Runners, and endurance athletes in general, are busy people. Aside from day to day life, trying to fit in consistent training can be challenging. We have to balance training, work, life, and a bunch of other factors while staying sane at the same time. For many runners, adding strength training to the mix can be a big challenge. Normally, it is either not included or is not given the same thoughtful progression as their training plan.
Strength training can mean a lot of different things. This can include band drills, bodyweight exercises, heavy lifting, etc. The goal of strength training for runners is very simple. Improved your abilities as a runner. The goal here is not necessarily to get strong, or be able to lift a certain amount of wait. It's to improve a runner's performance on race day. I could care less how much my athletes lift if it doesn’t translate to an improvement in their performance. That isn't to say we shouldn't lift heavy, but we have to progress to that point in a smart manner.
When I meet with a runner for the first time, I tend to see three different approaches most runners take to strength training.
Runner 1: Nothing outside of running
For whatever reason, this runner doesn't do anything besides run. Whether it is not knowing what to do, being apprehensive about getting hurt while lifting, or not having enough time, this runner just stays away from the weight room all together. This is a pretty simple fix. Figure out an appropriate time to implement some basic strength training exercises and track their progress.
Runner 2: No balance between lifting and training
This second runner usually performs a lot of high intensity training without respecting the demands of their training on the roads, trails, etc. The best way for runners to improve their performance is consistent training. If our lifting affects our ability to run then it is doing more harm then good. If a runner is so exhausted or sore from their Crossfit class, lifting session, etc. that they can't recover in time for their next run, then they have missed the point. This comes down to basic science. Stress the body and then recover. We want to stress the runner enough to get a desired adaption, but not so much that they then can't recover for their next training bout.
Runner 3: No progression
This third runner goes through random "rehab" exercises given out by their therapist, chiropractor, etc. who told them they have weak glutes and hamstrings and are then given a "corrective exercise" for said issue. Their strength sessions tend to look like most "traditional physical therapy visits" and generally incorporate bridges, clamshells, and some form of balance activities. While these exercises can be a perfectly fine way for a beginner to begin resistance training, they need to be progressed. Runner's might see some improvements by incorporating basic exercises, but we must continue to progress them in order to continue to see performance improvements. Our body adapts to the stresses we put it under. If you ran the same route at the same pace for every workout, you would plateau really quickly.
I love the Office. It’s my favorite TV show of all time and has one of the most fascinating characters in television history. Dwight Schrute. The advice given to by his boss, Michael Scott, can be easily applied to most endurance athletes when it comes to lifting.
“Michael always says "K-I-S-S. Keep it simple, stupid." Great advice. Hurts my feelings every time.”
So let’s apply Michael Scott’s theory towards strength training for the runner.
If you are doing 357 different things to work on strength, mobility, and power, you are doing too much. You don't need to do 10 different exercises for your hips or 17 different plank variations. Pick a few lifts/exercises, progress the load, and monitor improvements.
Keep things simple. Perform a few exercises, that incorporate different movement patterns, on medium effort days. A routine like this should take 30-45 minutes and serves as a great entry point for most runners. Listed below are some of my favorite exercises for runners starting a strength training regimen.
Special thanks to Chris Johnson from www.zerenpt.com and www.chrisjohnsonpt.com. Check him out on Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube!
Bent Over Row
Push Up Hold
Nathan Carlson PT, DPT, USATF