In this episode of Training Talk, we talk about how weight training (calisthenics and free weights) can benefit runners.
As runners (myself included), we tend to shy away from the weight room and embrace the pavement and trails. After all, the more mileage you clock, the better you will get at running right?
This is indeed true.
However, there is a huge BUT.
Doing nothing else but running alone will set you up for a wide variety of problems which are usually chronic overuse injuries as well as being dysfunctional.
Yes, that means you can only run and anything physical tasks aside from that either hurt you or you cannot do at all.
WANT TO FEEL STRONG, FAST and INDESTRUCTIBLE?
Here is the secret: Hit the weights.
Essentially, weight training complements running – it helps to reduce injuries caused by running and can even improve running performance.
How many of you feel that as you log in more mileage during the week, you start to feel your ITBS, piriformis syndrome, shin splints, strained Achilles and all sorts of pain starting to appear? Then you are forced to take a rest and when you build back up again to the similar level again you get injured again.
Then you are forced to take a rest. And when you build back up again to the similar level again you get injured again.
And when you build back up again to your old fitness level you get injured again.
All these can be reduced via weight training.
Weight training helps to reduce injuries by:
1, Improve your running biomechanics
Your running biomechanics is USUALLY the main cause of chronic pain. Because we are running SO much, a slight misalignment in running posture can cause pain. When ignored, they can blow up to inflict some serious damage to your body.
Take for instance for myself. I had an issue with my ITB – it was causing some serious pain as I was running with a less than ideal gait; my knees were caving in slightly during the landing phase and as such, over time, it adds up and caused the injury.
After reducing the mileage and picking up weight training, I learnt how to squat with the proper technique by engaging the glutes and applying external rotation in order to prevent valgus knees. I applied this technique to running as well, making sure that my knees don’t come inwards upon landing and it worked WONDERS. Nowadays I don’t really feel pain in my ITB anymore and I believe this is partly due to the correction in running gait!
Similarly, the deadlift is also a great exercise which teaches your body how to engage the power of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstring) while you are running. This will prevent you from “leaning from the hips” and instead learn to “lean from the ankles” which translates into more efficient force generation during toe off!
2, Correct muscle imbalances caused by too much running (too much specific work)
The motion of running builds the hamstrings more than the quadriceps (if you are only running on flats), and does little to work on the abs, obliques. As such, there can be muscle imbalances caused by strong lower back-weak abdominals, weak quads-strong hamstrings, etc.
Weak quads-strong hamstrings are one of the most common reasons why runners get the runner’s knees – the weak quadriceps (specifically the VMO) prevents the proper track of the patella (knee caps), coupled with the strong force production of the hamstring, is the main source of knee pains. By doing more squats it can essentially strengthen your quadriceps and this helps to keep your knee cap in place and thus removing the pain.
Lateral movements are also often neglected – as such runners tend to have weak abductors and adductors. They are a huge contributor to pelvic stability on top of your core and thus they need to be worked on to prevent injuries caused by excessive rotation of the pelvis, which can also cause knee pain and ITBS.
3, Prevent overuse injuries by switching up your training.
Lastly, weight training gives your body a chance to REST your legs from all the pounding while getting in work to strengthen your body, which mitigates the chance of overuse injuries. All the running is catabolic in nature. Weight training helps to strengthen your muscles, tendons and ligaments in order to increase their tolerance to the high impact nature of the sport!
Weight training can ALSO improve running performance (WOOHOO)!
1, Bombproof legs
The two most essential lifts that you can do to increase fatigue tolerance in those legs. By being able to lift more, the power generation in your legs increases, each step that you take will also feel easier due to the decreased percentage of max power in every toe off.
2, Able to hold an efficient running posture for a longer period of time
Push ups, pull ups, dips, planks (plus their variations).
These will form the bulk of a runner’s upper body regime, and are some of the exercises which forms the building blocks of my strength development.
Get good at them.
They will help you to hold your posture late into a race. A loosely or poorly held upper body and a weak trunk will cause poor force generation and will be an energy leaking tap which prevents you from moving efficiently.
By building up a strong CORE and UPPER BODY strength, you can hold your running posture much better. The upper body strength that you acquired will give you the energy in the arms to sprint to the finish. Yes, when your legs are tired and when your arms are still fresh, taking advantage of contralateral movement patterns between the arms and legs, swinging your arms as hard and as fast as you can will induce your legs to do the same and that is how you get the “edge” in a sprint to the finish!
SO..HOW DO YOU START??
Here are a few tips for weight training which will help you achieve BOTH benefits:
1, HEAVY SQUATS AND DEADLIFTS
Try to shoot for 5 x 5 reps of squats and deadlifts at a relatively challenging weight, with 1:3 to 1:6 work to rest ratio. The idea is to not put on mass, but to induce the neuromuscular stimulus which increases force generation without putting on significant mass (which may affect your running performance).
2, CALISTHENICS WORK
Get good at pull ups, push ups, dips and planks. The idea is to develop a base level of strength and you can do that by performing these exercises for reps. A good benchmark will be:
50 push ups in a minute
15 pull ups
20 dips on the parallel bar
30s planks with contralateral limbs lifted off the ground
3, UNILATERAL LEG WORK
Single leg balance on unstable surfaces, Bulgarian split squats, lunges and pistols squats. Work on them to develop single leg balance and strength which can help a lot in injury prevention. I like to build up to being proficient at pistol squats (10 per leg) for 3 sets.
4, ADDUCTORS and ABDUCTORS WORK
Grab a resistance band and perform adductor and abductor raises.
3-4 sets of 15 reps will be a good.
Alternatively, you can try clamshells and adductors lifts.
There you have it, the tools necessary to build up a strong body to handle the rigours of running. Treat strength training as an integral part of your running program – I’d replace 1-2 sessions of running per week for weight training rather than it on to the running session itself. That is the level of importance that I rate strength work.
During your off-season you can afford to have 2 sessions of weight training, but during on-season you can afford to reduce to just 1. During the sharpening phase you may remove it entirely.
I strongly recommend all runners to incorporate weight training into their regime.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, feel free to drop me a message in the contact me section, or drop me a PM on my Facebook page or Instagram!