Strength training can improve your speed, efficiency and prevent injuries.
Weight training can seem counterintuitive to runners. We get it: the more muscle you have, the heavier you are, and the more weight you have to carry around when running. True, but that doesn’t mean you should swear off weight training all together.
In fact, runners need weight training even more than you may realise. “Strength work accomplishes three big goals for runners,” says Jason Fitzgerald, USATF-certified running coach, founder of Strength Running. “It prevents injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues; it helps you run faster by improving neuromuscular coordination and power; and it improves running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.”
That all sounds ideal, but it doesn’t make the weight room any less scary. To ease your fears, try changing your view on why you’re weight training and what it can do for you. As a runner, you’re training for strength, not to bulk up with massive muscle gains. And because of the amount of KMs you’re putting in weekly, the chances that you’d achieve a large increase in muscle mass are pretty low.
“The stimulus to put on muscle that won’t be beneficial for running is much higher than people realise, and unless you’re either lifting relatively heavy and frequently and/or eating an extremely high kilojoule diet, you’re unlikely to put on muscle,” says Joe Holder, USATF-certified running coach, Nike+ Run Club coach in New York City. “Just think about strength training one to two times a week, focusing on compound movement patterns, like a lunge or squat or hinge, and shoring up the areas that could lead to increased injury if they are weak, like the hips.”
And not all weight training is created equally. “Some strength workouts – like CrossFit WODs or circuit-based fitness classes – include too much of a metabolic or cardio component to be effective at prioritising the main goals for runners – which are strength and power,” Fitzgerald says. Runners get enough cardio, so Fitzgerald recommends focusing on relatively heavy weight for a moderate number of repetitions with full recovery. And don’t forget that your own body serves as weight. So if picking up a barbell or dumbbells is a big stretch for you, know that there are other ways to add resistance with weight.
We asked Holder and Fitzgerald to share some of their strength training moves that would be most beneficial for runners. Try these exercises below.
Works: chest and core muscles
Start in high plank, wrists under shoulder, core engaged so body forms a straight line from head to toes. Lower chest to floor then press back up to return to starting position. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps.
Advanced: weighted plate (6-15kg) on back
2. Inverted Row
Works: back and core muscles
Position a bar in a rack about waist height. Place hands just wider than shoulder width on the bar and position yourself underneath the bar with body straight, heels on ground, arms fully extended. Engage core to prevent hips from sagging. Bend elbows to pull chest toward bar, drawing your shoulder blades back and down. Return to starting position then repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Advanced: weight vest of 11kg
3. Reverse Fly
Works: mid-back, posterior shoulder, rhomboid muscles
Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells in hand. Hinge at the hips so that back is nearly parallel to floor and micro bend knees. Let the dumbbells hang straight down, palms facing each other. Keeping back flat and torso still, engage back muscles to lift arms straight out to sides until they’re in line with shoulders. Your upper body will form a “T”. Return to starting position then repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Beginners: 2kg dumbbells
Advanced: 4 to 7kg dumbbells
Works: core muscles
Place hands directly under shoulders. Engage core and squeeze glutes to stabilise body. Keep neck and spine neutral. Head should be in line with back. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat for 3 sets.
Beginners and Advanced: bodyweight
2. Hanging Leg Raise
Works: abdominal muscles
Grab a pull-up bar and dead hang from it, or find a knee raise and dip station in the gym. Engage core to raise legs straight up until parallel with floor. Slowly lower back to starting position and repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.
Advanced: 4 to 10kg medicine ball between ankles
3. Single Side Weighted Sit-Up
Lie face up on mat with feet flat on floor and a dumbbell in right hand extended straight up so that wrist is over shoulder. Engage core to lift chest and dumbbell up toward ceiling. Keeping arm straight, slowly lower back down to starting position with control. Repeat for 12 reps then switch to other side. That’s one set. Complete 3 sets.
Beginners: 2kg dumbbell
Advanced: 6kg dumbbell
Works: hamstring, glute, back andcore muscles
Stand with a micro bend in knees and feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab dumbbells and hinge at hips so they hang in front of shins, palms facing you. Brace core and lift weights by squeezing glutes, thrusting hips forward, and pulling torso back and up. Focus on just hinging at the hips, not squatting. Repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Beginners: 6 to 10kg weights
Works: leg, quad and glute muscles
Stand tall holding dumbbells in each hand at sides. Take a big step forward with right leg and lower body until right thigh is parallel to floor and right shin is vertical. Press into right heel to drive back up to starting position. Continue on right leg for 8 to 12 reps then repeat on opposite leg. That’s one set. Complete 3 sets.
Beginners: 4 to 10kg
3. Single-Leg Bridge
Works: hip and glute muscles
Lie face up on mat with feet flat and knees bent. Extend right leg straight up. Press into left heel to lift hips off mat in line with knee. Slowly lower back down and continue for 15 reps. Repeat on opposite leg. That’s one set. Complete 2 sets.