Strength Training — Is It Really Essential For Runners?
Reading time: 5 min

Strength Training — Is It Really Essential For Runners?

Reading time: 5 min
Find out why you should start strength training too.
Strength Training — Is It Really Essential For Runners?

From my personal experience working with runners, many consider strength training the most stressful and boring workout of the week. They even prefer 400 meter intervals to strength training.

For this reason, I try to make every strength training for runners simple, maximally effective, and make sure that even with one strength training per week, they get the necessary benefits.

Strength Training for RunnersDorina Crnčan, the author of this blog, is a kinesiologist and a running and triathlon coach.

Why Is Strength Training Essential for Runners?

From research and my personal experience, I am convinced that strength training is an essential part of any running program. For many years I have only ran and didn't include strength training into my weekly plan and the differences since I introduced it are more than obvious.

Not only have I reduced the frequency of injuries and pain, but my running has also risen to a much higher level.

Research has shown that some of the benefits of strength training are the improvement of running economy, the improvement of time trial performance, and the increase of the maximum sprint speed in middle and long distance runners. (Blagrove et al., 2017)

How Many Strength Training Sessions per Week Are Enough?

One strength training session per week as a bare minimum will make a difference, although two sessions per week is the sweet spot.

Of course, the number of strength training sessions depends on how feasible it is for you, but you should definitely not stick to the "one is none" mindset because even one is very valuable.

At the end of the year, even if you only do strength training once a week, you will have performed 52 strength training sessions — that number is a lot higher than zero.

What Exercises Should I Do?

The exercises should be adapted to you and not the other way around.

You should find out what works best for you. All exercises have their own variations that may be equally effective for you, and that's why if you already feel pressured to do strength training, you don't have to feel pressured by every exercise if it's uncomfortable or simply doesn't feel right to you.

The 5 rules for better strength training

First rule: Don't complicate

You don't need 50 exercises. You need maybe 10. Learn to do them right, stay consistent with your training, and I'm sure you'll feel the difference.

Just because your favorite running influencer is doing 20 different exercises every week, doesn't mean you have to do them too. He needs content, you need quality and simple strength training.

Second rule: Don't be afraid of weights

If you're afraid that you'll "bulk up" and slow down your running because you want to be as light as possible, be aware that nobody gained 20 kilograms of muscle overnight — sad fact for those who aspire to it.

When you get to the point where you can squat 10 times with your body weight, imagine how good you'll feel running without yourself on your back? 

Strength training with weights for runnersWeights are your friend, not your enemy.

The third rule: Pushing to failure is more important than the number of repetitions

In order for adaptations to occur, it is necessary to remove the body from the comfort zone. If you are a runner, this part is very clear. That's why you do the uncomfortable 400 meter intervals.

It's the same with strength training — 10 or 12 reps isn't some magic number. If your home equipment doesn't allow you to push to failure in 10 or 12 repetitions but 15, then do 15 repetitions.

It is important that your last repetitions are difficult. Doable, but difficult. And that's why you don't need 100 kilograms of weights at home if you follow this principle. Just increase the number of repetitions.

Also, you don't have to go hard on every strength training, but it is important that you have consistency and an optimal load.

Fourth rule: Don't forget to train the upper part

Although as runners we are focused only on the lower part of the body because we run with our legs, it is important not to neglect the upper part.

You will have a better posture when running, and in moments of crisis you will be able to use your arms better. And if you are a trail runner, believe me, the strength of your upper body will make a difference on the hills — your back will hurt less, which happened to me often, and you will be able to use your poles 100% more efficiently.

Fifth rule: Keep strength training apart from heavy running training

It's easier to deal with heavy legs in easy runs than during intervals.

That's why strength training should be scheduled the day before the easy runs, not before the intervals.

This way, strength training will not interfere with your running performance, especially if you're just starting out with strength training when you might get inflammations because you're still not adapted to it.

Example of strength training for runners

Let's look at an example of a full body workout that can be a guiding thread for creating your own strength training routine.

  • Squat/lunge/bulgarian squat
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Hip Thrust/one-legged hip thrust
  • Step-up
  • Push-ups/Bench press
  • One-handed rowing
  • Pull-ups
  • Calves + pulling the fingers towards the shins

These are variations of exercises you can choose and include in your training routine.

Sometimes, for example, you can do lunges or Bulgarian squats instead of regular squats. This will introduce a little diversity and different movements into your training to make it more interesting and efficient.

How many sets and repetitions with what weight should I do?

In the beginning, you can start with 2-3 sets per exercise. Once you adapt to strength training, you can increase it to 4 sets.

The number of repetitions depends a lot on the weight you are working with, but as I mentioned earlier, it is important that you reach the point where the last repetition is difficult but doable.

If you workout in the gym, start each set with lighter weights and increase the weight in each set while decreasing the number of repetitions.

Conclusion

Strength training should be a mandatory part of your running program. In addition to making you a better runner in terms of physicality and performance, you will feel stronger and more energetic when running. You will also enjoy running more.

You don't need to invest a lot of time in strength training, but you need to invest it well. That's why if you haven't done it yet, I hope I've given you enough reasons to start with it this week.

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Source:
Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. and Hayes, P.R. (2017) ‘Effects of strength training on the physiological determinants of middle- and long-distance running performance: A systematic review’, Sports Medicine, 48(5), pp. 1117–1149. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7.