With every aspect of running there’s debate on what’s best and what’s not. And strength training isn’t exempt from that fact. If you’re a runner and have spoken to sports coaches, therapists, sport scientists or any other professional, you may get different answers from across the board. That’s mainly because every type of profession is trained differently, but ultimately they’re all right. What the intention is in this article is to break down each form of running, and what’s the best method of exercise to compliment it. Following the advice can set you on a path to better performance, lower risk of injury and more enjoyment in your running.
It of course goes without saying that all of these exercise recommendations need effective warm ups and cool downs.
Track running up to 800m distance
So at this level of running the majority, if not all, will be sprint. When a person applies that amount of force through their body they need to have the power to back it up. This will not only be generated through the running itself, but can also be highly dependent on the training program outside of running.
As power (speed and strength combined) is the most important thing in sprinting, the exercises that can be done in a gym need to be high weights and high speed through the reps. The weight amount is of course subjective to every individual. One I recommend to a lot of intense speed runners are knee drives; laying on your back and individually driving your knees up to your chest as fast as you can, then slowly returning it back down. In doing so, you work well on your hip flexors and are able to drive your legs forward faster when running. Now doing so only using the weight of your leg may be a little too easy for some, so to increase the difficulty you could apply ankle weights, or a resistance band around your feet down to attach to another object and you pull it up toward your chest. Once again the same process would be a quick contraction, followed by a slow release. Other exercises in sprinters can involve power squat jumps, single leg calf raises, and glute extensions from hands and knees. All of which can vary in resistance and all must involve fast contractions followed by a slow release. Functional training can also be arranged whereby the power is gained on the track itself using different drills.
If your training program consists of 3 or 4 runs a week, id generally say maybe try to get in 1 or 2 sessions a week spending around 25-35 minutes working on power. For those diving deeper into the competitive level of track running, I’d expect their running to be almost daily, in which case power training would be advised around 3 times a week at 15-25 minute sessions. If you’re new to power training then start slow, and build your way in. You’ll be working muscles you didn’t know you had! The first thing to do is to find a basis on each exercise and find out what your heaviest weight would be. Getting to 2 reps on one activity and finding that your maximum effort is then classed as your 1 rep max (1RM). If using a kettle bell or resistance bands, it just comes down to you as a person and picking a weight/resistance you think you can manage up to 8 reps and 3 sets with. Bear in mind of course it isn’t supposed to be easy, but don’t make it near impossible! Based on 100% limit, every exercise should be around 65-70% of your 1RM.
1500m up to 5km
Stepping up the distance means bringing down the intensity of strength training, however the duration of each set would be brought up a notch. The fast contraction is subjective to your level of running; if you want to be at a competitive level then keep that speedy element involved. If it’s more to improve the efficiency of your stride then I’d say focus on the exercises slowly and controlled. At this distance it’s about having a good level of cardio, while still having enough muscular endurance to maintain the speed.
The biggest thing about this distance and improving the speed can actually depend on your running style. Correcting that can prevent injuries, improve speed and make the running feel much smoother. Once you reach to a stage where you’re comfortable in your stride, you can pick out what needs strengthening by sensing how your body responds after each run. If you have aches commonly in the same spot, maybe there’s an element of weakness in there. Some runners favour their forefoot when landing therefore the calves are put through a lot of strain – that would be the first thing to target in strength training in that instance. For the more common heel striker the force is impacted further up into the knees, and therefore the quadriceps can suffer over time.
The training routine should be about the same amount of time/frequency as previously discussed in the last section. At the end of this article you’ll find a training programme. Be sure to have an effective warm up and cool down before beginning, and if you feel a strain within a muscle to respond accordingly – rest! The weights should stay at about 50-55% of 1RM; that’s not majorly that heavy but the aim isn’t to physically build muscle, but to lengthen out the endurance of the fibres. With that in mind, the reps increase. If however the weights do seem too light after fully completing your routine, next time perhaps raise it slightly.
Long distance running
This is a much more different approach to the last two sections whereby training is based on sets and reps building strength solely. Long distance running, or training for a marathon can really add a lot of strain on the joints and connective tissue, therefore not just strength is important to maintain, but joint mobility also. In clinic I have come across runners who are physically incapable of abducting their hips much past 30 degree angles to name one example. Over time you can really start to notice the lack of range of movement you have through your hips and knees if running is your sole method of exercise. The repetitive impact on your knees in particular can really suffer, so just as the 1500m-5km section the first thing to correct, if problematic, is your running gait. From there it’s easier to know what to target/what feel weaker.
Now strengthening is important for long distance, but a marathon strengthening programme would be tailored more alongside running programmes set in place. I’d hope that whatever training programme you choose, it already involves strengthening/movement exercises too. Because every programme is different, it’s difficult to lay out a strengthening routine for every person; this is something that would need to be prepared on a one-on-one basis with a professional.
Long distance running leisurely as opposed to marathon training can be tailored for however. The programme created for long distance will be based on the majority of issues I see in clinic, and what would be beneficial to prevention of these issues. The weight applied should be no more than 50% of your 1RM, and each exercise as the main focus is how far through the range of movement you can go rather than how many. This means with regards to how many repetitions per set, the answer is to work through until exhaustion. When you feel you can’t do any more without being uncomfortable or really feel a burn, you should stop there. It’s also important that you keep the movement under control from start to finish and not to allow your limbs to drop with gravity. Your muscle fibres are engaged much better if the movement is slow and controlled. Relaxing the muscles before completing a rep can result in a less effective workout and above all, possible injury.
Here is a basic guide to strength training. It only focuses on the primary areas however, a deeper more detailed strength programme would cover the whole body. If you want further information on training the whole body, the best thing to do is either contact a running coach or personal trainer.
|Exercise||Up to 800m||1500m-5km||Long Distance|
|Squats/Leg press||4 sets of 8 reps||3 sets of 15 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
|Single leg Romanian dead lifts||4 sets of 8 reps||3 sets of 15 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
|Crunches||4 sets of 12 reps||3 sets of 15 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
|Single leg glute bridges||4 sets of 12 reps||3 sets of 15 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
|Kettle bell swings||4 sets of 12 reps||3 sets of 15 reps||1 set of 20 reps max|
|Lunges (dumbells or kettle bell pass-through legs)||4 sets of 11 reps per leg||3 sets of 12 reps per leg||1 set to exhaustion|
|Single leg calf raises||4 sets of 12 reps||3 sets of 18 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
|Single leg squat to knee drives||4 sets of 8 reps per leg||3 sets of 15 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
|Nordic Hamstring exercises||4 sets of 8 reps||3 sets of 8 reps||1 set to exhaustion|
In following this, remember to flex and extend the muscles as explained in each section. If you struggle understanding some of the names of exercises please feel free to contact me and ask any questions.
This second table is an add-on for those who run long distance. It’s an extra dive into joint mobility but just as the previous table, not every area is focused on, only the main areas in running.
|Core rotations||1 set of 20 max|
|Core side flexions||1 set of 20 max|
|Hip “Snail shell” rotations||1 set of 40 second movements|
|Knee extensions (resisted 50% 1RM)||1 set of 20 max|
|Ankle alphabets||1 set of A-Z|
I sincerely hope this can be of use to you runners out there; strength training can really help with your daily life as well as running. Give it a try for a couple of weeks at least, what have you got to lose?!