Strength training has many benefits for runners. We already know from the research that strength training can:
1.Improve running efficiency
2.Improve running speed
3.Improve muscle power
4.Reduce the risk of injuries
5.Support the healing process (rehab protocols for common running-related injuries like IT band syndrome, shin splints, runners knee, Achilles tendonitis, and stress fractures utilize strength training to trigger the healing response)
However, for some reason, most runners tend to skip strength training or they don’t take it seriously. On the other hand, some runners do strength train, but this is usually not the right type of strength training or they are guessing when and how much they should be doing.
To reap all the previously mentioned benefits, strength training needs to be properly individualized, running-specific, of sufficient intensity and with planned progressions.
Similar to how you track and progress your running pace, effort, and mileage, you should be doing the same with strength training. You should know exactly what weights to use, how you plan to progress to avoid plateaus and when to push yourself or slow down.
To give you an idea of what proper strength training for runners should look like and the process involved, let me introduce you to my client Ian who just recently crushed his half-marathon PB in New York!
Ian is a member of the Toronto Harriers running group and a very fast runner! How fast you ask? 2:44 marathon fast! However, that wasn’t good enough for him and he wanted to get faster, stronger and reduce the risk of injuries.
THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS
Before creating a program, we went through his health and fitness history. Having dealt with a foot stress fracture and proximal hamstring tendinopathy in the past, we needed to be extra careful when designing jumping exercises and exercises that put a load on the hamstrings when in a stretched position (e.g. deadlifts).
After this we completed a series of running-specific tests do helps us better individualize strength training program. Some of the tests we included were single leg balance, single leg strength, single- and double-leg drop jump, countermovement jump, core strength (front, side, and rotational strength) and flexibility tests. We also gathered info on total weekly running mileage, running schedule, sleep, nutrition, stress levels and any races in plan.
We determined that one side was weaker/less balanced (glutes “not firing” well on that side) and more work needed to be done to get the strength up if he was to get faster. Besides getting more efficient, speed and power largely depend on the strength of your muscles. So the goal of the first training block was to focus on strength building and then in the later stages of the training process we would work to convert that strength into speed and power by employing plyometric work.
Here is a short video of some of the exercises we used with Ian
Having a date of the goal race in my mind, which was New York half marathon, we would then dedicate one strength training block to tapering, where the goal would be to maximize running fitness and remove any fatigue from the previous training blocks.
Having gathered this info, we had a clear picture on:
- What exercises we needed to incorporate. We decided on specific mobility, strength and plyometric exercises;
- Intensity and volume for each exercise. (i.e. how many reps, sets and with what weight);
- Strength training schedule. Taking into account the running schedule, we determined how often and when we should be strength training so that it doesn’t interfere with running;
- Progression and tapering. Having a goal race in mind we designed specific blocks of strength training (usually 4-6 week strength training blocks) that would logically build on top of each other. For example, in the offseason, we focused less on the intensity of strength training and more on perfecting the form, making sure we are activating the right muscles and targeting specific weak areas. As we approached the goal race date we reduced the total volume of strength training, increased intensity and incorporated more plyometric work.
Having a full-time job and being a serious runner, meant that Ian didn’t have much time to dedicate to strength training. He needed quick and efficient workouts that would produce results. Considering he didn’t have time to see me more than once a week, we needed to make him self-sufficient and figure out a way how he can follow the program on his own. One of his main concerns was having a proper form and working out with limited exercise equipment when traveling, working out at home or switching gyms.
The first training block lasted 4-6 weeks and we started with two 45-minute workouts per week. We focused on major muscle groups like quads, hamstrings, calves, core and upper body. Emphasis was on the core and lower body since we didn’t want to get too bulky in the upper body. We needed more strength without gaining any additional weight.
We incorporated exercises like split squats, deadlifts, landmine core rotations, pull-ups, adductor side lunges, single arm dumbbell pressing, and single-arm cable pulls. Before each workout, we would go through a mobility and activation series to get the glutes working and address stiff areas like inner thighs and ankle for example.
