Jeremey Duvall, M.S., CPT—With runners, strength training often takes second fiddle to an extra run or track workout during a busy week, justified by the notion that more running makes a better runner.
Two strength workouts per week gets cut down to one or zero during the spring months when staying inside for a workout is just as tough mentally as it is physically. Certainly, running is a skill that needs to be developed over time. Form increases with repetition, which means the more strides a runner takes, the better adapted he or she will be at race time. But this notion fails to acknowledge one crucial aspect of running performance and efficiency—strength.
Runners have long been accused of neglecting the gym. Words like “weak core” and “inactive glutes” are thrown around, alongside “long run” and “fartlek.” In response, everyone from weekend enthusiasts to dedicated marathoners began hitting the gym for long sets of planks and glute bridges.
While improving the core and strengthening the hips are important (critical, in fact), this does little when the body is forced to absorb 3-4 times a runner’s bodyweight with each footfall. Running and other bodyweight sports rely on relative strength, or strength relative to a runner’s particular bodyweight. Absolute strength—the ability to hoist impressive total numbers—is certainly a factor, but it matters less when talking about a runner’s ability to propel himself across the pavement.
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Make Your Strength Relative
There’s nothing inherently wrong with glute bridges and planks. In fact, those are two key elements in helping to stabilize the hips and promote better form and fewer injuries down the road.
But in order to fully maximize performance, endurance athletes should improve their overall strength in relation to their bodyweight. That means adding heavier strength training into the mix. Building relative strength helps runners absorb force better when their feet crash into the pavement and produce the force needed to propel runners off the ground. All of this happens in the blink of an eye.
To improve relative strength, runners should master bodyweight moves like the pull-up, push-up, single-leg squat, and lunge. This provides a good foundation of strength for more complex and demanding exercises moving forward.
After mastering bodyweight exercises, begin to focus on traditional strength exercises like back squats and deadlifts. Rather than sticking with lighter weights and targeting higher reps, work down to the 3-5 rep range. This approach targets type II muscle fibers — those responsible for power generation and maximal strength. By increasing type II muscle fibers, runners will be able to produce and absorb more force even over distance.
One crucial aspect of running is maintaining a lean bodyweight. Packing on additional pounds of muscle can be beneficial to the point that it begins to detrimentally affect running form and introduce more impact into each footfall. Although long distance running typically limits the amount of muscle one can gain from a lifting program, it’s still a potential problem down the road.
To best introduce a strength training program into a well-developed running routine, focus on hitting the weights only two times per week to start. This provides enough stimulus to increase strength but likely won’t pack on unnecessary pounds. During the offseason when a little extra muscle is less of a nuisance, runners may choose to up their strength training to three days per week.
Start by targeting the entire body with each lifting session, utilizing a mixture of double-leg and single-leg exercises.
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Incorporate these workouts on interval or tempo run days during the week to avoid overtraining. Ensure that they are followed by an easy day of light jogging or complete rest. Wait two to three days before performing the next workout.
1. Back Squat, 3 sets of 3-5 reps
2A. Dumbbell Bench Press, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
2B. Walking Lunge, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
3A. Pull-up, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
3B. Single-Leg Leg Press, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
4A. Plank, 3 sets of 45 seconds
4B. Pallof Press, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
1. Deadlift, 3 sets of 3-5 reps
2A. Dumbbell Standing Shoulder Press, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
2B. Single-Leg Squat to Bench, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
3A. Bent Over Row, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
3B. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift, 3 sets of 6-8 reps
4A. Side Plank, 3 sets of 45 seconds
4B. Woodchop, 3 sets of 10-12 reps