Strength training plays a prominent role in every sport. You see world class golfers, tennis players and swimmers include some type of strength training activity in their regimen. There’s a reason for this and that is to improve performance. And that is why runners need to do strength training.
Strength training is a program that is focused on improving the physical capacity of the trainer to overcome progressive levels of resistance. It is popularly associated with free weight training; the use of barbells and dumbbells, but there are many different types of strength training:
- Free Weights
- Kettle Bells
- Resistance Bands
In the old days, if runners wanted to get faster they simple ran more. Lifting for runners was not approved. Perhaps the only measure of strength training for distance runners was running up inclined surfaces like hills or stairs.
Strength training; particularly weight training, carried a stigma that it would make runners slow, heavy and tight or “muscle bound”.
However in the mid-1980’s, more sprinters and short distance runners were incorporating strength training in their programs. Sprinters were becoming more muscular. But they were also becoming increasingly faster.
Today more distance runners are doing running and weight training and are reaping many of its reported benefits.
6 Key Benefits Of Strength Training For Runners
- Get Faster – Strength exercises for runners will increase leg strength and help improve your body’s capacity to utilize oxygen and energy. This means you will use less oxygen to maintain a faster pace for a longer period of time.
- Lower the Risk of Injury – Running places incredible compression forces on your lower back, knees and feet. Strength training exercises that focus on the hips will distribute forces away from the lower back; strengthen bones and ligaments and improve your body’s ability to withstand impact for every foot stride.
- Decrease Body Fat Levels – Strength training increases metabolism and helps your body burn fat faster. Lower body fat not only makes you look better but it also makes you healthier and a more efficient runner.
- Improve Your Finishing Kick – Strength training improves the ability of your muscles to increase force production generating into more power and explosiveness in your stride and finishing kick.
- Improve Overall Health – In addition to reducing unhealthy levels of body fat, strength training can also regulate blood sugar levels. When you do resistance training, the primary source of fuel is carbohydrates. Thus, regular strength training reduces the amount of excess glucose in your blood stream.
- Increase Mobility/ Flexibility and Strength – When you do a barbell squat, you are training your body to accommodate and overcome progressive resistance at a depth where your hips are lower than knee level.
What the barbell squat will do is increase the level of mobility to get into the bottom position, the strength to squat out of it and the flexibility to maintain the right biomechanics to complete the lift.
As you can see in the final benefit, coordinating your body to perform a series of movements to squat correctly will make runners better overall athletes.
How Runners Should Get Started On a Strength Training Program
If you haven’t done a strength training program before, the best approach would be to start with basic body weight exercises.
Body weight exercises are a type of strength training that focuses more functionality or your body’s natural movements. Here is a list of body weight exercises that can improve your strength for running:
- Push ups – Chest, arms, shoulders.
- Pull ups – Back, arms, shoulders
- Air Squats – Legs, glutes, hips, abs
- Lunges – Legs, glutes, hips, abs
- Reverse Lunges – Hamstrings, glutes, hips, abs
- Plank – Abs, lower back, shoulders
- Bird Dog – Abs, hips, lower back
- Mountain Climbers – Legs, hips, abs, lower back
You don’t have to do all of these exercises in one session. Pick out 3 to 4 exercises that target different body parts and do as many reps as you can for 3 to 4 sets. For planks however, the gold standard is if you can hold the position for 2 minutes non-stop.
The ideal schedule for beginners is to incorporate strength training twice a week, in between your running days.
5 Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners
Once body weight training has become easy, you can move on to other forms of strength training exercises.
While there are different forms of strength training programs to consider, lifting for runners particularly compound exercises is generally recognized as the most effective way of increasing strength and improving performance.
Compound exercises or the “basics” uses different muscle groups to perform the lift. Here are the best compound exercises for runners and the muscle groups they involve:
- Squat – Legs, hips, glutes, lower back, abs.
- Deadlift – Legs, hips, glutes, entire back, abs, shoulders, arms.
- Bench Press – Chest, shoulders, hips, abs, arms.
- Overhead Press – Shoulders, chest, arms, hips, abs.
- Power Clean – Legs, glutes, hips, abs, back, shoulders, arms.
If you notice every exercise involves the hips and abdominal muscles. This is important for runners to reduce the risk of injury. This is one of key benefits of weight training.
The psoas muscle is located in the hip area and is the only muscle that bridges the lower and upper body. The Squat and Deadlift are among the best strength exercise for runners because they improve the mobility and flexibility of the psoas. This will enable runners to absorb the jarring forces running places on the body.
The purpose of the abdominal muscles is to protect the spine. Stronger abs means better protection for your lower back.
Of course, progressively lifting heavier weights or doing more reps will protect your bones and ligaments by strengthening them and the supporting muscle tissue.
Lastly, these compound exercises require a great deal of coordination because they involve different muscle groups. For example, in the Deadlift, you transition from your legs to your hips before finally locking out with your upper back and shoulders.
Thus compound exercises will likewise contribute to making runners into better, all-around athletes.
Other Strength Training Exercises Runners Should Consider
Machines and resistance bands have their benefits in a strength training program and should be considered by runners and their coaches.
Machines are designed for safety and allow you to maintain angles and ranges of motion. Effective machine-based exercises for runners include:
- Lat Pulldowns – Back, biceps, shoulders.
- Leg Press – Legs, glutes, hips.
- Seated Rows – Back, biceps, shoulders.
- Seated Leg Curl – Hamstrings, glutes, hips.
- Calf Raise – Calves, hamstrings, lower back.
- Seated Chest Press – Chest, shoulders, arms.
- Glute Ham Raise – Glutes, hamstrings, lower back.
Resistance bands are perfect for warming up the body before doing strength exercises for runners. Use them while performing dynamic stretching to prime the muscles for training. It will improve exercise performance and lower the risk of injury.
How Should Runners Train For Strength?
Strength training for runners should be specific to the sport. Strength development for runners is different from those of Powerlifters, Olympic Weight Lifters or Strong Men.
You are not focused on building muscle mass or increasing the amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. The objectives are to increase speed, improve running efficiency while reducing the risk of injuries.
Combine running and weight training in the weekly program. Running remains the priority with strength training playing a supportive role.
Here are 6 tips on how to put together a lifting program for runners:
- Dedicate 2 days a week for strength training.
- A session should include no more than 5 exercises.
- An effective program should include all forms of strength training. For example:
- Tuesday – Squat, Lunges, Bench Press, Pull Ups, Plank
- Thursday – Deadlift, Push Ups, Leg Press, Seated Leg Curl, Bird Dog
- Train within 50% to 65% of your estimated single-rep maximum best for free weights. Keep resistance for machine-based exercises on the low side.
- Perform no more than 5 reps for compound exercises, 10 reps for machine-based and 5 to 10 for body weight exercises.
- Keep your sets to no more than 3 per exercise.
Putting these tips together will yield a running and weight lifting schedule as follows:
- Squat – 3 sets x 5 reps
- Lunges – 2 sets x 10 reps
- Bench Press – 2 sets x 5 reps
- Pull Ups – 3 sets x 5 reps
- Plank – 3 sets x 30 seconds
- Deadlift – 2 sets x 5 reps
- Push Ups – 2 sets x 10 reps
- Leg Press – 3 sets x 10 reps
- Seated Leg Curl – 2 sets x 10 reps
- Bird Dog – 3 sets x 30 seconds
If this is your first time to do a strength-training program, it would be advisable to hire the services of an experienced personal trainer or strength coach. Not only can they guide you through the program, but they can teach you the correct form, technique to get maximum benefit from the exercises while reducing the risk of injury.