During the second training block, we decided to add an additional session and implemented more of a plyometric type of exercises like drop jumps, countermovement jumps, resisted band jumps, hang cleans, etc.
The whole program was delivered through our TO Kinesiology software. Ian could see the whole program with complete text and video descriptions by logging in to his account on phone, tablet or computer. He would then know in advance what his next week will look like - exercises, repetitions, weights used, RPE, sets and rest periods.
This helped immensely when he needed to work out on his own and being just a text away through in-app messenger or email meant he could text me whenever he had any questions or concerns. When traveling or switching gyms we could quickly figure out what modifications we can make to the program while still being in line with his goals.
As we were getting close to the race date (New York Half-Marathon), we began to reduce the strength training volume. We still kept the same exercises using the same weights (i.e. same intensity), but we reduced the number of sets and reps performed (i.e. volume). This way we managed to keep the strength and power gained during the previous training blocks, but we minimized fatigue that could mask the true running performance and fitness.
After having struggled with a foot stress fracture and hamstring tendinopathy Ian managed to significantly increase strength and power on all of the major lifts:
- Back squat: went from 95 lbs to 145 Ibs;
- Split squat (reverse lunge): went from just using his own body weight to adding 60 Ibs to this movement;
- Deadlifts: went from 95 Ibs to 165 Ibs;
- Single leg deadlift: went from using no added weight to 30 Ibs dumbbell in each hand (60 Ibs total);
- Hang clean: went from just using the bar (35 Ibs) to lifting 95 Ibs;
In addition to this, his countermovement and band resisted jumps increased significantly! He was able to generate more force in less time and have a much softer landing (a good indication of force absorbing capabilities relevant to running).
Having this data we knew that bones and connective tissues increased in diameter and strength as well. This made Ian less prone to injuries and allowed him to better absorb the impact forces that naturally occur with running that can be 2-5 times your bodyweight!
So how did all this affect his running? Despite running less in his race preparation (less total weekly mileage typical for this distance), Ian managed to crush his half-marathon PB! Ian never felt as strong and "light" as he does now and can feel his glutes and muscles working again. All whilst having no foot or hamstring discomfort.
If you’d like to get results like Ian, feel free to get in touch with us to see how we can help you. We offer running-specific personal training in Toronto and online coaching wherever you are in the world. However, if you want to read more about running, check out some of our previous articles:
1. STRENGTH TRAINING FOR RUNNERS - DIFFERENT STRENGTH TRAINING OPTIONS
2. RUNNING PERFORMANCE: HOW TO INCORPORATE STRENGTH TRAINING
3. BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING FOR RUNNERS
4. HOW TO PREVENT RUNNING INJURIES
5. STRESS FRACTURES - CAUSES AND TREATMENT
6. PATELLOFEMORAL PAIN SYNDROME (RUNNER'S KNEE) - CAUSES AND TREATMENT
7. BALANCE AND RUNNING - HOW TO IMPROVE RUNNING EFFICIENCY AND PERFRORMANCE
8. 3 TIPS TO BECOME A FASTER RUNNER
9. IT BAND SYNDROME - CAUSES AND TREATMENT
Author: Nem - Nemanja Sambaher
Nem is a published author with a strong science background with some of his papers appearing in journals like Neuroscience, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. He's also been featured for online publications like Stack.com, Running Room, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, etc.
Having experience in a clinical setting, fitness industry and as a university researcher, Nem offers a unique approach to health and fitness. By staying up to date with the latest scientific findings, Nem is able to incorporate the most effective and proven fitness and nutrition programs.
However, what works best for most people doesn't mean it will work best for you. This is where Nem's extensive personal training background comes into play. Having worked with hundreds of people just like you, Nem can quickly adjust your exercise and nutrition program to ensure constant progress and great results.
Nem delivers every session with a smile and ensures that you find your health and fitness journey fun, interesting, meaningful and fulfilling. He believes that good kinesiologist and fitness trainer is someone who will be there by your side every step of the way to share good and bad. Many of his clients eventually became his very close friends. You can learn more about Nem on his LinkedIn page.