Is a weights program worthwhile for runners?

20130416-224741.jpgRunning coach Jason Fitzgerald says “There are two types of runners: those who just run and those who are well-balanced athletes”.

This makes sense, Stronger muscles are less likely to fail and running works specific muscles but not others.

My own experience with injury reflects this.

Weakness in one set of muscles, my gluteals, lead to a chain reaction in my leg resulting in severe Achilles tendon pain.

The cure – a strength training program that worked to address the imbalance by strengthening the weak muscle. That meant a daily regimen of lunges and calf raises, as well as a modified running program.

Ask almost any coach or any sport and they will tell you that the key to success in any sport is training specificity. For example, the best way to become a better tennis player is to play lots of tennis. But that doesn’t mean tennis players ant enhance their game by doing other training.

The same goes for runners.

What’s a good weight program for runners?

This is a vexed question as, despite all the advice of different celebrity workouts and trainers, there’s no “one size fits all” strength program that will work for everyone.

That said, it’s often said that hills are strength training fo runners. So, it’s worth adding regular hills runs to your program. I’ve noticed a decent speed boost in my shorter runs after adding regular hills training into my program.

Many weight training programs use two types of exercises: those that work multiple muscles at the same time and those that target specific muscles. When an exercise involves the movement of two or more joints it’s in the first group. Single joint exercises are in the second group.

Runners tend to work many of their leg muscles but often don’t give the same attention to their upper body. But depending on their gait, runners might overwork some muscles and underutilise others.

Assuming you’re healthy and don’t have any injuries or other conditions, there’s no reason you can’t add weight training to your running program. The trick is do it in a balanced way that won’t adversely affect your running or cause an injury. The goal is to be a better runner – not a body builder or power lifter.

So, focus on compound exercises.

If you have access to some weights – even a simple dumbbell kit and a fitball will do – then you can design and carry out a suitable strength training program. And if you don’t have access to that gear you can use body weight exercises. I like a combination of both approaches on different days to mix things up.

Here’s what I do.

By the way, I travel quite a bit so this approach covers me for when I’m in hotels with good, poor or non-existent gyms.

Program 1 – When I’ve got access to plenty of gear

  • Warm up: 3-5 minutes if skipping, push-ups, body weight squats and crunches
  • Workout: 3-5 sets at a challenging 6-10 rep weight of bench press, squats, bent-over rows and deadlifts. I usually do these in a circuit with a 30 second break between circuits

Program 2- When I’ve got access to less gear

  • Warm up: light cardio like jogging in place or similar, push-ups, body weight squats and crunches
  • Workout: 3-5 sets at a challenging 15-20 rep weight of dumbbell bench press on a fitball or bench, squats with Dumbbells, bent-over rows and lunges. Again, I usually do these in a circuit with a 30 second break between circuits

Program 3 – Bodyweight circuit

  • Warm up: light cardio like jogging in place or similar, push-ups, body weight squats and crunches
  • Workout: Download a free 7-minute workout app from your preferred App Store and run through the circuit two or three times. If they’re not in there, swap one of the exercises out for some burpees to add some challenge to the circuit

A quick search or YouTube will reveal lots of tutorials by professional trainers that teach you how to perform those exercises correctly.

Why this works for me?

Since adding regular strength training to my training I’ve been almost entirely injury free other than some minor knee issues. But I was able to continue training through that soreness by laying off the road and adding some time on exercise bikes and ellipticals to my strength training.

You’ll also notice none of these routines keep you stuck in the gym for hours at a time. My aim to is to do this two or three times per week and for the workout to be done in about 30 minutes.

If you have some underlying issue that makes a particular exercise painful then sub that exercise out. For example, if you have shoulder issues that making pressing exercise difficult you might find changing the plane you’re working in helps. So, for a push-up, you might find putting your hands on a step, or alternately putting your feet higher, reduces the impact on your shoulders.

However, it’s important to get specific advice from a health professional.

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