Strength Training for Runners

Consistent strength training, as well as hard aerobic efforts, yield results for runners and other endurance athletes.  On 20 October, I ran the Skeleton 5 km race at Morris County’s Central Park.  A light overnight rain stopped around 6 AM, leaving the trails damp and muddy in a few places.  The sky was partially cloudy with cool temperatures.  The other times I’ve raced here, I haven’t done well, so I had modest expectations.  As the time wound down to the start, I seeded myself mid-pack.

After the start, I moved up maybe a dozen places quickly, then settled into a pace.  Whether it’s 5 kilometers or 50, you don’t win the race in the first kilometer.  Gradually I reeled in other athletes, in the last mile, I invoked my new mantra: “Full send!” and picked up the tempo.  At the finish, I bent over double for 30 seconds to catch my breath.  The  hard effort yielded an age group win in a competitive field.

age-group-win

It’s real metal! Age group win at the Skeleton 5 k in Morris Plains!

The win was  a reminder that results came through consistent training.  Not only putting in the hours running, but putting in the hours in the gym.  

Over the years, many runners have told me, “I’ve got plenty of leg strength, I’m running 60 miles a week.”  That’s partially correct: putting in the miles develops endurance strength.  Another approach is taken by a triathlete newsgroup that I belong to.  Every week or 10 days, one member throws down a strength challenge with bodyweight squats and planks.  They challenge has ramped from 30 to 105 bodyweight squats.  In my opinion, they’re better off getting in another 50 miles on the bike than doing hundreds of bodyweight squats. 

What are the benefits of structured, loaded strength training for runners, and for endurance athletes in general?  Improving your overall strength means that you’ll be able to maintain your pace deeper into a race before reaching fatigue.  Loaded strength training also strengthens your tendons and ligaments – the tissues that connect muscle to bone and bone to bone.  In addition, strength training will improve your running economy and reduce the risk of injury.

Here’s an infographic from Yann LeMeur on the subject.  If you want to get deep into the science, here’s one of the sources behind the infographic.

In addition, loaded strength training will prepare your muscles, tendons, and ligaments for explosive strength training, or plyometrics – the quick, explosive movements that target fast-twitch muscles.  The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends “proper levels of total body and core strength as well as balance” before getting into plyometrics.  

My first client, a high school female, was transitioning from the 800 meter sprint to running 5 kilometer cross-country events.  For strength training, her team coach had the kids doing only core training and explosive, plyometric movements over the summer.  Nothing was said about basic loaded training.  Three days before their first race, half of her teammates reported various injuries that prevented them from competing.  If they’d started with basic functional strength training, they would have reduced the risk of injury.

 

I follow deadlifts with squats, which train glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.  There are different ways to do squats, but if you’re starting out, a goblet squat is a great way to begin:

After squats, I progress to lunges.  Lunges are great because in addition to training the large muscle groups, you’re now also beginning to hit the small muscles that help you balance and stabilize.  Lunges also train deceleration, where most sports injuries happen.  Here’s a reverse lunge to balance.  The kettlebell adds a core strength component:

There’s a hundred different ways to progress these strength training exercises, but this is a start.  Questions? Contact me!  Thanks for reading!