Strength training for runners

Why do we do strength training?

We mainly do it to avoid injury, to make muscles, tendons, and ligaments stronger, and - most importantly - to improve performance. This should always be the outcome of strength training for your sport; does it make your sport performance improve?

Stronger muscles are better shook absorbers and strength training also increases your bone density. A combination of upper and lower body exercises will enable the upper body to support forces and provide power, whilst the key lower body muscles provide stability, help absorb forces and drive endurance and power.

Starting out.

When you first start strength training, a good way to begin is by only doing exercises that use your own bodyweight. Then, as you feel more comfortable or when the exercises become easier, you can incorporate some weights in too.

When you first start out with weights, it’s better to start with a weight that you know you can do. You can always add weight as you progress. Don’t think that because you run you will only need to do upper body training, you will need to strengthen your whole body. Running is very repetitive and uses certain muscles, but some muscles get left out and that’s why you need to strength train.

When you fit your strength training in is down to your running routine and lifestyle. Some plans are more frequent with their running sessions and some are 2–3 days a week, so with more frequent running sessions, where to place your strength sessions becomes more challenging. Do you strength train on an easy run day, which doesn’t make the easy day so easy, or do you place it on the morning or evening of the days you do tougher sessions to maximise recovery time?

There really isn’t a right way for all, only a right way for you. Think about what is important to you and what you value the most and fit the sessions around your week.

Making a plan.

As mentioned earlier, strength training is not just about lifting weights. To begin with, just use your own bodyweight as resistance and you can progress to weights in time.

When you start out, it’s best to do strength training twice a week. This will help to improve your running speed and your ability to transport oxygen around your body, as the network of oxygen transporting channels improves and grows.

To start with, you could try the following sequence for 3–5 rounds of 8–12 repetitions:

  • Squats/Split Squat
  • Push Ups
  • Inverted/Banded Row
  • Plank

There are many other exercises you can choose, but the above are a good place to start. Additional core and glute exercises can be done at other times of the week - in preparation for a run, for example.

Progressing.

When progressing through a season or a training plan, the general advice is to start with exercises that don’t look much like running. Then, as you get closer to the event or race that you’re training for, the exercises start to mimic the running activity.

This progression might look like:

Squat > Split Squat > Lunges > Step Ups.

So the movement moves from a 2-leg static version of a leg exercise, to a 1-leg locomotive/travelling exercise.

So, if you are looking to improve your performance or to simply keep healthy and enjoy your running, strength training can support your goals and is a great addition to your routine.

If you would like more information, or to chat about strength training for running, contact Terry Cooper — Deputy Head of Operations, Fitness and Performance at Sussexsport: t.cooper@sussex.ac.uk.

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