The goal of strength training for most runners is to be a faster, fitter, and less injury prone. Are you in that group? Great! All are appropriate goals, but you may need to rethink your strength training routine in order to make that happen. Or, if you don’t strength train, you should seriously consider adding it!
Yes, most runners know that strength training benefits them. But…
- They may not have enough conviction to strength train regularly.
- Or, they’re not sure how to strength train to get the desired running results.
- Plus, a concern about the bulk they may gain with weight training.
This post addresses ALL that, plus gives specific suggestions for strength training for runners. Here are some reasons you definitely should weight train if you want to be faster, and stay healthy.
For runners, strength training builds:
- Anaerobic power – able to maintain higher intensity for longer periods
- Neuromuscular efficiency – more easily enable muscle fibers to perform
- Running economy – expend less energy at a given distance
- Increased muscle power – extra boost when needed during a race
Will I get bulky, and become a slower, heavier runner?
It’s doubtful you will be Hulk’s twin if you’re an endurance runner. According to Reuters Health, gaining a lot of muscle bulk from weight training is highly unlikely. The report states, “another myth is that strength training-induced muscle hypertrophy might make runners heavier, which could compromise running economy. However, there is a phenomenon known as concurrent effect that blunts the ability of muscles to expand when strength training and aerobic training are performed conjunctly. Gains in muscle mass are not an issue for runners who perform strength training,” according to Benedito Denadai of Sao Paulo State University.
How much of a PRIORITY is strength training compared to my running?
Runners should consider strength training as a supplement to running; it should make your running more effective/efficient, but not increase your injury risk. Joe Holder, Nike+ Run Club coach states “A runner doesn’t need to be overly strong – what they need is not to be weak, which is a key difference.” “Just think of strength training as structural insurance.” James Bagley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at San Francisco State University says, “Lifting should reduce your risk of injury if you’re doing it right.”
And, certain workouts are not appropriate for runners if the goal is to improve speed through increased strength and power. Workouts like Crossfit WOD, or circuit based workouts have a heavier cardio focus/higher metabolic burn. The British Journal of Sports Medicine states running is the best endurance training for muscles (so your strength workouts don’t need to incorporate that). To improve speed, and oxygen and energy use, studies show that “explosive” heavy-resistance exercises should be a part of a runner’s routine.
Heavy or light WEIGHT? High REPS or low?…
First, ignore your body-builder friend’s workout. Your goal is to gain strength without gaining excessive muscle mass. And exactly how do you manage that?
Experts recommend lifting heavier weight at lower reps (3-5 reps), versus the traditional 10-12 reps at a lower weight (60-80% one rep max). The latter mentioned (high reps/less weight) is more of a bodybuilder model, but James Bagley says “runners don’t need to be big, they need to be strong.”
More specifics on sets/reps:
Runner’s World suggests starting with a weight where you can perform it correctly for ~10 reps (3 sets). Slowly add more weight over time, and begin to decrease the number of reps. When the last few reps of the third set are difficult, then plan to start with that weight on your next workout.
You should be able to increase weights ~two-three weeks. After a couple months, you can progress to doing more sets with fewer reps (4-5 sets of 3-5 reps).
Keep in mind that single-leg exercises will require lighter weight, and higher reps (8-12) given stability/balance are factors. And, core stabilization exercises are best to focus with timed sets from 30-60 seconds (especially with isometric holds).
How OFTEN should runners strength train?
The key is that you don’t strength train so much that you sabotage your running workouts, and have insufficient time to recover. Given that, experts recommend:
- If you are completely new to weight training, one-two workouts per week is enough.
- Those with more experience with weights can stick to two-three days weekly in order to get in their runs, and have sufficient rest. Incorporating core/stability work on run days is an option as well.
Can I strength train the SAME day as I run? Before or after?
In terms of timing, if possible, do your run session before your strength session if it occurs the same day. A 2014 study on combining running with strength training was led by Kenji Doma, Ph.D. at James Cook University.
Doma states an easy, long run or recovery run is okay to double up on the same day, as long as the workouts are six hours apart (meaning, the run can be the second workout, if six hours apart). However, the study recommends no high intensity run sessions after weight training as it takes over 24 hours for your legs to recover.
If I’m in the midst of my racing season, or marathon training, do I STOP strength training?
You should continue. However, dial back the frequency during racing season, or as you get into heavy/high mileage. This way you can ensure you don’t cut into your running recovery and performance.
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What TYPE of strength training exercises are best for runners?
- Focus on compound movements, and ones that strengthen your core such as: lunges, squats, deadlift, push-ups, bridges, and plank. Not only will you gain more strength and neuromuscular improvement, they are more efficient (more muscle groups affected), and have more carry over to running.
- Key muscle groups to concentrate for increased injury risk: glutes, hips, and your core.
- Single-leg variations, like single-leg split squats, single-leg deadlifts, and lunge variations are also important for the development of dynamic stability, which is important for increasing running economy.
- Remember, it is okay to use your own body weight. If your form is suboptimal with weight, start with the resistance of your own body.
- Have “ballistic intent”. Move the weight as quickly as possible with your best form/technique, regardless of the weight. Even if the weight moves slowly, the intent to move with that intent will help recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers (important for power generation when you need it in a race).
Related Topics to Strength Training for Runners:
- 10 Minute Core Workout for Runners
- Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
- Isometric Exercise Benefits for Runners – Plank!
- Essential Glute Strengthening to Prevent Injury