the injured area seized up. Because my back was so tight, I wasn’t able to contract my abdominal muscles or glutes without serious pain in my back. As a result, my entire body felt vulnerable and unstable. Even walking made me feel unstable and off balanced, and, because I was unable to brace through my core, I felt like I was going to collapse if I even bent over or even reached for something.
BOTTOM LINE: A weak or inactive core—meaning your abdominals, your lower back and your glutes—leads to weakness everywhere else in the body, and most certainly an increased chance of getting injured as a runner.
Add this core routine to your training program three days a week. It only takes five minutes and involves four movements.
EXERCISES (3x through):
- FOREARM PLANK – 20-40 seconds.
- SIDE PLANK ROTATIONS – 10/10.
- TUCK UPS – 15-20 reps.
- DEADBUG or HOLLOW HOLD – 30-60 seconds.
5. Not all months are created equal
Though it’s important to strength train, there will be certain times of the year it’s more important than others: the off-season.
If you’re not currently taking an “off-season,” you should. Depending on where you live, it might naturally be determined by climate. Otherwise, it’s important to figure out when it is you plan to do the bulk of your races, and ultimately when you want to peak for running.
During race season, chances are training sessions in the weight room will be less frequent, and on the flipside, your off-season is the time to lower your volume of running, let your nagging injuries heal, and focus on strength training with the intention of improving your running for the following season.
Either by yourself or with your coach, take the time to write down your race calendar for the year. Then use the 3 Ps—prioritize, plan and periodize—to come up with an effective one-year plan that, of course, includes strength training, designed in a way to maximize your running performance when it matters most.
6. Consider these simple sports supplements to increase the efficiency of your strength training
So now that you’re armed with the understanding to get into the weight room, it’s worth knowing that there are a few sports supplements on the market backed by trustworthy research showing they will speed the rate you get stronger:
- CREATINE has been shown to increase the rate at which strength is gained through various types of strength training and interval training.
- HMB has been shown to have a similar effect on strength, but without the addition of as much muscle weight. It has also been shown to increase VO2 max and reduce muscle soreness after long runs.
You can also combine the two by using Blonyx’s best-selling HMB+ Creatine.
Disclaimer: We only suggest using supplements if your training and your diet are dialled. Focus on the basics first. #integrityinmarketing
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