Essential Strength Training for Runners

Most runners avoid the weight room like the plague. As a coach and runner, I’ve heard (and given) all the excuses. Look, I get it. With all that running it’s tough to find the time to squeeze non-running workouts into the schedule. And besides, to get strong at running all you need to do is run, right? Well … no.

So let’s talk about why you, my fellow runner, should be lifting.

Why Strength Training?

In order to run healthy and strong, you must have a well-balanced and efficient gait. In other words, your gluteus maximus, hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings must all do their job well and not be forced to do the job of any other muscles.

In addition to building you a better gait, strength training can help build all the helper muscle groups that keep you running tall, breathing well, and feeling powerful. Your core and gluteus medius have the job of stabilizing your hips, keeping them from shifting side-to-side, which is terrible for your joints, wears you out faster, and can lead to increased post-run muscle soreness. Also, strong arms and shoulders are necessary for a powerful arm swing that will propel you forward and balance out the movement of your legs.

Obviously, if you wanna run strong, you’ve gotta strength train each of these key running muscles so they are strong enough to keep you going. But if you wanna run healthy, you’ve gotta strength train to ensure that each muscle is strong enough to do its own job so that other muscles don’t have to pick up the slack. For example, if your glutes are weak, other muscles may try to do more than they are capable of and ultimately become strained from overload.

When it comes to injuries, the problem isn’t always the sport either. Sure, running is a repetitive motion using the same muscles to perform the same tasks over and over and over, but it’s often our lifestyles that cause the real problems. If you spend an hour a day running and 7 hours sitting in a chair at your desk, odds are your body will adapt more to the sitting than the running. Over time, the muscles and tissues of your body start to weaken and tighten around the shape of how you sit. This creates serious muscular imbalances, which can leave you prone to overuse and injury.

But don’t worry, there’s still hope. This is where a solid, sport-specific strength training plan comes in. It restores balance to your running muscles so you can keep running strong.

8 Essential Moves for Runners

1. Deadlifts. Do it for your booty and hammies, ‘nuf said.

2. Single-Leg Squats. In running, you only ever have one leg on the ground at a time so you might as well squat that way. Squat to a box or do pistols (unassisted or TRX-assisted).

3. Bulgarian Split Squats. Sorta like the staple lunge only better because the weight in the legs is offset. Put your back leg on a bench or in a TRX for bonus stability points.

4. Clam Shells. Trust me, your knees and IT band will thank you.

5. Renegade Rows. Builds upper body strength to help power up those hills and increases your core’s ability to resist rotation, which keeps your back and hips happy.

6. Pull-ups. I know, it seems mean but seriously nothing makes your posture better.

7. Plank. Because your core can never be too stable, and if you’ve already mastered the regular plank, try these and keep your core guessing.

8. Side Plank. Obliques and outer hip support for days. If it’s too easy, try lifting a leg or do them with your forearm on a Bosu or other unstable surface.

I recommend 2-3 strength workouts per week for runners, depending on where you are in your training schedule. To make it more schedule-friendly, you can break it into two separate workouts by doing the odd-numbered moves and even-numbered moves on non-consecutive days as two separate workouts.

Aim for 3 sets of each. As far as number of reps, I suggest mixing it up every 2-3 weeks, alternating between a few weeks of heavier weight/lower reps (using a weight that is challenging to do for 5-8 reps) and a few weeks of lower weight/higher reps (using a weight that is challenging to do for 10-15 reps). It’s a great way to keep your body challenged and break up the monotony.

Ready to hit the gym? —Alison 

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