The Importance of Strength Training
All runners should fit strength into their weekly training plan. While running should be the most integral part of your exercise regime, there is a place for strength too. Stronger leg muscles will allow you to propel yourself farther with every step. Stronger core muscles will improve your stability to help you run more comfortably for longer. Stronger connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) will become less prone to injury too.
However, there is one thing to always bear in mind:
Strength workouts must complement your running.
Pair with Easy Runs
Many runners will run 3-4 times a week and wonder how they can fit in more exercise! You can fit strength training sessions into a weekly plan in one of two ways. The first is to do a simple 15-20-minute bodyweight routine after an easy 30-minute run, as you will already be in your workout clothing and in the rhythm of exercising.
The other way to fit in a strength training session is to split the day’s exercise routine in half. For instance, you could do a strength session in the morning and then do an easy run in the evening.
Only Run on Hard Run Days
Do not do a strength training session on a ‘hard run’ day! During your quality running sessions, you want to focus on pushing your body to its limits when you are doing workouts such as intervals, fartlek or hill runs. On those days you should not have any energy left to do strength training afterwards! There should ideally be 2 days rest between a strength training session and a quality running workout.
There are two main types of strength workout:
- Lifting Weights
This is where you are working with weights (most often in a gym). You may be working on a light load/high repetition basis or conversely on a heavy load/low repetition basis. Care should be taken to correctly learn the exercises and to start on lighter loads until you build the correct technique and strength. Like running, it is important to continually push the boundaries with weight training in order to achieve consistent performance progression.
‘Repetition Maximum’ is a term which applies to the heaviest weight that you can lift for 1 exercise, for a maximum of 1-5 repetitions (for example weighted squats and deadlifts). You are likely to feel ‘heavy-legged’ after this sort of training, beware!
- Use Your Bodyweight
The second type of strength workout only uses your own bodyweight. This is arguably less strenuous than working with weights, but not always! As with weighted workouts, make sure you are performing the exercises with the correct technique to ensure the maximum benefit and to minimize the risk of injury. To check you are performing the exercise correctly, film yourself using your phone and compare it to an instructional video.
Once you are confident you can perform the exercise with good form, you can start maximizing repetitions within the given time limit, usually 30-60 seconds. Workout intensity can be differentiated by playing around with the following variables – number of repetitions, recovery period, number of sets (workout duration).
There are literally hundreds of different bodyweight exercises that can be done, some of which will focus on legs and core specifically, others which will work the full body.
A Rock-Solid Foundation
Some runners worry that strength training will make them too big to run. This is a fallacy because to develop a musculature like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, you would have to lift very heavy weights on a daily basis as well as eat an enormous amount of food!
If you run regularly, it is unlikely that you will develop this sort of physique because running is a catabolic activity, meaning it breaks down muscle. Strength training is an anabolic activity meaning that it builds muscle. Runners, who strength train, won’t bulk up, but they will become very strong, which in turn will allow them to run better for longer!
Jeff’s Tip – Strength training can help to correct imbalances that many of us have in the body. Often one side of a muscle group is slightly stronger than the other, so doing exercises unilaterally (working one side at a time) can help to right these differences (for example one-legged squat).
Further Help – To view Total Running Club’s bodyweight exercise library, please click here.