Strength Training For Runners: Best Workout Routine

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Strength Training For Runners Guide

I was featured on NY1 News (New York City’s local TV station) as a fitness expert discussing the benefits of strength training for runners (video clip is here: NY1 Segment). The segment is part of a series of videos to help runners prepare for the NYC Marathon.

As I was looking over my notes to help prepare for the segment, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I shared these notes with everyone and made it into a special free guide?” Well, that’s exactly what I’ve done AND I even added a sample workout routine with exercise pics of me demonstrating the exercises. I hope you enjoy it!

Summary | Strength Training For Runners

Strength training plays a vital role in helping runners achieve peak performance and prevent injury, which is prevalent in the running world. Most runners have misconceptions about the role and importance of strength training in a running program.

Mainstream strength training workouts for runners are antiquated, with new approaches relying on both basic movements and sports specific exercises that emphasize strength, balance, and power, with short workouts 1-2x per week.

Strength Training Helps Prevent Injury

  • Strength training strengthens all of the connective tissues, which helps to avoid strains, sprains, and tendonitis
  • Reduces, or completely eliminates kneecap pain, or “runner’s knee”, mitigates Iliotibial Band Syndrome
  • Reduces, or eliminates nagging hip and low back pain, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and heel pain.
  • Muscle fibers are strengthened, which helps prevent muscle pulls and tears
  • Prevents muscle imbalances, which can lead to serious injury down the road
  • Stronger core from strength training helps maintain proper posture while running
  • Strengthening hip abductors, adductors, and gluteus maximus increases leg stability all the way down to the ankle
  • Research

    1. 65 percent of runners are injured in an average year, one running injury occurs for about every 100 hours of running, and runners miss about 5-10 per cent of their workouts due to injury (‘Incidence and Severity of Injury Following Aerobic Training Programs Emphasising Running, Racewalking, or Step Aerobics,’ Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 25(5), p. S81, 1993).
    2. Studies find an inverse relationship between injury risk and the number of years involved in athletic activity. Relative newcomers to a sport are significantly MORE likely to be injured than individuals who have been training for many years (American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 16(3), pp. 285-294, 1988, and also Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 149 (11), pp. 2565-2568, 1989).
    3. Research suggests that running injuries could be cut by around 25 percent with strength training, but that is a conservative estimate (Sport for All: Sport Injuries and Their Prevention, Council of Europe, Netherlands Institute of Sports Health Care, Oosterbeek, 1989).

    Strength Training Improves Performance

  • Running economy, which is the steady state oxygen consumption for a given running speed, improves with weight training. Improved running economy improves a runner’s time to exhaustion (greater chance of finishing a race!)
  • Lack of upper body strength, not lower is often responsible for slowdown towards the end of a run. Running requires your right arm works with your left leg, and vice versa in a counterbalancing fashion to propel you forward.
  • Core is the command center during all human movement, especially running. Core controls rotational mechanics between upper body and lower extremities.
  • During a marathoner’s typical running stride, each foot is in contact with the ground for about 0.3 to 0.5 seconds. Increasing the force produced without increasing the time it takes to produce the force increases running speed and economy.
  • Improved stabilization can improve running economy.
  • Runners who strength train report that running feels smoother and they can maintain higher speeds with less effort.
  • Research

    1. Study in 1999 Journal of Applied Physiology found that improved leg strength and power led to “significant” improvement in running time and efficiency. Some studies even show 10K times can be reduced by 1 minute with as little as ten weeks of weight training.
    2. Another 1999 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology (Vol. 86, Issue 5, 1527-1533, May 1999) by Finland researchers found “explosive” strength training (plyometric) exercises added to an endurance program increased running economy by 8%.

    Strength Training for Runners: Myth vs. Reality

    Myth #1 – Strength training makes you bigger and muscle bound. Additional pounds of muscle added will negatively impact performance.
    Reality – The ability for endurance athletes to gain muscle is severely limited because the high volume, endurance nature of the running programs. Increasing strength is most likely NOT due to an increase in the size of muscle, but an increase in neuromuscular adaptation (ability of muscles to work together). If a runner gained some muscle, the additional power output from that muscle gain will far outweigh the stress from carrying a few extra pounds.
    Myth #2 – Runners need more VO2, not strength.
    Reality – VO2, or the amount of oxygen that one can consume has been shown by several studies to be about 80% genetic. So it is somewhat trainable, but the improvements can only be so great. The average VO2 Max for an untrained male is about 45ml/kg/min, and a female is 38 ml/kg/min whereas Lance Armstrong is around 80 ml/kg/min.
    Myth #3 – Strength training makes you slower. You can only get faster by running.
    Reality – Strength training has the exact opposite effect and can make a runner faster from increased stride length and frequency. While running is very important for increases in running economy, strength training is also important.
    Myth #4 – Strength training will decrease flexibility
    Reality – Strength training does not negatively affect flexibility
    Myth #5 – Soreness from lifting weights will negatively impact running performance
    Reality – The first 1, or 2 workouts may lead to soreness, but subsequent sessions with the right workout routine should not cause unnecessary soreness, so running will not be affected.

