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Strength training for runners. What, why and when.

Majority of you, of course, have heard about the importance of strength training. But still this part is often overlooked by hobby runners. And even by those who do something. If you start to go into details what exactly they do and when, you find out that half of them are completely on the wrong track.

First of all, let’s figure out why you need strength exercises. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. Strength training improves your running economy and running efficiency. There are two sub-points: if your running style is not perfect, then correctly selected strength exercises will improve your weak points, hence it will improve your running efficiency. This will allow you to run faster consuming the same energy. Second sub-point here is that even if your running
    efficiency is quite good, strength training will help you to keep it for a longer period of time during the marathon or any other long distance event despite increasing fatigue. I am quite sure that many of you experienced that feeling that when you are getting fatigued it feels like you are falling apart: strides are getting shorter, feet don’t provide enough support, upper body is falling forward or backwards or swings from one side to the other, and your pace is dropping down dramatically. Strength training can help you to postpone this critical moment.
  2. Strength training will help you to improve your endurance. How it comes, you might ask. Probably you thought you should do long runs in order to increase endurance. Yes, but that is only half of the truth. Strength training is as important as the running part. The principle is the same as above, workability of strong muscles and ligaments is higher than that of weak and unprepared ones.
  3. Strength training will help you to improve your speed. If you do an experiment and focus on strength training even for one month, and after that you start working on your speed, you will notice that progress is going much faster. That is because with proper planning of the training process the acquired strength qualities transform into speed, giving you the opportunity to reach a qualitatively new level.
  4. A very-very important point. Strength training is a major part of injury prevention. Majority of injuries are a result of muscle imbalance and weakness. Strength training will improve your muscles, ligaments and even bones. If you are young, your bones will get stronger, if you are already at a mature age, strength exercises will decrease the risk of age-related changes in your bones, such as osteoporosis. This was proven by a number of researches. Strength training will also improve your posture, balance and coordination.
  5. If you want to lose weight – adding strength exercises to your running routine is the right choice. I think I will not make a mistake if I say that many of you experienced that despite increasing your running volume it doesn’t really affect your weight. There are a few reasons for that, one of them is that our body has a number of adaptational and compensatory mechanisms. If you do monotonous training your body gets used to it quickly and progress stops, whatever it is either speed or weight loss. That’s why we need to vary our training all the time, strength training is one of the variations. So if you want to lose weight add some higgh intensity strength training to your running routine, I promise you it will work.

What kind of strength training is the best? Any strength training is good. What is important is that it is balanced. That means, for example, if you do strength exercises only for your legs, but neglect your upper body, that is not a balanced program.

Strength training for runners
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Now, let’s dive a little bit into types of strength training:

  1. First and most simple option is body weight training. It is available for everybody and everywhere. Maximum what you need is a mat or a bench. You can do it at home or outside. Diversity of exercises is huge, so you can stick only with this and often it is enough for many runners.
  2. Training with weights. You can use barbells at home. I very much like to work with medicine ball, I think it is a great tool for runners. You can do regular weight exercises with it or you can develop power ability by throwing. If you like gym and you have access to that, that can be a good option too. I especially like Gym for workouts focused on back and shoulders. Though as a long distance runner you should not overload yourself with heavy weights, priority should stay more on strength endurance than on power.
  3. Swiss ball is another great tool which you can use to improve your strength. Advantage of Swiss ball is that you always have to stabilize your position, by doing that you involve more muscle fibers in action. While some muscles work as primer movers producing the action, other muscles work as stabilizers supporting this action.
  4. Resistance bands also push you to stabilize your position while executing exercise and they help you to strengthen deep muscles and ligaments. It’s quite a handy tool, because they are cheap, lightweight and effective. So if you like to do body weight workouts at home or outside, resistance bands can be a great addition to that. Expanders are similar to resistance bands so I don’t talk about them separately, they are maybe a little bit easier to handle than resistance bands.
  5. Plyometric exercises. This is quite a tricky tool. On one hand this really can move you to another level in terms of speed, but if you don’t do it right or your muscles and ligaments are not ready for that you can easily get into injury. So, I advise you to be very careful with jumps, especially if you are over 40 years old. For those over 50 I don’t recommend plyometric exercises, only some light ones like skipping or something like that.

So, you see there are many choices. I often combine different types of exercises, I also like to use unstable surfaces to do exercises like balance pad for instance. What you should always keep in mind is what you are doing, why and when. It’s not just “ Oh I watched an interesting video on RunwithEva today, she says we should do strength training.” And you start pushing for strength training 2 weeks before your marathon or half marathon. It doesn’t work that way. I can not give you the whole science now about all nuances in planning of strength training, but a couple of tips I can definitely provide:

  1. When you start to prepare for a running event, normally it is 4-5 months, you should devote really enough time to strength training. At that stage you don’t need any interval training or something like that, what you need is strength and endurance.
  2. Do 2-4 sets of 5-8 exercises 2-3 times a week, depending on your current conditions.
  3. Take a short rest of 30-40 seconds between exercises and 1-2 minutes between sets. This way you will develop your strength endurance better.
  4. If you do exercises outside, do 5-6 strides of 150-200 m after you finish, this will help you to stretch your muscles. But don’t push too much, better focus on technique.

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