I absolutely love running, but I didn’t always feel this way. It took years of on and off running to adapt to it and become proficient enough to enjoy it. One thing that helped me and many other runners improve their performance was to have a consistent weight and resistance training program. More importantly, this will help prevent injuries that are certain to occur to runners without a proper weight training plan.
Making you a stronger runner
Weight training will simply make your muscles stronger and have more endurance. Now there are many factors that contribute to this, but if you were to do almost any program you would notice some benefits. Most adult runners out there are recreational or recreationally competitive distance runners. Meaning either they run for fitness and fun (recreational) or they train for races like 10ks, half marathons, or marathons as a hobby (recreationally competitive). So, this advice is for the majority of runners out there. Other runners like competitive distance runners and recreational or competitive sprinters are certainly going to benefit from a weight training program, but with more specificity to their events.
For the common runner, the focus should be on endurance when it comes to performance. Whether you are a 6 min/mile or 15min/mile runner your muscles will be in an endurance (aerobic) mode. Most workouts are going to fall in the 12-20 rep range for each exercise, which predominately work the slow twitch muscle fibers useful for distance running. This will help your muscles endure all those miles you put in each week.
Although muscular endurance is your primary focus, muscular strength workouts should be added into your program. Workouts with heavier weights and lower reps will help for hills and your kick to the finish line. These are done less often than your muscular endurance weight training, but should still be in your workout plan.
A word on weight training for speed-based athletes because I am (trying to be) one. Strength training becomes very important but is done in phases at the correct time of year. It also must be done without a significant sacrifice in mobility. Being strong for a set of 10 reps on squats does not make you fast, but it’s good strength to have before you move into heavy 1-3 rep sets. Which also does not make you fast by itself, but it gives you the potential to produce power out on the field or track. Much more has to be done with variations of Olympic lifts, plyometrics, and of course actual sprinting to be fast.
Improved posture and better running efficiency
Having good posture while running will make a world of difference when it comes to performance. It will also make running feel much easier because your body doesn’t have to work as hard when things are properly aligned. Posture is a whole-body concept where bad posture in one area is going to affect all areas of your body.
For runners it is important to have good pelvic posture to improve your times. The most common thing I see in this area is an over arched lower back (hyperlordosis) which is a part of an excessive anterior pelvic tilt. This posture is related to weak abdominals and gluteal muscles along with tight hip flexors and lower back muscles. Making an effort to run with a neutral lumbar spine with your abs pulled in will get you so much more out of each stride. It will also significantly reduce injuries of many different kinds. 2 years ago I was having the hardest time breaking 60 seconds for a 400m race. It dawned on me I was letting my abs go the second half of the race. So the next week I trained keeping my abs in hard while gutting through some hard sets of sprints. The next race I ran 3.5 seconds faster for 57.45 seconds. It felt like I was going to pass out after but, it worked.
Upper body posture is also huge for runners. We tend to slouch over as we get tired which is common on longer runs. This makes it MUCH harder to breath. Distance running is very aerobic meaning it requires oxygen to perform the activity. If we keep our shoulders back and chest up we can take deeper breaths supplying our body with the oxygen we need to run.
Now with all that said, weight and resistance training can help strengthen muscles to hold us in better posture while we run. Although we do want to be conscious of keeping good posture while we run, we have to strengthen these areas outside of running to make it more automatic during the run.
Keeping you free from injury is the most important benefit of weight training as a runner. You can‘t become a better runner if you are injured and can’t run. For those who enjoy running, we want to keep you healthy so you can continue training.
Strengthening weak muscles common to runners is a major part of staying injury free. As mentioned before weak abs can lead to bad posture and an array of injuries. Glutes are also an area in need of strengthening. They will help you get a better push off and a bigger stride.
Strengthening in general will help you have more stable joints and improve alignment. It will also reduce extraneous movements making you more efficient. While this will certainly make you faster, it will also reduce unnecessary strain on joints, tendons, and muscles.
Ok, with all the reasons why runners should have a weight and resistance training plan, what should they do? The first group of exercises are general strength exercises, which will help with muscle imbalances, posture and strength. The second group are more specific to running, which will help with performance and specific injury prevention. This is just a starter list of exercises and many more can be added.
What to do:
Traditional exercises with good technique
· Hip Hinge, RDLs.
· Hamstrings curls
· Traditional Abs: Crunches, knee raises, planks, twists.
· Scapular retraction exercises: Cobras etc.
· All other muscles do need to be worked, just not necessarily focused on.
Running specific exercises
· Lunge to pulldown. Lunges in general.
· Step ups
· Ball hamstring curls
· Hip bridges: Single leg, ball, hip thrusts.
· Calf raises w/ aligned ankles
· Abs w running focus. Rotational ball tosses, chops, knee raises.
2-3 days a week of weight training is recommended for runners. There are many ways to design your weekly workouts (workout split). Beginners can start with 2 whole body workouts a week. Those accustomed to weight training can split up their workouts into a push, pull, and abdominal/corrective focus day.
Jerry Yuhara, CPT, CES, CMT #75123
4193 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94306
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