Strength training is a crucial component for runners looking to enhance their performance. While incorporating tempo runs, long runs, and speedwork into your routine can improve speed and efficiency, adding strength training takes your running abilities to the next level. According to Jason Fitzgerald, a running coach and founder of Strength Running, strength work accomplishes three main goals for runners: preventing injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues, helping to run faster by boosting neuromuscular coordination and power, and improving running economy by enhancing coordination and stride efficiency.
One common concern among runners is the fear of gaining bulky muscles that might hinder their speed. However, Joe Holder, a Nike+ Run Club coach, explains that unless you engage in frequent heavy lifting and consume excessive calories, it’s unlikely for you to gain weight that would impair your running. In fact, as Fitzgerald states, “There are no weak fast runners.” This sentiment is echoed by Emile Cairess, a record-breaking UK runner, who emphasizes the importance of strength training as a means of equipping yourself with optimal “tires” to support your running abilities.
Strength training for runners doesn’t have to be complicated. Cairess follows the advice of running-focused S&C coach Richard Blagrove and incorporates a set of key strengthening exercises a couple of times a week. The focus should be on lifting, rather than solely raising your heart rate through excessive cardio. Fitzgerald advises using relatively heavy weights for a moderate number of repetitions, with ample recovery time. Whether at the gym or at home with minimal equipment, the emphasis should be on working your entire body with compound exercises that engage multiple joints and muscle groups, such as lunges, squats, rows, or deadlifts. This approach improves strength proficiency, body awareness, mobility, balance, and speed, as explained by Holder.
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Additionally, it’s important to target single-leg exercises since running primarily involves one-legged movements. Exercises like single-leg deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and lunges can help identify and address any strength imbalances between your legs. Moreover, body-weight exercises like bridges and planks are valuable for targeting areas of weakness, such as the glutes, hips, and core. If you find lifting weights challenging, focusing on body-weight exercises can still build strength while allowing you to master proper form.
When it comes to the intensity and progression of strength training, it’s essential to approach it strategically. Brad Schoenfeld, a strength and conditioning specialist, recommends lifting heavy weights to maximize strength gains. Fitzgerald suggests periodizing your strength-training program similar to how you structure your running plan. Start with basic sets and repetitions to build movement capacity and efficiency, gradually increasing the weight. Over time, you can transition to power-based moves or Olympic lifts with fewer reps and more sets.
The frequency of strength training sessions for runners can vary depending on individual circumstances, but most coaches recommend incorporating two to three sessions per week. However, if time is a constraint, research suggests that even one 20-minute strength training session per week can be effective in building and maintaining strength. The key is to choose exercises with an appropriate level of resistance, where you can only manage four to six repetitions. Rest periods between exercises should be around 20 seconds.
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In terms of scheduling, it’s important to consider the impact of strength training on your running performance. Kenji Doma, a sports and exercise scientist, recommends allowing at least 48 hours between lower-body resistance training and intense running workouts to avoid impairment. However, for lower-intensity runs, lifting weights on the same day is generally well-tolerated, as long as there is a minimum of nine hours between the two activities.
By incorporating strength training into your running routine, lifting heavy weights strategically, and ensuring proper scheduling, you can enhance your running performance, prevent