    Facts About Running

  • We run shoulder to opposite hip
  • Running Speed = stride length * stride frequency
  • Stride length, which is the dominant factor in running speed is a function of strength, power, and flexibility.
  • Trying to unnaturally lengthen stride length will cause over striding, or braking action which will slow you down.
  • The speed at which an athlete can sustain while running at their VO2 max is a more reliable predictor of performance than simply VO2 max.
  • Traditional Strength Training Approach for Runners

  • Performed bilaterally (2 limbs at the same time)
  • Emphasizes sagittal plane (forward/backward movements, not twisting movements)
  • Focus on specific body parts, not movement patterns
  • Performed sitting, or lying down
  • Does not address balance, or stability in any way
  • Long workouts (60 minutes) with high volume (3 sets per exercise, 15+ reps)
  • Concentrate on muscular endurance, instead of strength
  • “New” Smarter Strength Training Approach

  • “Functional Training” uses integrated movements, not one body part at a time. Strengthen weak muscle groups and provide balance for the whole body.
  • Emphasize rotational plane of motion, which dominates running
  • Add exercises that improve foot balance and stabilization to focus on “power leaks” (when foot hits the ground, some energy can be wasted if not stable)
  • Short workouts that improve strength, power, & stability (20-30 minutes, 1-2 sets per exercise, 5-10 total exercises).
  • Strength train after light/moderate running days, or on a separate day 1-2x per week
  • Research with over 1100 adults shows that two strength training sessions per week is about 85 percent as productive as three strength training sessions per week. Begin with just two strength workouts per week, on days when you do easy to moderate effort training runs.
  • Sample Workout Routine for Runners

    Here is a sample workout routine I put together for you that helps strengthen your hips, core, upper body, and improve balance. This workout should only take about 20-30 minutes and can be completed 1-2x per week. Before starting any exercise, or nutrition program, you should consult with your doctor.

    Instructions:

  • Warm up with dynamic stretching exercises, or for 5 minutes with light cardio before the workout
  • Alternate between A & B exercises, complete all sets, then move on to the next exercise pair
  • Complete 10-15 reps of each exercise, for 1-3 sets, depending on your fitness level
  • Rest just enough between each exercise to catch your breath >30 seconds
  • Stretch as you are resting in between exercises, and at the end of the workout
  • 1a) Exercise Ball Wall Squat

    You can perform this exercise with, or without weight, the wall squat puts very little pressure on your lower back

     

    1b) Forward Lunge on Bosu Ball

    Beginners should complete forward lunges on a flat surface,  can also hold dumbbells at your sides to make the exercise more challenging

     

    Exercise Ball Wall Squat and Forward Lunge on Bosu Ball

    2a) Chest Presses on Exercise Ball

    You can alternate pressing with each arm, or both together.  Beginners should use a stable bench for this exercise, or complete pushups.

     

    2b) Pull-ups, or Lat Pulldowns

    I’m demonstrating a pull-up, but you can also use the lat pulldown machine, or even resistance bands

     

    Chest Presses on Exercise Ball and Pull-ups, or Lat Pulldowns

    3a) Shoulder Press

    Perform standing with knees slightly bent, or seated, neutral grip is easier on the shoulders

     

    3b) Upright Row

    You can use an EZ Bar, straight bar, or use dumbbells, which I prefer because it takes pressure off the wrists

     

    Shoulder Press and Upright Row

    4a) Exercise Ball Rotations

    Beginners do not need to use any weight

     

    4b) Lying Hip Extension with Leg Curl on Exercise Ball

    Advanced- complete with one leg.  Beginners can do hip extensions on a flat surface without an exercise ball.

     

    Exercise Ball Rotations and Lying Hip Extension with Leg Curl on Exercise Ball

     

    Workout Modifications:

    The above workout routine uses basic movements that will help strengthen your entire body and prevent injury. I did not include any arms exercises, because in most cases your arms are engaged while doing compound chest, back, and shoulder exercises.

