Do Runners Need to Strength Train?
So you have decided to take the plunge and enter your first 10K or possibly even a marathon. You have lots of training to do to and suddenly you hear that you need to get yourself into the gym and hit the weights as well.
So the question is, do you need to?
I have been running and competing in endurance events for many years and as personal trainer and triathlon coach I get asked this question all the time. We’re going to look at the three most common objections and the myth Vs reality of each one and then I am going to explain why strength training is the key to your next Personal Best, and give you an equipment free 6 week program you can do at home.
Myth Vs Reality
I will get too bulky and the extra weight will slow me down.
The common misconception about resistance training adding weight is very far from the truth. Your body and muscles react to the different training load or stress that you place on them. When you lift a weight for example the body adapts to make itself stronger for the next time you perform that movement. Much in the same way it adapts when you go for a run.
Resistance training for endurance events typically means lifting a lighter weight for more repetitions. This can be anywhere from 12-20 repetitions, performed 2-3 times with very short rest between.
This approach replicates the ability to repeat a certain action with minimal rest just in the same way you perform longer runs or cycles (repetitively). In contrast if you wanted to build bulk or hypertrophy you would need to perform 6-12 Reps, 3-5 times to stimulate growth. This is also done with a significantly heavier weight.
Resistance training for endurance will add some size but the stimulus won’t be enough to be significant. Think of this as making your existing muscles more efficient. Any added size seen will be more than outweighed by the extra power and endurance gained.
I don’t have time to get to the gym
Strength training for endurance events like running requires a functional approach and therefore can be done with little equipment.
The best approach is to mimic the movements of the sport you are performing. For running the key areas tend to be upper body to prevent form breakdown (hunching and rolling forward of the shoulders), core stability to hold correct running posture and lower body to remain strong, on pace and injury free. Mimicking the same movements during training helps to keep it specific to the sport you are training for. For example, lunges mimic the movement pattern of running and the contraction of the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings (front of thigh, buttocks & back of thigh). Improving your core with an exercise like plank will enable you to hold better posture and form for longer, meaning you waste less energy as you fatigue.
This does of course require some time to complete but you don’t need to be in the gym everyday and nor do you have to learn how to do complex olympic lifts to see the benefits. A basic and progressive program can be performed at home in as little as 20-30mins and with minimal equipment.
Strength Training will leave me too sore or tired to do my run training.
This is the one of the biggest barriers I find to starting a strength training program with more established runners. It is true, that strength training will leave you sore, stiff and if you run the morning after a session it will leave you with heavy legs.
As many of you reading this will already know that when you started running, or started on a new run program that it too left you stiff, sore and tired. Strength training is no different.
So the question is how do you do both without impacting each other? The best way to answer this is to look at your current situation. If you are training for an event in less than 4 weeks then stick to the training you have and start your strength training following the event.
If you have an event 6-12 weeks away you can follow the basic program below and this will help get you started without affecting your current training.
If you are planning your next race, or just finished one then this is the best time to kick start your strength program. If you can get used to the demands of strength training over a period of 12 weeks then it will significantly reduce any impact on your running. It is important to still do some running during this time as you want the body to adapt to both training stimulus.
If you adopt this approach then you will be able to reduce the soreness and stiffness that comes from a totally new program by the time you focused event training starts again. This will also mean that once you begin preparing for your next event you will already be stronger and will be able to start more challenging strength exercises with significantly less impact on your running training.
I have always believed in the benefits of structured and functional strength training. If you are focused on a sport then strength and the ability to move efficiently with good technique are essential for success. That success might be a sub 3 hour marathon for one person, or completing your first 5K injury free for another. The fact is that any training has to deliver the end goal otherwise its “junk training”. Heading to the gym and just lifting any weights won’t deliver the best results.
Correct use of strength training will not only help to reduce your injury rate, improve posture and make you more efficient but for those over 40 it will significantly help to reduce the aging affect.
Strength training will help to strip away fat (which slows you down), lower blood pressure and increase bone density reducing the risk of osteoporosis as you get older. Strength training also strengthens the ligaments and tendons which are essential for stopping you turning an ankle or knee when running as these keep the joints stable and strong.
Strength training has been at the heart of my clients success for many years now. I have helped many new runners complete events for the very first time and others improve on their PBs such as Yogesh, who knocked 13mins off his marathon time and Dan, who won his age group at Ironman UK.
All of these people make strength training an integral part of their training and all of them attribute it to their success.
So if you still a little skeptical let’s look at it like this:
Q What is Endurance? A. The ability to resist fatigue.
The stronger a muscle is the more able it is to resist that fatigue.
I hope you have found this article helpful in deciding if you should be adding in strength training to your program. I will exploring this topic a lot more in the coming weeks so please stay tuned. I will also be writing another blog on why strength training is essential for an aging population.
Home Strength Program
2-3 times per week for 2-3 rounds, 35 seconds work 15 seconds rest
|Seated Row (with resistance band)||35||15|
2-3 times per week for 2-3 rounds, 40 seconds work 20 seconds rest
2-3 times per week for 2-3 rounds, 40 seconds work, 15 seconds rest
2-3 times per week for 2-3 rounds, 45 seconds, 15 seconds rest
Weeks 5 & 6
Set a timer for 9mins and Perform the first four exercises for 8 repetitions each. Complete as many rounds as you can in the time and record your score.
If you would like any help with your program or training I am always happy to help.