I will explore and attempt to unravel some of the common misconceptions held by the running community, and second, I will recommend a systematic approach to strength-training for runners. Years ago, the idea of a runner lifting weights was virtually unheard of. Today, weight training is gaining acceptance as a means to improving performance in many athletic areas. Running And Strength Training
Yet there are still many runners and running coaches who think strength training is detrimental. When questioned, many will claim that it produces an increase in body weight, decreased flexibility and this will, ultimately, impede the runner’s form. The purpose of this article is two-fold. First, I will explore and attempt to unravel some of the common misconceptions held by the running community, and second, I will recommend a systematic approach to strength-training that will enable a runner to maximize his/her overall running performance.
Long Distance Running And Strength Training – Why Weight Train?
Running. Those involved in this activity know first-hand the benefits that are obtained as a result of running. These are lowered blood pressure (1), increased lung capacity, strengthening of the heart, and, of course, loss of body fat. Does strength training actually help, and if so, where does it fit in?
A intelligent strength training program will allow a greater workload to be carried out. It increases muscular strength which in turn decreases the chances of injury, and it increases connective tissues which allow the body to become a more durable support system.
As with any sport, injuries are an expected occurrence. Some of the common injuries runners suffer from are, achilles tendonitis, back pain, calf strain, compartment syndrome, groin pull, hamstring injuries, iliotibial band syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis … and the list goes on. As mentioned earlier, a properly organized strength-training regimen can decrease the risk, and the severity of running injuries (2, 3).
Strength training also improves running performance (4, 5) by changing intra-muscular coordination, that is, the capacity to recruit the muscle fibers more efficiently as one continues to weight train. This, in turn, results in an improvement in coordination, which translates into more efficient movement patterns. It also improves running economy, which is defined by an increase in the ability to consume oxygen at a steady state (a continuous movement for an extended period of time).
Long Distance Running And Strength Training – Myths And Misconceptions
Heavy weights will bulk you up.
Muscle “bulk” is dependent on several variables which include adequate nutrition, an optimal stimulus in the form of progressively heavier loads and enough rest so that adaptation may occur. If the variables are not in place “bulk” will not occur. Saying that “heavy weights will bulk you up” is similar to saying that if you sprint too much, you will become too fast. Running And Strength Training
As it happens, most elite runners have an ectomorphic physique (a thin, non-muscular body type) that is attributed to genetics and seems to be resistant to significant weight gains. If anything, weight in the form of more muscle could be likened to adding more horsepower to a car.
The car is still the same except with greater power. In light of their genetic predisposition to not gain appreciable amounts of muscle it becomes clear that heavy weights will not bulk up a long distance runner.”
Keep rest periods short between each set.
The goal of resting between sets is to ensure recovery of the body systems. The major source of energy that is most important to a lifter is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is directly linked to training for strength, or, more specifically, to neural recovery (the main factor involved in increasing strength levels).
Brief rest periods (30-60 seconds) are aerobic in nature, and antagonistic to strength development. Below is a chart that shows the recovery of ATP and the approximate time associated with the replenishment of this energy system.
Train with high reps. Running And Strength Training
It’s often claimed (since distance running is endurance oriented) that the use of high reps should be incorporated into a runner’s weight training program. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Think of it this way, a strength trainer doesn’t go out for a run with dumbbells strapped to his arms and/or legs, so why would an endurance runner work on weight endurance in the gym? As long as running is being performed during the week, the need for cardiovascular training is bring met.
Strength improvements are derived by lifting a weight for a number of repetitions which are linked to the increase in maximal strength. “High reps,” usually defined as 15 repetitions or greater, work on muscular endurance. Below is a chart that shows the approximate guidelines describing what each repetition range effects.
Long Distance Running And Strength Training – Setting Up A Strength Training Program
Build a base. Every program needs a base of support, a phase in which the body (joints and soft tissues) becomes accustomed to the weight training exercises being introduced. An analogy to describe this phase looks at two houses.
One is built on rock and the other on sand. Over time the base of support which acts to maintain the integrity of the structure will be tested. If the foundation is weak, then the structure will ultimately collapse. In the weight room, this collapse is known as injury. Running And Strength Training
When starting any strength program the body should go through an adjustment phase to adapt to the new demands being placed on it. The emphasis of this phase is not on the amount of weight lifted, rather it should revolve around the form and technique of the program exercises employed in the introductory phase.
During this phase do not be surprised if strength levels increase, just remember to progressively move through this cycle. There is a tendency however, to want to move too quickly as one’s coordination and strength improve. Bear in mind though, that patience is a virtue and an injury can occur at any time.
Training frequency, how often is too often? Your training frequency should be keyed to the number of runs you perform in a week and their intensity. For example, if you run twice a week, strength training can be performed three, maybe even four times a week. If you run four or five times a week, training in the gym should then be limited to twice a week sessions. In other words, the frequency of training will vary according to your running schedule.
Furthermore, if your runs are divided into various categories (light run, long run, hills or speed/interval training) resistance training needs to be adjusted to meet these demands. For example, if you are running three times a week and your runs are divided into three categories (long run on Monday, light run on Wednesday and interval training on Friday) then a workout in the gym woud be placed on a light day before the run and on Saturday a day after an interval session.
This would accomplish two things-first, allow for enough recovery time between workouts so that the muscles can adapt and grow stronger as a result, and second, it would not interfere with the running schedule and compromise running performance. As already mentioned, training frequency should revolve around the running schedule.
Strength Training for Long Distance Runners
There are a lot of ways to incorporate strength into your half marathon training program. When “in season” and training for a half marathon, include two strength sessions per week at least one day apart. So Monday and Thursday might work. Also remember to avoid strength training the day before your long runs. This is not a big deal when the long runs are short, but when they start to climb up beyond 6-8 miles, strength training the day before can fatigue your legs. When you are “off season” you can go back to your normal strength program and strength train more frequently. Running And Strength Training
The recipe of exercises is also important. Remember, running is your primary goal while “in season” and strength training becomes secondary. Strength for runners is more about developing balanced strength in your Core, upper and lower body as well as balance and flexibility. You can strength train on your cross-training days or after a short, easy run.
Make sure to include a balanced series of exercises for your total body. So push-up, crunches, plank, lunges and leg curls to name just a few. It is also important to train with single leg exercises. Since running is a “single” leg sport teaching and strengthening each leg on its own is vital. Squats [double leg exercise] are great for runners, but also include exercises like lunges [single leg exercise]. Running And Strength Training
Since you are a seasoned in strength training stick with 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise and make sure to take it to fatigue. For instance, you should select a resistance where you reach fatigue by the time you reach 8-12 reps. Fatigue is the point at which you can no longer perform the exercise with good, controlled form. For those that are new to strength and want to start, begin with 12-15 repetitions for one set per exercise. After 3-4 weeks of regular strengthening, add a second set. *You can also take a strength class at your gym too!
Remember the key to optimizing your strength for running is to focus on good form and taking the exercises slowly. I am a huge believer in working with a personal trainer or physical therapist for a few sessions to develop your form and strength program. If you can, it makes all the difference in the world. It removes all the confusion and teaches you good, efficient form. Ask your local running specialty store staff for references.