Strength Training for Runners: Fit To Run Or Run To Be Fit

Strength Training for Runners: Fit To Run Or Run To Be Fit

Graduate classes have commenced and classes are fantastic. After leaving my Health Promotions course and traveling through downtown Lexington to make my way home, I couldn’t help to notice the plethora of individuals out running: solo, groups of 2, groups of 3, groups of 4 and so forth. So, as the title of this article states, I began to wonder:

Does he or she supplement running with strength training? 

If you are friends with me on the varying social media websites which I am a part of or if you have ever paid attention to the name of this blog, then you understand that my greatest passion is running. Even as I stand here at the kitchen counter writing, I wear my “RUN 26.2” shirt. Running and body weight strength training are both one of the cheapest ways to stay fit. Don’t believe me? Go for a run or give body saw planks a try for :30 seconds to 1 minute and let me know what you think.

So, with that being said, I am an advocate of running, but only when supplemented with strength training. If you look at any collegiate or professional sport, strength training is indeed a critical component for both males and females.

Why is strength training important? Here is a previous article I wrote on the Importance of Strength Training. Here’s a recap though:

  • Develop Stronger Bones: Let’s face it, if you are going to be out pounding away at the pavement, then stronger bones is imperative.
  • Body Composition: Valid point! Considering if you want to be faster, you want to eradicate body fat. Plus, strength training makes you look good naked. I only speak the truth. It is not hours of cardio that builds a work of art, it is strength training done right.
  • Improve Activities of Daily Living

Think about it — just for a minute or two. When we partake in the repetitive activity of running, we put a great amount of stress on the body with each footfall. When such repetitive stress is combined with weak musculature and unstable joints overtime, we begin to experience muscle imbalances and more. These imbalances turn into injuries, such as, iliotibial band syndrome (IT Band), shin splints, plantar fasciitis, fractures, knee pain, low back pain, and so on and so forth.

When running is combined with strength training, you will experience a plethora of benefits. Here are the results from a few research articles:

  1. “Unilateral strength training will balance lower limb strength, improve balance and coordination, and improve running economy” (Holland, 2007).
  2. Strength training allows for muscles to “increase their rate of force development, getting stronger, quicker, and more powerful. The more effective muscle force production translates into better running economy” (Karp, 2010).
  3. “Mixed maximal and explosive strength training combined with endurance training can be used in male and female recreational endurance athletes to promote development in maximal and explosive strength and selected characteristics of endurance performance for a short training period” (Taipale et al., 2014).

NOTE: Unilateral strength training are exercises that focus on single-limbs, whereas bilateral training are exercises that focus on both limbs. For example, instead of doing a Bench Press (bilateral exercise), we can use a Single-Arm Chest Press with dumbbell (unilateral exercise). Instead of performing a Romanian Deadlift (bilateral) all the time, you can incorporate a Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift into your regimen. Unilateral training helps weed out any imbalances and one side compensating for the opposing. Now, don’t go replacing all of your bilateral exercises with unilateral exercises. It is still important to get a variety of exercises in.

With use of such research, we can see that strength training has been shown to improve running efficiency (aka running economy). When your running economy improves, you are able to run at a faster pace for a particular distance or vice versa and run a longer distance at a particular pace.

Take Home Message For Any Runner: Just as I tell my personal training clients, start slow (not fast), use dynamic stretches prior to running, listen to your body, increase your weekly mileage by 10% per week, invest in shoes meant for your feet, alternate between running and walking, incorporate some form of strength training in combination with your running, and lastly foam roll.

Need some strength training?

Try this simple but effective “at-home” or “in the woods” routine for 3-5 sets.

As a runner, your goal is to build endurance. When strength training, choose an optimal weight which you can perform 12-15 repetitions with little rest in between exercises (:30 to :45 seconds). If you are “in the woods”, find a heavy rock or log that will suit you.

Overtime, it is ideal for one to invest in weights for their home or a gym membership in order to further develop their strength relative to their body weight (aka relative strength).

Plank: Work your way up to 1:00 minute and engage your core and glutes. Want to take it to the next level? Give one of the Body Saw variations a try.

Plank

Glute Bridges: Contract your glutes at the top of the movement. Want to take it to the next level? Try single leg glute bridges or barbell hip thrusts.

glute bridge

Push-Ups: Don’t cheat, get that full range in. Can’t perform a full push-up? Visit another article I wrote on how to perform a push-up with use of one of these variations a try.

Squats (Body-weight or Goblet Squats)

Body-weight squat

Reverse Lunges: 

Step Ups or Plyometric Jumps: Use a park bench, step, stool, etc. If you are a beginner, start with step ups. As you advance, include explosive movements such as the Plyometric Jump. The Plyometric Jump will require you to leap from the ground as quick as you can to a height you feel comfortable with (i.e., 6″, 12″, 18″, 20″, and so forth). If you do not have an object around to jump on, then perform the Jump Squat.

Step Ups

 

For further information about personal training, visit my other site at www.reedswellnessandfitnesstraining.com and visit us on Facebook.

References:

1. Holland, T. (2007). Unilateral Strength Training for Runners. AMAA Journal, 20(2), 18-19.

2. Karp, J. (2010). Strength training for distance running: a scientific perspective. Strength & Conditioning Journal (Allen Press), 32(3), 83-86.

3. TAIPALE, R. S., MIKKOLA, J., SALO, T., HOKKA, L., VESTERINEN, V., KRAEMER, W. J., & … HÄKKINEN, K. (2014). MIXED MAXIMAL AND EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH TRAINING IN RECREATIONAL ENDURANCE RUNNERS. Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), 28(3), 689-699.

Joshua Reed
Joshua Reed is an Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is the owner of Reed’s Wellness and Fitness Training. He currently operates a small space in Ludlow, Kentucky and travels to see clients in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. He offers both personal, online, and small group coaching from his location, the client’s home, and/or outdoors. He is a 2012 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Adult Fitness and Wellness Management. Joshua currently attends the University of Kentucky’s, where he is earning a Master’s degree in Biomechanics with a concentration in running mechanics and injury prevention.