Let’s face it. You want to run strong and injury-free. You want to get the most out of your training and realize your running dreams. Crush that 10k PR or finish a marathon or even ultra-marathon.
You heard about strength training and how it’s supposed to help you achieve your running goals.
But do you know how to strength train that supports your running?
Many runners don’t like hitting the gym. Some even downright hate it.
And many commit to at least one of the 7 mistakes I will describe in this article
Read on to find out what those are and if you are making them.
1. Not Strength Training At All
Even though word has spread that strength training should be an integral part of a runner’s routine, you are not doing it.
You tell yourself you don’t have time or you don’t like the gym.
Or maybe you don’t know how to start and what exercises to do.
Or perhaps you are afraid of bulking up, which is highly unlikely if you are a runner. Even more so if you are a woman.
If you are on the fence about strength training, consider the benefits. By adding strength training to your running program you:
- decrease your risk for overuse injuries
- improve neuromuscular coordination
- improve the rate of force development of your muscle
All of these adaptations will lead to improved running efficiency, speed, and strength endurance.
And if you want to improve your body composition, then look no further. Strength training can help with that too.
When you are new to strength training, you should introduce it when your running intensity is low and not much other training is done.
This is because strength training fatigues your nervous system. You are likely not used to this kind of fatigue if you have never strength trained before. Heavy weight lifting might leave you feeling drained at first.
2. Lifting Infrequently
If you loathe pushing around iron as much as you love lacing up your running shoes, you likely commit to this mistake.
Every now and then, you convince yourself you should hit the gym and pump some iron, or you do a few push-ups in the comfort of your home.
You are already one step further down the road than the runner who doesn’t strength train.
However, you are not reaping the benefits because you fail to implement a routine and lift consistently.
What is holding you back from following a consistent lifting schedule?
Lack of time?
Or are you unsure about how to periodize strength training in alignment with your running schedule?
Maybe you simply don’t like lifting.
Let me put your mind at ease.
You don’t need to turn into a gym rat to reap strength training’s benefits. In fact, it would probably be counterproductive to your running goals.
During low-intensity running, you need only 2 strength training sessions per week, 3 at most. Once your running intensity picks up, you can reduce it to 1 session per week and drop it altogether when tapering for a race.
3. Failing To Progress Load Over Time
This mistake is closely related to mistake number 2. Because frankly, when you lift irregularly, you are not getting any stronger.
But even if you lift regularly, you might be making this mistake. This is one of the most common errors people who are not involved in a strength sport make.
They do the same exercises with the same weights week in and week out.
However, would you expect to improve your endurance when you run the same distance at the same speed day in and day out?
Then why would you think you could get stronger when you lift the same weight, in the same fashion, for the same number of reps every time you hit the gym?
How the body responds to training is governed by a few overarching principles.
One of them is the principle of progressive overload. It states that you have to increase the weight over time to continue making strength gains.
There are many different periodization schemes and philosophies in the strength training world. However, the main point I want to drive home is this: Just like your running should follow a structured plan, if you are working towards specific goals, your strength training should be structured.
The periodization of your strength training should be aligned with your running schedule. In times of more intensive running, cut back on your heavy lifting. During periods of low-intensity running, increase your lifting efforts again.
4. Using A Bodybuilding Routine
One of the most common reasons I hear from runners why they avoid strength training is that they want to avoid becoming “bulky.”
Surprisingly many runners who do strength train use a routine that a bodybuilder might use.
The volume is relatively high with medium reps and sets. Rest periods are relatively short. Some runners use machines in the gym and isolate specific muscles or muscle groups.
However, when we strength train to support our running, the main focus is to develop strength and power without increasing muscle size.
Unless you want to put on some muscle, you need to follow a different approach.
You see, for gaining strength while keeping muscle growth to a minimum, you need very heavy weights, low repetitions, and long rest periods.
In practice, that means you pick a very heavy weight that you lift for 3-5 reps and rest between each set for a minimum of 3-5 minutes. You need this much rest between two sets because this allows your muscle to recover well enough to lift again at close to maximal strength. If you shorten the rest interval, your strength will diminish. Your body uses its energy systems differently, increasing muscle size.
You also don’t need to hit the gym as often as a bodybuilder would. While people whose goal is muscle mass increase train 5-6 times per week, you only need to strength train 2 to 3 times per week. Your strength training workouts will be shorter. You do fewer exercises and focus mainly on compound lifts. That means you pick exercises that train the whole body instead of single muscle groups. And you train movement instead of muscle. You also rarely lift to failure.
5. Turning Strength Training Into Mobility Work
“Functional training” has become a thing in recent years. Wobble boards and Bosu balls started filling gyms and homes alike.
And while stabilization exercises do have their place, and it is essential to learn how to move well, they are no substitute for pure strength and power work.
By all means, do your stabilization exercises but don’t kid yourself and think they count as strength training.
Strength training for runners is supposed to make the body more resilient. To increase the body’s ability to handle stress.
Mobility exercises do not support that goal.
6. Training For Strength-Endurance
When I first dabbled into strength training, I committed this mistake.
I would do lots of reps and sets with very light weights. Think 15 or more repetitions and plenty of sets. My thinking was similar to what many other runners think: we need strength endurance when we run, so we should train it, right?
You see, as runners, we already get plenty of endurance work. The time you spend lifting should be put to use to make you strong and powerful. To improve strength endurance, you need to get strong first. When you lift heavy, you increase the number of muscle fibers that can be recruited. This, in turn, means you have more muscle fibers to rely on when running, which means your strength endurance is improved.
The high repetition approach to strength training also has the drawback of having little carryover to running. When using this method, you train local muscle endurance and recruit the muscles differently from running. You are essentially training your muscle to resist a type of fatigue that will not occur when running.
The best strength-endurance training you can do to support your running is, you guessed it: running.
7. Doing Circuit-Style Boot Camp Classes
We, runners, love the feeling of a good endurance workout.
Maybe that is why boot-camp-style classes attract so many runners. Since they often include many bodyweight exercises or additional weights, many think these workouts make them stronger.
And they might but to a limited extend. Due to these types of workouts’ aerobic nature, you are not getting the benefits we are after when we strength train.
And please forgive me for repeating myself, but the goal of strength training is not to have another cardio workout but to focus on improving maximum strength and power.