Strength and conditioning expert Andy Kay offers advice for athletes entering this important stage of preparation
One of the main reasons to add strength training is to improve running economy, meaning you can run at any pace while expending less energy.
It’s also true that the stronger and more frugal you are, the more you’ll have to offer at the end of the race.
However, I would say the biggest reason to start including it is to prevent injury. A lot of injuries and problems occur due to weakness. I can’t think of anything caused by being too strong.
You won’t get too big
There is still some stigma around strength training and fear around me getting too big. But that won’t happen. Unless you stop running and just focus on the gym, you won’t have the resources to build that much muscle.
Also, with the type of strength training we want you to do, you won’t be training like a bodybuilder. We want to train the movements more than the muscles and what I mean by that is we’re looking at hip extension forces, those knee and ankle extension things will carry over to running.
It’s still a bit disconcerting that some coaches take an old-school mentality when it comes to your strength training. It’s not.
It’s really just aerobic exercise, and as a runner, you’re already doing a lot of that.
In my opinion, you’re better off spending that time doing things you don’t normally do, such as heavy strength training, loaded jumping, speed work, quick lifting, that’s when you’ll earn get real profit.
At the beginning
Start with two sessions a week. Choose a few important, key exercises that you will always remember. I like to use things like traps and hip thrusts because they are great exercises and easy to learn. Knee stretches are also great for your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
Start learning those technically well and memorize them as exercises you are about to progress. They are the ones who make you heavier and heavier.
Around that you can use accessory exercises and you can vary those exercises. It can be anything that works the glutes, quads, etc. Single leg exercises are probably king for most runners, so lots of lunges, split squats, deadlifts Romanian single leg and calf raise with one leg.
An example session
I always start with some type of plyometric or drill exercise, such as box jumps or pogos. That marks the effectiveness of speed and power type but it also acts as a primer to get the nervous system engaged and ready for the rest of the workout.
Then I’ll look at one of the basic exercises for big hitters. Then do some accessory exercises for one limb, such as a split squat or some stiff leg raises on one leg.
READ MORE: Dumbbell squats
Then you’re looking at local conditioning exercises like calf raises or hamstring curls.
Once that’s done, do some work on your core. Planks or side planks will be really helpful.
If you do it twice a week, for most people that’s more than enough time for several months.
How heavy should you go?
One general rule is what we call Reserve Representation or RIR. That means how many reps you think you can do beyond what you actually did.
For big lifts, six to eight is the upper limit because they are strength exercises. For example, if I’m working with two bench reps, I’ll do five, but I want to feel like I can do seven in one push.
If you complete those five repetitions and it feels too easy, add more weight. If you feel like you’ve exhausted the last one and almost died, that’s too much!
READ MORE: Split squat jump
At around two to three RIR is more than enough for most people. But be honest with yourself. Subjective effort is the best way to look at it.
However, the priority in the first four to six weeks is to get really comfortable with the technique.
What I’ve found works well is to do strength training on a training day, but as far away from your run as possible. If you have a workout in the morning, then do your strength training in the evening that day, as the next day will be more of a recovery day. Just make sure you refuel and hydrate properly between and after workout sessions.
People often report that they have problems with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). The thing to remember is that muscle soreness is not actually a sign of muscle damage. What it really tells us is that you did an unfamiliar exercise and it only hurt the first few times you did it but it will get better. The best thing for DOMS is light exercise, so going out for a light jog in the morning afterward would be ideal.
A lot of runners will do a strength program and it’ll last maybe about six weeks and then they’ll do it for five years. They won’t change the exercises, they won’t change the reps, they won’t add any more weight.
READ MORE: Use winter to identify weaknesses
If you do the same run to the same place every day, you won’t get any better because your body will adapt to some degree and that’s enough. So you have to keep overworking, changing things up and challenging yourself.
Get a coach to help you for the first few months and follow the program. That’s the best you can do.
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