For runners, strength training is a key component in boosting performance. Adding the strength you get from a weight lifting program will help you switch gears quickly and sprint faster. Another good reason to weight lift as a runner is to help maintain good running form even when fatigued. If you run longer distances, it is important to have good form when fatigued because this will help prevent injuries as well. So sprinters and long distance runners alike can benefit from strength training.
Many runners avoid weights because of a fear of bulking up or feeling heavy. But if you design your weight lifting program properly, you can build strength without bulking. In addition, lifting movements can provide greater range of motion than running. If you always remember to lift weights with good form throughout the entire range of motion then you will not lose any flexibility, and might even gain some.
Why strength training for runners?
Running training for a triathlon is different to training for just running on its own. In triathlon you have already swum and cycled. Approximately 70% of your race duration is already done when you start the run. Therefore your run training needs to reflect this.
Triathlon running is about being able to compete as close to your straight best time, even when fatigued from the swim and bike. Runners are a frequently injured group. Some statistics put runners' annual injury rate as high as 66 percent! The problem is that many runners live mostly sedentary lives, so our bodies aren’t always prepared to handle the stress of pounding the pavement. Plus with an already overflowing schedule, many of us think we simply don’t have time to add strength training to our regimen.
But here’s the good news: Even a small amount of regular strength training improves your structural fitness, which is the ability of your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to support you and stay healthy while running. Several studies show that building hip strength is critical for injury prevention , and it doesn't take a lot. A mere 15 to 20 minutes of running-specific strength work twice a week can dramatically cut your risk for running injuries.
The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the body, linking the heel bone to the calf muscle. Problems with the Achilles are some of the most common conditions seen by sports medicine doctors. Chronic, long-lasting Achilles tendon disorders can range from overuse injuries to tearing of the tendon. Pain in the heel is often caused by a combination of both acute and chronic problems, including inflammation (paratenonitis, insertional tendonitis and retrocalcaneal bursitis) and degeneration (tendinosis).
Strength Workouts for Runners
The following routine focuses on hip strength and will only take 20 minutes, max. Make the exercises easier or harder based on your ability level: Decrease the number of reps or time interval if any exercises feel too tough, or hold medium-weight dumbbells during the lunges, step-ups, squats, and deadlifts if you’re looking for a greater challenge.
Forward Lunges. Take a step forward with your right leg so your knee is positioned over your ankle. Lower your body until your left knee brushes the ground. Step back and repeat on the other side.
Twisting Lunges. Perform a forward lunge, but rotate your torso to the same side that you lunge forward with. (If you lunge forward on your right leg, twist your torso to the right as well.) Step back and repeat on the other side.
Lateral Lunges. Step out to your right side, keeping both feet pointing ahead of you. Lower your body until your right thigh is about parallel to the ground, keeping your left leg is straight. Step back to center and repeat on the other side.
Diagonal Lunges. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Just like you would with a traditional lunge, take a large step forward with your right leg, but instead of moving in a straight line, step out on a diagonal. Bend both knees until your right knee forms about a 90-degree angle. Step back and repeat on the other side.
Reverse Lunges. Take a step back with your right leg and lower your body until your right thigh is about parallel to the ground and your left knee brushes the ground. Keep your toes pointing straight ahead. Step back and repeat on the other side.
Step-Up. Stand in front of a step or bench one to two feet high. Step up with your right foot until your leg is straight. Maintain a tall posture and step down with the left foot. Repeat on the other side.
Single-Leg Deadlift. Stand up straight, then bend forward from the hip (not the spine) while standing on your left leg and extending your right leg behind you for balance. Return to standing by activating the glutes.
How to become a better runner
Fuel up. Eating the right prerun foods is important to prevent feeling sluggish during your run. Go for foods that won’t cause cramps: choose a small snack of simple carbs with a little bit of protein if you’re eating right before a run. And drink a cup of coffee about a half-hour before you go for a run; studies have shown that caffeine helps you run faster and longer.
Intervals . Short sprinting bursts are great for making you a better runner all around. Up your pace and stamina with this treadmill interval workout to incorporate into your running routine.
Tempo runs. Tempo runs are similar to high-intensity intervals, but with this strategy, you don’t sprint as fast as you can. Instead, you hold at a fast (but not too fast) pace for a longer time period, like 10 minutes, before slowing down. This helps your muscles get past your lactate threshold, which will help you improve your endurance and speed. Remember that to be effective your tempo run should challenge your body: you should be able to answer short questions but unable to hold a conversation. Try doing a tempo run every seven to 10 days.
Hills . There’s no reason you should stay on flat land. In fact, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t. Running up hills helps make your leg muscles stronger while also increasing your speed and endurance. Whether you run on the treadmill or outside, the next time you start your workout, make sure an incline is part of your route.
