It’s really good to see that runners are becoming more aware of the benefits of strength training. Almost every runner I meet knows that they should be doing strength training, but many of them don’t know where to start or what they should be doing. Here are 3 top tips for getting the most out of your strength work.
1: No Challenge - No Change
The old-fashioned thinking about strength training for running was to use really light weights and do dozens of easy reps – mimicking the training effect of running. This completely misses the point that strength training is training yourself to be stronger. If you want to specifically train your running, hitting your cardio and endurance, then that’s easy…. go for a run!
Modern thinking shows the more effective method of strength training is to challenge yourself with more weight to really challenge your strength system. This has so many benefits over the previous thinking as improving your strength in this way.
- Hugely beneficial for the neuromuscular system. In other words it gets your brain communicating with the muscles so much more effectively which results in better running efficiency.
- Stronger muscles mean less fatigue towards the end of your runs & races.
- Strength is a major factor in being resilient towards injury.
So what is the right amount of challenge? If you are new to strength training, or you want to just incorporate some basic strength work into your routine, then my go-to rule is “Tough at Ten”. This means that ten reps of the exercise should be fairly tough to complete. If you’re getting towards 12-15 reps and it is still feeling quite easy then you are not challenging yourself enough. No challenge – no change! If you’re finding that your exercises are too easy, then look to progess then – either add more weight or find a more challenging variation.
2: Target the right areas
Gone are the days when the size of your biceps was the indicator of how strong you are. Instead us runners need to concentrate on the areas that will generate the most power and speed when running. We need to build strength to protect our most vulnerable areas such as knees, hips and ankles from injury.
While whole body strength is important, the key areas for runners are the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and lower back. Luckily if you pick the correct exercises you can hit most of these areas at the same time.
Full body compound exercises are by far your best bang for your buck in this area. Look to build your routine around exercises that are based on the basics of squats, lunges and deadlifts. There are a million different variations of these that work slightly differently, or are easier/harder progressions so you’ll always be able to find something that works for you. Crucially, if you use these exercises, you don’t need to spend hours working on each muscle group independently. A short routine of 2-5 exercises can hit all the necessary areas and have you finished in no time.
A good place to start is my Big-3 Glute Exercises for Runners as you can see in this video –>
3: Something is better than nothing
I get it, you know it’s a great idea, but you just never get round to it. Maybe you started a regular routine with the best intentions but never managed to stick at it?
It can be a bit daunting to be facing the prospect of trying to fit a strength routine into your already packed out schedule. If this is you then always remember that doing something is infinitely better than doing nothing.
If you haven’t got the time (or let’s face it, the motivation) to fit in the routine you had planned, or you’d been told you should be doing, then be adaptable. Here are a few tips for getting your strength work in with minimal impact on your time:
- Reduce the number of different exercises you do. A routine can still be plenty effective with only two or three different exercises. Just make sure they’re good, functional, compound exercises such as squats, lunges and deadlifts, and you will hit all the right areas in less time.
- Reduce the number of sets of each exercise. As low as two sets of an exercise, if challenging enough, can be plenty to have the desired effect with minimal hit to the effectiveness.
- Tag your strength routine to the end of a run. Adding your strength work to the end of a run is a great time-saver. You’re already dressed for it, you’re warmed up and you’re in the exercise mindset.