Strength to Run
I have hear it a million times that you can’t gain strength and lift weight but its simply not true. Surely running over four or five miles a day more than twice a week will make gaining weight and strength much harder, but blanketing running as a no-no for strength athletes is plain wrong.
What is just as wrong is telling seasoned runners that strength training is counterproductive to their goals.
I have been an endurance athlete and a a weightlifter for quite some time. Luckily for me, they married well. I mostly weightlift these days but am getting ready for a run and cycle heavy season. I love the summer time sports. I do everything I can to get out there and ride and run my tail off. Having missed last season, I am eager to start up.
So for those of you who are mostly runners and cyclists, this article is for you (Hi, Ashleigh!). For you swimmers, I am going to have to write a separate article as your exercise goal and select movements will be different but you can use a lot of the same principles and philosophy from this article.
By the time long distance runners hit 35 or 40, most of them will have hip, knee or ankle problems. This comes from a number of reasons and is not the point of this particular article. But I can tell you that 80% of your injuries can be avoided or greatly delayed by wearing thinner shoes and favoring trails over asphalt, and asphalt over concrete.
Many of these older runners want to keep running and get faster. Or maybe they have the goal of being able to go longer. Either way, their training would be greatly enhanced by strength training. This will improve posture, build muscle mass for endurance, stabilize and strengthen ankles, and improve the speed, distance and comfort or your run and ride.
Most runners are shocked when I tell them they can cut the number of running days in half. If you are running distances, say 5-10 miles, it would be best for you to take the “short” days out of your training program and replace them with strength training sessions. Seasoned runners and riders do not need to train for time in the saddle. They are already equipped with the mental fortitude, (hopefully) technique, and strategy to last. They also have that fabulous base of cardiovascular endurance to call upon. These people rarely gett better by more time running.
Once you have strategy, experience and endurance, you goal should get better within that realm and do what you can to stay injury free. This means strength training.
The top three movement focus for runners and cyclists are:
By focusing our training to center around these three practices, we can build a solid endurance athlete.
This is an important part of our training. We will want to focus on movements that move across the body on a diagonal plane. Anything that is “opposite arm & leg” is our goal here. Single leg Romanian deadlift with the weight in the left hand and the right foot on the floor, is a great example. Another is a cable or kettlebell woodchopper (not quite contralateral but still moving across the body on a diagonal plane). Planks that lift an arm and a leg at same time, performing a step up with the weight in one hand instead of both, and waiter walks are great places to start.
Since running is a contralateral motion (opposite limbs moving at once) we want to focus on mimicking this motion. This will greatly improve the strength and control of the core. Training the midline in this fashion allows us to recruit more of our core during the runs and especially during the final pump. The off set of the weight and working limb will also mimic and strengthen the subtle twist in the spine that is always present in running and cycling.
When you build the posterior chain, you build the athlete. There is no sport on earth that cant benefit from posterior chain training. Specifically, we want to focus on training the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors and the upper back. Stronger hammies and glutes will give you speed; the spinal erectors will give you support and endurance; the upper back will give you posture and technique. You will focus on hamstring curls, bridges and hip thrusts, good moorings, deadlifts, banded pull aparts, and I’s, Y’s and T’s. Build that posterior chain in to a solid frame.
This is where a lot of the money movements come into play. Any lower body exercise your do is going to be single leg. You friends are: Bulgarian split squats, step ups, single leg deadlifts, lunges and single leg hip thrusts. Focus on using your glutes to lift you up. Focus on high rep sets and play with tempo sets (fast up/slow down). Focus on bracing your core and controlling all lower extremity movements from there. This will go a long way in building good running and cycling technique.
If your run or ride four, five or six days per week, replace at least two of them with gym sessions - ideally three. The more muscle mass you have, the more support and strength your joints will have. That means longevity in the sport. The goal is to keep the runs that are actually beneficial to your improvement in the program and scrap that redundant ones. This means keeping that super long and mid distances in your program. If you feel you need more cardio vascular activity than that, you can always do a MetCon as part of your strength training routine.