I know, I know. Strength training and distance runners seem to be mutually exclusive. After all, running 70 miles per week is not exactly conducive to bulking up, and carrying around an extra 10 pounds of muscle would be detrimental when trying to race a marathon. Many distance runners are of the philosophy that strength training takes up valuable time that would be better served by running more, as well. After all, the specificity of training states that to excel at a certain endeavor, one must train for that particular discipline more than any other. This is why swimming or playing basketball are not included in most running training plans.
There is another camp that believes that strength training can help with runners who tend to be injury prone. Many injuries can be traced to muscle imbalances or weaknesses, and working on correcting those issues can help prevent future injuries. But what about injury-free, competitive runners? Can strength training be beneficial for them?
I think yes. Even if you are not prone to injuries and are very durable, I believe that strength training can make you a better runner. Lifting weights can improve your form and posture, and enable you to exert greater forces while running. These may be minor increases, but even a 1% increase in speed can be the different between a 16:05 5K and a 15:55.
So what kind of lifting should a runner do? This is also up for debate. Most people will recommend endurance athletes to use light weights and high reps. The philosophy behind this thinking is that instead of building bulky muscle, you will build strength endurance. As Galen Rupp and Mo Farah have shown us, however, one shouldn’t be afraid to lift heavier weights if they able to do so. Still, you probably want to be able to complete more reps than someone lifting to bulk up (e.g. Ryan Burke).
With this in mind, I have started incorporating some lifting into my weekly routine. I usually do it on a hard effort day, after my running workout, or separated from hard days by at least one easy/recovery day. I do a lot of body weight exercises, but do use weights for some exercises. With no further adieu, here is my weightlifting regiment:
Single Leg Squats: I like these because they work the glutes (which are weak on me) and help strengthen each leg individually. Since my left leg is stupid when I run, I use these to try to get both of my legs on equal footing (see what I did there?). These are really tough for me, though, as my balance is atrocious.
Walking Lunges: again, these work the glutes and help to strengthen the muscles that keep your legs in line and doing what they are supposed to do.
Squats: more glutes and quads. Strong legs are fast legs.
Pushups: I don’t know how much these help running, but they make me feel stronger overall. Ashlie and I are currently doing the 100 Pushup Challenge, with hopes of being able to complete 100 consecutive pushups at the end. Last time I did it, I was able to do 88 in a row.
Pull-ups: Again, these may not be particularly beneficial for running, but are good for working muscles that ordinarily are left to atrophy for runners.
Core: Everyone knows that a strong core is essential for running. But a strong core is more than just six-pack abs; it involves your back, trunk, and pelvic muscles too. I do a modified version of the “Gut Buster” routine we learned at Brockport, and add on some moves I got from Jay Johnson‘s Pedestal routine.