Post-run sprints. Adding short sprinting strides at the end of a long run can keep your body primed for speed, says says Sports Club/LA trainer Ben Hwa. This is because doing strides after a long run will teach your body how to run fast even when your legs are tired. Ben recommends doing four to eight strides of 70 to 100 meters; aim for 80 percent effort on each stride.
Negative splits. This strategy is a simple way to make every run a good run, especially on race day. To incorporate a negative split into your next run, just make sure you’re running at a good, steady pace and increase your speed for the second half of your run.
Stretches.You may not think of postrun stretching as important for your pace goals, but those few minutes you spend cooling down can really help your speed. Stretching makes you more flexible, which can improve your stride and range of motion. Do these postrun stretches after your workout to become a faster runner.
Short strides. Shorter strides can make you a more efficient, and therefore speedier, runner, says trainer Jennifer Pattee. Focus on keeping your strides regular and short to increase your running efficiency.
Midfoot strike. Focusing on landing on the middle of your foot — rather than your heels or toes — can also help you avoid injuries and discomfort that will slow you down, Jennifer adds. Aim for striking with a flat foot for a strong, confident strike.
Drills. Adding a few running drills to your warm-up routine will help improve your running form and speed, Ben says. Do a few minutes of high knees, skipping, and backward running before a run to train your body to operate properly.
Common mistakes to avoid
Doing too much, too fast. The number one cause of running injuries and setbacks is trying to do too much too fast. While that “go-get-em” attitude is something to admire, upping your mileage and/or building speed too quickly is the fastest way to end up on the sidelines. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid doing too much, too quickly.
Not warming-up. Not properly warming up can lead to injury, especially for those incorporating speed work into their training. Warming up properly before races will also help you feel better and avoid spending the first part of the race getting into the grove.
Not alternating hard days with easy days. Another strategy to help prevent injury is to ensure you are alternating easy days with hard days during your training week. This allows you some recovery before and after hard/intense workouts. For instance, an easy day of running (1 to 2 minutes slower per mile than race pace) might precede and follow a day of intense speed work intervals. If you do have back-to-back intense days, they should focus on different elements of training and muscle groups.
Running every run fast. A common mistake seen – particularly newer runners – is wanting to run every run at a pace they consider to be fast for them … and feeling like a failure if the number on their watch isn’t above a certain pace. Easy running is important to your success for a few reasons: 1) It helps you develop your slow twitch muscle fibers to build endurance and aerobic capacity. 2) It helps teach your body to burn fats over carbs, delaying the onset of “hitting the wall.” 3) It allows you to more safely increase your weekly mileage while strengthening your heart, capillary development and more efficiently delivering oxygen to your blood.
Starting too fast. Try to avoid the temptation to go out too fast in a race (or long training run) so you can have the energy to finish strong – and preferably finish the second half of the run or race faster than the first. By starting a bit conservatively for the first 2 to 3 miles, you can prevent "hitting the wall" later in the run/race and have more consistent mile splits throughout the race.
No strength training. Running injuries commonly stem from doing too much too fast and from having muscle imbalances where weakness in one area causes an injury in another. Making time to strength train twice a week can help prevent muscle imbalances, particularly in our glutes and hips which many running injuries stem from. Additionally, increasing upper body and core strength can help with running posture and breathing, particularly in the latter stages of races. When we’re pressed for time and only able to fit so many things into a day, strength training is one of the things runners often cast aside. Committing to just 30 minutes of strength training twice per week can help us become stronger runners.
Running through pain. No one wants to face the reality that they might have to take several weeks off from running to recover from an injury, such as runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis or another common running ailment. Most of the runners are in denial, and in some cases, with proper care like sports massage, physical therapy, stretching/foam rolling, etc., we can nip injuries in the bud and keep running. But often times, runners’ desire to keep running can put them at greater risk of doing longer-term damage. I find this is especially true of newer runners who don’t want to give up a race they’ve signed up for or their workout regimen to take time off to heal. If you are experiencing any pain that is beyond the common discomfort that can come from running, stop. Go see a sports medicine doctor to determine if you can safely run or if you need to take time off or follow a specific recovery protocol. As runners, our main goal should be to train for life. Don’t jeopardize your long-term running happiness to push through pain.
Being impatient. Be patient with yourself. Don’t judge yourself if you aren’t getting faster as quickly as you’d like. Know that having bad runs is a normal part of the running and learning process. Know that every run will not feel good. Don’t let the bad days or weeks define you. Be patient, and know that with the right training and the right attitude, you will reach your goals.
Comparing yourself to others. Don’t place the value of yourself as a runner based on anyone but yourself. The only person you should be competing with is yourself. It’s easy to compare your distances and paces to friends and/or people on social media. Don’t. What’s slow for you may be fast for someone else and vis-a-versa. Every person is different. Celebrate your pace and your training. There are always going to be people who can run faster and farther than you. Celebrate them and celebrate your abilities.