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  • Writer's pictureCoachIan

I'm a runner, so why do strength work?

A lot of runners seem to think that just by running they will get stronger. And to be fair there is a lot to be said for the specificity of exercise, and that the most efficient way to train for running is to run.

Even the renowned ultra-running coach Jason Koop, when asked if cross-training will help ultra-runners once said...

Probably not, particularly if you do them at the expense of your run-specific training.

But even he has now backtracked from this and advocates the use of weight training for endurance athletes. And the reason is that properly focussed strength training IS run-specific training.

When it comes to endurance training there is a need to prepare the body for the training you are going to be asking it to do, and particularly the increased training load through greater mileage and/or time-on-feet – see my previous post on long runs.

If you look at the diagram below, we all have an inherent level of strength at any given point in time. And this will provide us with what we need for our running – but only up to a point.

So for most people new to running, or runners taking on a longer distance event, we can increase our load to a certain point no problem, as we work within our ‘zone of capability’.

But at some point that training load – frequency, intensity & volume – moves beyond the level our inherent strength can sustain. And this is where we move in to the ‘zone of fatigue and injury’.

Put simply, our bodies just can’t take it anymore.

If we haven’t built up our musculoskeletal strength to the point it can comfortably take this increase in training we’ll likely suffer over-load injuries (see shin-splints, knee pain, Achilles injuries, etc) or even silly accidents in training because our form deteriorates and we fall or stumble unnecessarily. This is exactly the sort of thing James Kirkpatrick was talking about in my last post.

I believe that ALL runners training for longer distances or faster times need to build in a regime of strength and conditioning alongside the running. Yes, ALL runners.

But this doesn’t mean you need to rush out and join a gym or buy a load of expensive kit. And you certainly don’t need to build in hours of extra training either.

Little and often is the key here.

Building in 15-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week is all it takes.

Depending on where you are with your strength you can just start with body-weight exercises. Maybe starting with two-legged versions, then progressing to single-leg version. Then building in some weights to increase resistance.

Increasing the difficulty rather than the number of reps will help limit the time you spend doing S&C, allowing you time for that running that you love, and at the same time building stronger/more explosive muscles.

Which one’s you do will be down to your own personal fitness and weak points, but 5 simple exercises that cover the runners' core muscle groups that I think all runners should start with are:

  1. Plank (front, side and with leg rises): Core (and this is where so many runners are weak)

  2. Squats (2-legs, 1-legs, with weights): Hamstrings, hips, quads, & glutes

  3. Lunges (forward, back, with weights): Hamstrings, hips, quads & glutes

  4. Calf raises: Calf and Achilles tendon (notoriously injury prone areas for runners)

  5. Glute bridge: Glutes (obviously), hamstrings & core

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