Weight training routines are not only good for runners – they’re essential. While some runners remain skeptical of weight lifting or bulking, they overlook the benefits of strength training. But in this day and age, fitness plans can be develop to help any athlete perform better. Today, runners are no different than any other athlete when it comes to maximizing their bodies through strength training. Today fitness routines are developed to increase runner’s endurance and strengthen their entire body which helps them achieve more.
Combine the Lower Body with Cardio
Conventional strength training revolves around lifting weights in the gym. However, for runners, the best way to increase useful, lower body strength is to run against resistance. Running uphill provides additional strength training while also working the cardiovascular system. To take it to the next level, adding ankle, arm, or chest weights will add even more resistance.
However, what goes up must come down. Injuries often occur while running downhill, especially when carrying more than your natural body weight. Thus, you should look for an area where you can run uphill, walk down, and repeat.
Don’t Forget the Upper Body
Runners need to lift weights as well. However, your training program should not require you to lift to failure. Runners need to perform longer sets of 12 -15 reps for each exercise. The perfect weight will be the weight that you can lift 12-15 times, while simultaneously pushing you but not pushing you to failure. Performing 3 or 4 sets of 12-15 reps is ideal. Some of the best upper body strength training exercises for runners are the dumbbell shoulder press, barbell bench press, incline barbell press, and dumbbell shoulder raises.
Ten Things You May Not Know About Weight Lifting For Runners
- Do NOT stretch before you run!
Now, before you have a coronary, let me explain. Studies support that static stretching (holding a stretch for 30-60 seconds) before physical activity can INCREASE your chances of injury and decrease your athletic performance. What should you do? Perform what we call an active warm-up before your run. This warm-up involves moving through ranges of motion that mimic athletic movements, while enhancing your flexibility.
- Strength training makes you MORE flexible.
Forget about the giant bodybuilder who can't clap his hands or scratch his back because he is simply too developed. Weight training performed properly will promote flexibility by working your joints safely through a full range of motion. This is especially important for distance runners due to the limited range of motion that distance running requires.
- Increased Strength Equals Increased Endurance
We all have fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers are typically used for explosive movements (jumping, weight lifting) and slow twitch fibers are used for endurance activities (distance running). There are times when both types of fiber are necessary such as running up a short steep hill in the middle of a 10K. Better conditioned fast twitch fibers make you faster over a longer period.
- Crunches Slow You Down
We could all work on our posture these days. With all of the sitting we do, it's no wonder that tight hips and rounded shoulders are not all that uncommon. Crunches, by nature, mimic poor posture. The last thing we want to do is include an exercise that will exacerbate poor posture. A far better choice is planks (front and side). Planks will make your abs look great and train your core to stabilize in the correct position.
- The Opposite Game - Contra Lateral Lifting
Running takes place on one leg with one arm forward. Try to train your body with weights in the same manner. Example: hold a weight in your right hand and step up to a box with your left leg. This works your core musculature and builds coordination for running.
- Stroke It
Studies support that weight training can increase the stroke volume of your most important muscle. If your heart can pump more blood with each stroke, it won't have to work as hard over the course of race or run.
- Hips Don’t Lie
It's your most important muscle. Your hips are part of your core! Also, your hip complex contains some of your largest and most powerful muscles. If you want to run fast and have healthy knees, back, and feet, you need to build strength in your hips. This can be addressed with the lunge and squat variations a few times a week.
- Get Off Your Butt
Daily posture habits make a huge difference! Like I mentioned in point number 4, sitting can now be considered a dynamic activity. Tight hamstrings, short hip flexors, and rounded shoulders are all the result of excessive sitting. Armed with this knowledge, you can plan your intense runs around the days when you are not strapped to the desk.
- Train Movements, Not Muscles
This single biggest mistake I see runners make in regards to weight training is to design their workouts based on routines featured in bodybuilding magazines. You should aim to develop your weight training regimen so that it compliments your running. Bodybuilding programs are design for one thing and one thing only- building massive muscles. The goal for runners is to develop as much strength as possible with little or no weight gain. Strength to weight ratios makes all the difference in endurance sports.
- Tone and Burn
While running is a fantastic weight loss tool, nothing will change the shape of your body like weightlifting. Adding a little lean tissue to your body will elevate your metabolism and turn your body into a calorie burning machine. Would you like to burn an additional 50-100 calories on every 30-minute run? Hit the weights.
The Best Lower Body Weight Training Exercises for Runners
Crossover Lunges - Start in a standing position with a weight in each hand and bring the left knee up to the chest, then step the left leg back diagonally behind the right, lowering your body as if curtseying. Keep the hips and shoulders square and use the right foot to push your body up. Do 10 reps per side.
Box Step-Ups - Using a bench or stair as a step, place one foot on top with your leg forming a 90 degree angle, and with a weight in each hand, push your lower leg up onto the step – but don’t jump - then return it to the floor. Do 10 reps on each side.
Dead-Lift - Start with both feet apart, hip-width, about 24" behind a barbell. Bending at the knees and hips, grasp the bar with your hands outside your feet, lock your elbows and stand up by using your hips and knees. When you're fully standing, squeeze the glutes. Then lower the bar, never rounding your back. Do up to 10 reps.