    If you need to emphasize any particular area of your body more, you can simply add more exercises. In addition, if you have the space and equipment set up, you can complete all the aforementioned exercises as a circuit (sequentially with little rest) 1-3x. You may also choose not to pair the exercises together, but complete each separately. Pairing exercises, however, speeds up the workout.

    More Exercises to Consider:

    Squat on Bosu Ball (or Balance Board)

    Using a resistance band around my knees to strengthen hip abductors, usually weak in runners

     

    Bulgarian Split Squat

    Beginners should not use any weight, get a nice hip flexor stretch at the bottom of this movement

     
    Squat on Bosu Ball (or Balance Board) and Bulgarian Split Squat

    Chest Press with Resistance Bands

    Keep chest out, shoulders back, head neutral

     

    Row Pulls

    On a smith machine, pulling body towards the bar

     

    Chest Press with Resistance Bands and Row Pulls

    Biceps Curl

    Feel free to use a barbell, or EZ bar

     

    Triceps Pressdown

    Use an overhand grip about shoulder width apart

     

    Biceps Curl and Triceps Pressdown

    Bicycles

    Slow and controlled, be sure to extend your leg all the way out

     

    Bosu Ball Crunches

    A personal favorite, make sure your hips are high up on the ball, twist as you contract

     

    Bicycles and Bosu Ball Crunches

    Pumping Arms with Dumbbells

    This is a very “sports specific” exercise that helps strengthen the arm pump while running

    Pumping Arms with Dumbbells

    Running Resources

    Here are some online resources I came across as I was putting together this report:

    www.runnersworld.com

    www.coolrunning.com

    www.runningplanet.com

    I want to send a special thanks to Kafi Drexel and the NY1 news team for having me on (again) as a fitness expert. The last time I was featured on NY1, the topic discussed was “Strength Training Can Help You Shed Pounds“. I also wanted to thank NYC based elite running coach Spencer Casey for sharing his insights into strength training for runners.

    If you enjoyed this guide, I encourage you to join my email list so I can keep you updated with fitness and nutrition tips. You also get my Get Lean Guide free, which teaches you how to lose fat without losing muscle, the key to getting lean of course. You can join for free right here: www.builtlean.com/email and you can unsubscribe at any time.

    Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think of the “Strength Training For Runners” guide!

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    11 Comments on “Strength Training For Runners: Best Workout Routine

    1. pixie
      October 1, 2010 #

      thank you so much, i’m training for the marathon for next spring in london and your advice has been so helpful.

      ta

      1. Marc Perry
        October 1, 2010 #

        @Pixie – Thanks so much for leaving a comment! I’m excited the report was helpful for you and best of luck with your marathon training!

    2. Shane
      October 6, 2010 #

      I used this workout/report today and found it to be great! I would strongly recommend everyone to try this. Great routine for a runner.

      1. Marc Perry
        October 8, 2010 #

        @Shane – Thanks for leaving a comment and I would LOVE for more people to read this report and try out the sample workout and exercises!

    3. pixie
      October 12, 2010 #

      well i’m trying to spread the word about this site here in the uk. i have told everyone interested in sports or not about your site. not that i’m obsessed by training, I just think you make the obvious easy to work with and understand.
      so thanks again…

      ps sorry i couldn’t spell marathon correct in my first log. very ashamed.

      1. Marc Perry
        October 12, 2010 #

        @ Pixie – Thanks so much for spreading the word! By the way, I fixed the “marathon” typo in your previous comment. No worries!

    4. Maverick H.
      April 30, 2011 #

      probably the best eBook about lifting and running out there. i really appreciate that its free too. this is an awesome web site.

      1. Marc Perry
        April 30, 2011 #

        @Maverick H. – Thanks a lot for the comment. It took me a long time to put the report together, especially the workout + pics!

    5. Hank
      August 18, 2011 #

      The illustrations are very helpful. The fact that sprinters look better than long distance runners argues strongly for weight training and wind sprints. How do you do wind sprints in a gym.

    6. Tim
      August 19, 2011 #

      Marc – Great information from you once again. I concur, the illustrations were terrific. I did the workout this morning, adding in some of the additional exercises you mention, and did them as a circuit. I worked up quite a sweat and was really challenged. Marc, you are “da bomb” my friend.

      1. Marc Perry
        August 19, 2011 #

        @Tim – Awesome. Happy you enjoyed the article!

    Comments are closed.