Far too many runners only train by running. And far too many of these runners are getting injured. Why? Running can cause significant wear and tear on the joints, inflammation, tightness, inflexibility and muscle imbalances. So what should you do if you’re a runner and want to improve? The answer lies in strength training. And while many runners fear they’ll get bulky or slow down if they lift weights, the key is in the intensity and approach they take to strength training.
Strength Training to be a Better Runner
You don’t have to train like a bodybuilder or serious power lifter to be a better runner. But it’s crucial to build strong muscles in your glutes, hips and core to help lessen the impact running has on your body. When you get stronger you’ll increase your resiliency to injuries, get faster, improve your running posture, build your endurance and create an athletic foundation that will take your running game to an entirely new level. Are you frustrated with running at a 10-minute or 11-minute-mile pace (or whatever it might be)? If you strength train, you’ll see quite the improvement in your tempo and shave seconds off your PR. When you choose to strength train to be a better runner, you don’t need to be in the gym for hours at a time. The key is to find what works for you and doesn’t get in the way of your running; strength training should amplify your running, not hinder it. At first start off with one to two weekly sessions of 15-20 minutes. Work the entire body or split it up into an upper body and then lower body workout later in the week. Opt for compound exercises that work multiple muscles at once for optimal results and, when you can, try to incorporate balance and core activation exercises into the mix. As you get stronger you can increase the intensity and frequency of sessions. And don’t get too wrapped up in specific sets and reps. A beginning recommendation would be to pick four to six exercises per session and perform two to three sets at 10-15 reps each. Of course this might vary depending on your fitness level and physical history. Form is far more important than quantity. Some of the best exercises for runners include:
- Renegade rows
- Lunges (reverse and lateral)
- Planks (side planks too)
- Supermans or press-ups
Strength training doesn’t have to be fancy or require special equipment. I train a lot of runners by using body weight exercises, light dumbbells, resistance bands and even kettlebells. I also love TRX and BOSU, because they help runners improve their core strength; this is valuable for injury prevention and improving athletic performance. As a trainer, I want my runners to have excellent core control, flexibility and the strength to move in various directions. I’ll pay special attention to their hips, calves and thighs in addition to their core, because these muscles are very important when they want to be a better runner. And in regards to the timing of a workout, make sure to factor in your running schedule. I wouldn’t recommend performing leg workouts the day before or after a long run. Listen to your body too, and rest if need be. Reassess every two weeks or even more often to see how your body is reacting to the training. And don’t forget to incorporate stretching, foam rolling and yoga/mobility exercises into the mix to ensure your body is recovering from the added training!