Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Strength Training for Runners

Endurance Corner signed its first Ultrarunning client this week (Welcome Bill) so I thought that it would be an opportune time to share my ideas on strength training for runners.

The easiest way to become a better runner is to run more often, and we need to be healthy to run often. Dr. J's article on Biomechanical Fitness is a good starting point for considering how fast you can ramp up mileage. Of course, we often ignore good advice until we get our first running injury!

We each have biomechanical limits that place an upper end on the running load that we can place on our bodies. One of the things that makes many runners great is the their capacity to absorb training (frequency, duration and intensity).

You might be able to ignore your limits for a week, or two, but exceeding your capacity results in unplanned setbacks that reduce your long term consistent training load -- thereby making it very difficult for you to reach your potential as a runner.

So the purpose of your strength training is to reduce your risk for injury, and enhance your running-specific strength. While you may do these exercises at a gym, you'll see that most of them are not classical weightlifting.

The exercises that follow won't make you a faster runner... the exercises below will reduce your risk for injury and make you a more durable runner. As a more durable runner you will be able to do more training and... become a faster runner.

It took me over a decade of walking/hiking/running/marathoning to run my 2:46 marathon at Ironman Canada. You get a lot of benefit from simply being able to run weekly for a long time. Becoming faster than you ever thought possible requires a long apprenticeship.

It's a long term greedy thing!

This is a protocol that I have used successfully for a decade.

Keys to maximizing your return:

  • Start slowly - the prep phase is fundamental
  • Use perfect technique and controlled speed of movement
  • Start embarrassingly light - the goal is improvement, not competing with the powerlifters!
  • You get the greatest return from your FIRST session of the week - one session per week offers a huge improvement over nothing.

EC Members, post your questions/background/limiters to the forum and I can guide you with how to modify this program to suit your individual strengths.

WEEKS 1-12 => PREPARATION (2x per week)

    * Warm up 10 minutes easy lifecycle or ride/run to gym
    * Squats
    * Leg press
    * Single leg press
    * Dynamic lunges
    * Single leg bridges
    * Calf raise
    * Core Work (change each time, 8 mins worth)
    * 10 minutes stretching


    PREP 1 ==> Weeks 1-4 => 2x20-25 reps with 30 secs rest between sets
    PREP 2 ==> Weeks 5-8 => 2x15-20 reps with 30 secs rest between sets
    PREP 3 ==> Weeks 8-12 => 2x12-15 for everything, 60 secs rest between sets

Rep Note: Start each block at the top end of the rep range, gradually increase weight and reduce reps as the block progresses. End each block at the bottom end of the rep range. Remember to avoid rep failure.


    PREP 1 - never to failure comfortable speed
    PREP 2 - never to failure, rep speed slow (2-4 secs per cycle)
    PREP 3 - last two reps are strained but not to failure, rep speed slow

The key for core is 100% correct technique, slow reps speed and variety of exercises. Focus on your lower abs, obliques, lower back and glutes. The object is slow, high quality reps that fatigue the muscles. Be creative and try a lot of different exercises. The Swiss Ball is an excellent tool for core strength.

We don't want to start adding strength until PREP 3 -- so hold back and focus on preparing to crank later in the year. For the first eight weeks, get back in the groove. In PREP 1 & 2, feel free to include additional exercises if you want. However, ensure the quality of the above exercises.

WEEKS 13-16 => MAX STRENGTH (2x per week)


Your do not do any fast running in the 36 hours after this session -- your run times may slow. Stick with it. You'll be back to normal when we come off the weights.

    * Warm up 10 minutes easy lifecycle or ride/run to gym
    * Squats
    * Leg press
    * Single leg press
    * Dynamic lunges
    * Single leg bridges
    * Calf raise
    * Core Work (change each time, 8 mins worth)
    * 10 minutes stretching

    o Sets (3-5, including warm up set -- if doing more than four sets, then pyramid the weight)
    o Reps 6+, ensure last two sets go to strong effort
    o Speed of lift normal
    o Set recovery three minutes (very important to take full rest), use for stretching
    o Core / leg ext / single leg bridges as per PREP 3

I like to hit one session VERY hard each week. The second session is hard but not necessarily pushing my limits. This is where you want to make your strength gains. Psyche up, listen to heavy metal on a walkman, do whatever it takes to get strong. Think strong, think power - the last sets are where the action is.

Push your limits safely and always use a spotter.


    * Warm up 10 minutes easy lifecycle or ride/run to gym
    * Squats
    * Leg press
    * Single leg press
    * Dynamic lunges
    * Single leg bridges
    * Calf raise
    * Core Work (change each time, 8 mins worth)
    * 10 minutes stretching

Effort - first set "steady", second set "mod-hard". Never to failure. Never so hard you think you might fail.

The goal of this session is to maintain. We don't want to add any strength. Your key sessions are now your run sessions. This is a nice way of saying... "don't wreck yourself in the gym!"

Rep speed is normal, 30-60s rest between sets.

This session should last no more than 45 minutes.


Weight: With all lifts, start lighter than you think you need. This is the purpose of PREP 1. There is no rush. Build into the strength program gradually.

Warm-up: A proper warm-up is essential, particularly once you are into the heavier lifting parts of the program.

Stretching: Post-lifting is the ideal time for an extended full-body stretch. You are in a warm, dry environment with mats. Take advantage of it. Now is the time to improve your flexibility!

Squats / Leg Press: Correct technique is essential to avoid injury and/or muscular imbalances. Never descend to angle past 90 degrees. 100 to 110 degrees is fine for the strength gains we are targeting. Never bounce! On both lifts, exhale in a controlled fashion when extending. Breathing should be controlled and deep. If you have time in your program then I really like to use single leg press (start very light and maintain ankle/knee/hip alignment).

Squats: Pelvis should rotate forward and down as the weight is lowered. The squat bar should move vertically without any forward or backward movement.

Squat Tips Summary From Video:

  • Build Slowly to allow Hip Core to gain strength before gluteals and quads
  • Build frequency first
  • Build Max strength last, usually 6 weeks after initiating hip core
  • Maintain Lumbar Lordosis (curve) to prevent back strain
  • Full, Deep Bends are excellent for flexibility training but do not perform under load

Leg Press: Never push on your knees (use less weight). Always keep back perfectly flat against the back rest.

Calf Raise: Feet should be aligned or heels slightly inwards. Legs, hip, back, shoulders should be aligned at all times. I like single leg using both a straight leg, as well as, a slightly bent knee.

Leg Extension: We are only looking for you to be moving in the range of 120 to 180 degrees. The key is the final 20 to 30 degrees. Really focus on the finish and feel your quad contract. For a more dynamic exercise then use walking lunges.

Single Leg Bridges: A personal favorite to help your running form:

Dynamic Lunges: Not mentioned above but a good exercise for extra credit, or before/after a run workout.

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