I see so many articles regurgitated throughout Facebook posts, general and specialist magazines and from so called running and ultra running ‘gurus’ (WTF by the way!), ranging from ’10 essential strength exercises for runners’ to ‘5 minute leg circuit for running strength’.
I very rarely see any article that has any substance let alone an actual strength appropriate repetition (rep) range or load (we’ll come back to these points later) to actually be called strength training. I’m not talking about conditioning or mobility, just strength (CA coach Ed will give you his knowledge on the importance of mobility very soon).
On the whole the vast majority of runners from recreational to seasoned competitor to pro-racer totally neglect strength training, however, without a solid strength foundation, performance improvement at best will be tiny over a long period, the potential for injury from both not highlighting movement issues and from compounding movement issues through thousands of steps on each run will be high, and there is no way that without this strength foundation that you can train for stamina (another issue seen in all these sources - stamina is not a shorter harder run!). Another awesome reason for strength training is to build a resistance to fatigue. This isn’t just from doing your long run or hill sessions, which themselves are usually far to long an interval to reap any significant or deserved cardiovascular gains for your effort or commitment.
In the groups that we train and educate we meet a lot, no, a hell of a lot of serious runners (weekly mileage and event distance) that do nothing but run. Most move horribly, most have pain, most will have pain or significant issues in the future, most have no maintenance programme, most don’t eat appropriately, most carry unnecessary body fat or have poor body composition, most don’t warm up or mobilise effectively (if at all) - we could go on…
I had someone approach me for training who we’ll name ‘Bob’ to protect his innocence. Bob was a solid and consistent 1:29 half marathon runner. 6ft tall and built like someone who has run a serious amount of miles and been totally dedicated to pushing himself, but without venturing inside a weights room or maintaining himself effectively.
Due to the tenacity of Bob’s nature and willingness to commit to improve himself he allowed me to take him out of his comfort zone for twelve weeks. Now, for anyone let alone a runner, this is quite a long time to commit to something that one, they have never tried before, two, they don’t actually like, and three, that takes them away from the very thing that they love doing, which I totally recognise as being ‘ballsy’ by any stretch of the imagination, but as we know if you are resistant to change or trying something different, how will you know how much you can improve… Wow, that was deep!
We focused on ensuring that Bob, moved properly and was pain free. I taught Bob how to lift. I taught Bob the relevance and importance of time under tension, tempo of exercise, repetition ranges and appropriate load. I subjected him to several different types of strength protocols and as the training progressed added phases of stamina (‘What, in the gym?’ I hear you say. Yes, in the gym!), speed and power. And Bob underwent a very steep learning curve with his nutrition. I recognise that twelve weeks to include all of this isn’t long, but hey, getting Bob to commit to twelve weeks whilst all he kept on asking was “Can I go for a run now?’ was no mean feat! But ultimately, he did commit. He did improve. He may have actually enjoyed a session a long the way (maybe that’s pushing it!). He took a massive fifteen minutes off his half marathon time. Yes, one five, 15, ten plus five, fifteen minutes and he did this two weeks after completing the twelve week strength package! I knew he would improve significantly, but seriously though, that’s outrageous.
Bob’s running related improvements:
Resistance to muscular fatigue
Resistance to injury
Quicker recovery mid run, after up or down hills and post run
Increased mental strength
Considerable jump in half marathon PB
A chest (his wife didn’t think this was possible!)
Pair of actual shoulders
A good set of legs
Reps and load:
If you can do 10 plus reps of an exercise correctly with your bodyweight you need to add load, fact. So the next time you see “strength training for runners” or anything else on Facebook, and they’re not mentioning adding load, move swiftly on! Very simply, you should be lifting or pressing the heaviest that you can for the required rep range if you want to improve, yes we can go into percentages of one rep max, but this is to get you started and thinking appropriately. Girls, don’t even mention what you’re thinking, “But I’ll get big!”. Trust me, the only thing that will happen is what I’ve listed below, so if you don’t want Bob’s running related improvements, to be leaner, have better posture or to look even better (you see what I did there), then you may as well stop reading now. When it came to rep ranges, it’s not as simple as we used a range of protocols during his strength phase and also some obscene ranges in his stamina phase.
If you love running, even if you’re not looking for performance improvements, take time out once a year and commit, not just to a strength programme, but to making yourself bulletproof and making yourself someone who moves better, more than likely with less pain and someone who can actually perform well too, Bob’s wife says you’ll look better too, but no one is interested in that are they… Look at your year and you’ll more than likely see a window of strength training opportunity due to a lack of races, poor weather or out of season. Six weeks strength training is just enough, but only if you are conditioned, moved well, know what you are doing and do it annually or several times a year. Twelve weeks once a year, now that will see you improving. Learn how to warm up, learn about effective and specific mobility both for related issues and for general maintenance and back health and learn about nutrition!
Yes, specificity is key, but only once you have the found
Regardless of your goal or chosen discipline, know why you are training, not just specific event, but each and every training session. Trust me, you will know where to focus your efforts and you will be more determined at each rep, sprint or hill climb to grasp every potential and possible gain that you can.
It’s simple, if you want to improve IN ANYTHING, stop doing what you think is right, find out what you should actually be doing and commit, just like ‘Bob’ did.