Strength Training for Runners
Strength Training for Runners
Strength training for runners comes in many forms. For some it involves lifting weights in the gym. For others it involves bodyweight workouts outside. The beauty of strength training is that it can be done anywhere at any time. Researchers have found time and time again, the link between strength training and improved running performance. So why isn’t every runner sold on the idea?
If strength training is so beneficial, then why don’t more runners do it? Perhaps it has something to do with these common myths
- Strength training causes a runner to bulk up.
- If running is your main form of exercise, it’s impossible to bulk up. Adding 1 or 2 strength training sessions per week will make you leaner, but not bigger.
- It will take up too much of your time.
- All it takes is 10-15 minutes, twice a week to reap the benefits.
- It will take away from your running training and leave you with aches and pains.
- Yes there will be aches and soreness initially. However, it won’t affect your running if you time your workouts correctly (see principles below).
The main benefits of strength training for runners are, but not limited to, the following:
- Increases lean body mass, which in turns decreases body fat percentage. You will also burn more calories at rest for 24 hours after a resistance workout.
- Decreases likelihood of injury and helps correct muscle imbalances. Strength training teaches the body correct movement patterns and creates a stable framework for future training.
- Increases running economy. The body becomes better able to handle heavy running workloads. Your stride becomes more powerful and efficient as each step uses less energy to propel you forward.
- Faster training and race paces. When strength training is combined with run training, running paces will become faster at all effort levels.
For beginners it’s best to start with some basic bodyweight exercises. Choose 6 to 8 exercises that work the entire body. These could include planks, lunges, squats, push ups, deadlifts, or mountain climbers to name a few. Keep the rep range at around 8-10 reps starting off. The focus should be on good form and a steady rhythm. Do this work out 2 times per week starting off. Remember that strength gains occur rapidly as a beginner, and less so as you become stronger. Continue this pattern for 4-6 weeks. After this point, you can change the stressor by either increasing the volume or increasing intensity. Here is a sample circuit workout for a beginner, suitable for any racing distance. Complete after an easy run day.
Beginner’s Strength Training Circuit
Complete 20 seconds for each exercise, taking minimal recovery after each exercise. Do 2 sets in total. Take a 1 minute rest after each set or run 200 metres steady.
2. Heel Walks
4. Single leg deadlift
5. Plank (for 20 seconds)
6. Push ups.
This workout is designed to work on general strength and is a good foundational workout. As you can see there is no equipment required. Bodyweight exercises are challenging enough to gain strength, so there’s no need to add weights just yet.
Key Principles of Strength Training for Runners
- Consistency is the key. Initial strength gains can be lost rapidly, if left more than a week.
- Start strength training in the off season and avoid starting too close to race day.
- Keep it simple, using easy to perform exercises, avoid any fancy exercises you’ve seen online.
- Tailor it to your needs and running goals.
- Strength train after an easy run.
- Focus on good form. An exercise performed incorrectly will create more imbalances.
- Increase reps or intensity, but only change one stressor at a time to avoid injury.
- Pair exercises to avoid imbalances. For example, pair squats with single leg deadlift, working quads paired with hamstrings.
Putting It All Together
For strength training to be effective, it’s important to know the purpose of each workout. At the start of any running training cycle, the aim will be to build endurance and lay a foundation for future workouts. As endurance is the main aspect of training performed, there is no need to focus on endurance for your resistance workouts. Instead, focusing on overall body strength will reap more rewards. In the build phase in a running plan, the aim of strength workouts will switch to lower reps and heavier weights, focusing on strength and power development. Strength training during the racing season should be reduced to once per week. The intensity should be light to avoid excess muscle soreness. During race week, it’s best to avoid doing any strength training and go into a race fully rested.
Running is the most important aspect of any running program. It should take up 85-90% of your training time per week. Strength training should make up 5-10% of overall training time. If you’re stuck on time, substituting time on an easy run for strength training will be a better bang for your buck. Strength training could be your stepping stone to a whole new level of running, you never thought imaginable.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below this article.
Thanks for reading.
~~ Stephen Walter
Stephen Walter is from Ireland and holds a degree in Exercise and Health Sciences. He is a certified EHFA 3/4 Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. He is also an AAI 1 coach. Read more on his personal blog by clicking here: Steve’s EPIK Journey.