May 12, 2020 at 8:57 pm #2741
Strength training for endurance running, as apposed to sprints, is a complex area. To optimise your endurance running fitness-level, you need to find the magical balance of light-weight and strength.
Light weight is important because it makes it easier to go faster. If there’s less body mass to keep cool, more energy can be spent on going fast.
Strength is important because your muscles and supporting tissues need to be able to withstand the rigours of repetitive running.
However, if you become stronger, you gain weight because muscle grows, so taken to the extreme, it’s harder for a body-builder to become a fast endurance runner. On the other end of the spectrum, if you focus solely on losing weight, you’ll lose the strength needed to support your running properly and end up injured.
So finding this balance is worth considering.
There are various methods at your disposal when tackling strength to help your running and you’ll find your ideal mix:
- Strength for running itself
- Strength for life
And then for those, you can choose from:
- Strength from running
- Strength from cross-training
- Strength from weight training
Strength for running includes training that is directly relevant to running.
Strength for life includes training that helps you be strong in non-running activities, so you don’t get injured from doing movements not associated with running, like twisting, bending over and sitting down / getting up. This part is often ignored by runners who then get injured picking up a piece of paper* and can’t run! (*it’s normally from picking up something heavy the day before, not the paper incident that pushed it over the edge)
You get strong from running. You stress the body, allow it to repair and adapt, getting stronger. Hill training and interval sessions put your limbs through a bigger range of motion and more stress than normal, so that you’ll find the normal running easier.
I used to get all my upper body and general (non-running) strength from cross-training on the mountain bike. Downhill Enduro racing needs muscling the bike around corners, moving around in and out of the saddle, as well as working the heart and lungs, which is all relevant for running. If you want to cross-train, I recommend something that uses upper body as well as legs, for example swimming, MTB, SUP, tennis or gymnastics. More static options like Pilates are great too.
The other way to get strong is via weight-training. For endurance runners, I think the way to go is with low weight / body-weight, high reps, rather than busting out high weights at the edge of possibility. Whatever way you go though, much like fast interval sessions, practising correct form is more important than maxing out on the effort. Elite Kenyans use body-weight exercises like step ups or they might use small dumbbells.
I’m also a fan of movement rather than just focusing on one muscle, so if you can twist while doing something, and use stabilising muscles, it prepares you better for when you do something unusual while running, like tripping on a kerb or putting a foot down a rabbit hole. After incidents like these, runners talk about how the fall grazed the skin or bruised, but the sudden lurch to save themselves put their back out.
When following a strength plan, remember that just like your running plan, it needs to be adjusted to your ability. If it says Pressups X10 rest, repeat 3 times, but if your current limit is 2 Pressups, then start with Pressups X1 rest R3 and after doing that three times in a week, you might be able to go to X2 rest R3!
Here are some of my favourites:
- Pressups, or T-Pressups to add a movement twist
- Plank, elbows or full arms with a shoulder tap to add movement
- Belgian split squat (one leg in front, one on a chair behind you almost like a lunge) – this is tough. Low reps to start with)
- Burpees to running stance landing (one leg in front of the other)
- Step ups
- Step downs (if you don’t do both, you will struggle on downhills)
- Split stance bend and reach (on one leg, pivoting at the waist, as if picking up something in front of you)
- Eccentric Heel Drop (Google these – all runners should do these regularly)
- 1 leg balance eyes shut – wobbling about is fine (beneficial!) as long as you don’t put the other foot down! How long can you manage?
I hope you don’t need me to tell you this, but warm up before starting any strength session!
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