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Strength training for runners is absolutely necessary to optimize performance. To back up this position, a recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research project surveyed 600+ runners of varying abilities. Outsideonline.com summarized the findings. In this article I tell you why strength training is important for runners. All of my training plans (regardless of the race distance), include structured resistance-training programs. Also included in this article, I provide images and video detailing an 8 exercise routine of different exercises that will strengthen legs, core, glutes and upper body.
For runners concerned that heavy lifting will build too much muscle mass, it’s important to realize that the ratio of time spent endurance running to time spent completing strength training makes it really hard to build any considerable mass. The Outsideonline article discusses and other research confirms that the physiological adaptations from running actually interfere with the physiological changes from strength training.
From the scientific survey, the best runners reported that they regularly complete strength training and plyometric exercises. It was noted that the less accomplished runners interviewed reported less frequent time performing various strength exercises. I was surprised that the survey noted no relationship between strength and conditioning training and injury history in the runners. According to the survey, the key predictor of injury was training volume. Essentially, the more you run, the more likely you are to get injured. This makes sense, but I’ll still place my money on stronger runners of all abilities being less susceptible to injury.
Outsideonline.com summarizes these latest research studies detailing how strength training improves running economy, maximal sprint speed, and race performance. I think this is great news, especially because it reinforces my position that strength training for runners is very important and should be incorporated in every training plan. Even better is the finding that the strength training for runners doesn’t need to be of the type that would transform runners into big, muscular athletes. Think of someone like Mo Farah (4 time Olympic medalist in 5/10k) or Galen Rupp. They’re both strong, but not bulky.
In summary, strength training for runners results in faster run speed due to improvements in anaerobic power, neuromuscular efficiency, running economy, and power development capabilities.
The authors of these studies recommend incorporating various types of strength training at different times of the year. I refer to the details of this kind of periodized program of completing different blocks of training in another post. Essentially the goal is to introduce a new stimulus for your muscles once in a while, which will allow for the best development. Just like you won’t get better by simply running 6 miles at the same pace, day after day, you need to vary your strength training routine.
Strength Training for Runners 101
If you’re new to strength training, I strongly recommend starting slow with mobility and bodyweight exercises. In the offseason, it’s recommended to complete strength training workouts 2-3 times per week. During your race build up, you can reduce strength training to 1-2 times per week.
These days, it may not be possible to lift heavy weights, so your best bet is to conduct some challenging bodyweight exercises, such as those depicted in the following video. These exercises are typically included as Level 2 or 3 in my marathon training plans. This means that they’re more challenging than relatively easier (but important) exercises like bodyweight squats and lateral lunges.
Lastly, it’s best to concentrate on exercises that are functionally more important to running. Without going into a technical breakdown of various exercises, I recommend a lot of core and single-leg variations, like single-leg split squats, jumping and lunge variations. These exercises are essential for the development of dynamic stability, which is important for increasing running economy.
Use the following video and images to incorporate bodyweight exercises into your training plan. If you use weights (especially heavier weights), reach out a certified strength and conditioning coach to advise you on proper and safe lifting techniques.
Here’s the exercises included in the following runner’s conditioning workout (modifications to make some of the exercises are provided when appropriate).
- Jump Squat
- Triangle Push-Ups
- Bicycle Crunches
- Forward Lunge
- Leg Raises
- Side planks with Twist
- Single Leg Squat
- Bear Crawls and Bear Crawls with twist
Remember to keep your hard days hard and easy days easy, so it’s best to perform the following conditioning work within 3 hours of your harder (long run, intervals, hills, etc) workouts.