Running Coach at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs
June 26, 2023
This is my favorite running topic other than possibly 400-meter repeats. I started to dedicate myself to this topic about a decade ago. I was curious about what was missing in running performance and why strength training didn’t influence the running industry much. It seemed to have a more significant effect or impact on every other sport.
So why not distance running?
Our team finally implemented strength training on my college track team in my 5th and final year. We weren’t given any instructions - we just were given a sheet and said to go for it.
After that season, I needed to take a break from running. I thought long and hard about what my body needed. This isn’t just about me having some health issues that led me to more strength training. That was just a part of it.
I knew there needed to be more to running than just running a lot, stretching, performing ABC drills and running strides 1-2 times per week.
I felt great when I lifted!
I started to feel more sound and increasingly more athletic.
Missing Pieces in the Running Industry
Runners are very gritty people but also very particular. At least with their bodies and how they train or think they should train.
It’s not necessarily the individual’s fault, and of course, there are no absolutes here. It’s more the running industry. There’s nothing wrong with doing body-weight exercises like body-weight squats, push-ups, planks, etc.
I firmly believe that runners are missing out on many benefits with weight training. As well as plyometric training. I also think the body-weight approach can help jumpstart someone. Then eventually move into a proper progression of adding weights into their training.
I can understand why knowledge of strength training for runners is in the place it is. If you look at many runners’ bodies or try to emulate the pros who are pretty thin typically, then it’s easy to assume that most runners don’t need to lift. Once you know a bit more, though, you’ll begin to understand just how important it is and why you need to start now.
A disclaimer for this post!! This is for almost every runner, especially those that have gotten into running somewhat recently or just back into running. Former or even current college athletes too. I’ll do different posts on this and focus heavier on the more competitive high school, college and maybe even professional populations at some point. This is also NOT for those that aren’t willing to get better at running but just say they want to. I truly mean that. You don’t need to add more to your to-do list if you don’t want to improve in your running. Alright, let’s move on.
Adding Strength Training is More Than Just a Benefit to Your Running
I understand there will be some people that just won’t be able to do additional lifting due to scheduling. Although that’s usually the person’s issue of willingness, sometimes there just isn’t much room at all, and you need to take what you can get. Some people just need to run more when you have the spaces available. There is something; however, that can be done in just about every case in my opinion. Even body weight or doing even one set of dumbbell-style lifting circuits can move the needle in the right direction. That isn’t the type of strength that I want to advocate solely for, but something is better than nothing.
For those that truly want to get better at running, you need to consider where you’re at in your training. Considering all variables. You may just need to run more to get better, however…skipping strength training as a whole is just plain stupid. Not to sound contradicting but hear me out. As humans, we need to be strong to be healthy, especially long-term. To be a healthy runner long-term, strength is key too. Just because you’re a runner, doesn’t mean you can take a pass to not lift.
You’re still a human.
Humans need to lift.
What’s tricky here is that many runners have had relative success without it, so they never think they need it. It can be hard to argue, especially when someone has had success without lifting for an extended period of time. Like anything in life, you can’t go back in time and try things out the other way to compare. There’s a level of faith and vulnerability to doing things differently.
Benefits of Strength Training
What I want to continue to stress today are the benefits. If you don’t want to work it in, your call. You’re missing out though!
First, strength training helps the body get prepared for faster running. It’s important to have proper tensile strength of the joints and ligaments and optimal muscle tension.
Strength training helps prepare the joints for more power production through a greater range of force development. This benefit should be talked about more often. This translates into the ability to run faster in a couple of different ways. Physically just having the ability to run faster by having more power potential and through overall better-running economy or, running efficiency, if you will.
It is because of these benefits that the following must be at least referenced. However, lightly. Strength and power training can help with injury prevention too. It does NOT necessarily prevent it! You’ll see these false promises posted regularly in such a way that suggests strength training will prevent injuries. Way too often, I might add. I’ve said it too, and I’ve had to check myself and decide to change how I viewed this and wrote about it too.
The probability of this working in your favor, is pretty high if performed consistently. That part could arguably be the most important factor. Another would be what type of strength training to do. I don’t believe enough runners have learned how to lift properly, but I’m not referring to form here. I’m describing how and what type of lifting.
How to Lift Differently
The type and how someone is lifting is very important. Here I’m talking about the volume and intensity. So, how many reps are being done, and does that rep number have an actual reason behind it. You know…other than the typical 8-10 reps so often prescribed more randomly than not. Is there a specific plan behind those numbers? Often, no. This is where a coach comes in. Yes, form first, especially with an exercise like the squat or an overhead press. However, you don’t always need to do 8-10 reps for each set of everything you do. There’s a time and place for real strength and power, getting in the rep range of 2-6. Heavy too. You’ll get way more out of that than just a bunch of high reps, low weight.
Next is the correct number of exercises within the workout and the frequency of weekly sessions. I won’t get into this too much today, though. I will say generally aim for 2 weekly sessions of about 3-5 exercises. Make them compound lifts such as a squat, hip hinge (deadlift) and an upper body push or pull. You can refer to my IG @coachjeffwwilson and find more on these topics there!
The benefit of setting this up correctly is that the runner will have a less likely chance of injuring themselves if lifting consistently and with the right amount of volume and intensity for where they’re at and their goals. Also, this will help runners prevent more injuries because the lifting will complement their run training. Not detract from it.
I’ll finish with this last point.
Typically, runners are very weak in the posterior chain, aka the back of the body. Most prominently in the glutes and calves. Not to say the hamstrings or back muscles get a slide on this one, but runners are too weak in these areas. The quads on the front of the thighs and the hip flexors connecting the front of the legs to the upper body essentially get overworked, resulting in a sense of tightness, which is usually just a weakness in the hip flexors. Thus, causing the front and back of the body to be at a discrepancy of sorts.
Strength training assists in laying a foundation of strength so that power can be called upon properly. Your glutes are just about the strongest muscles in your body, or should be, especially for running or jumping. However, if the calves slack off a bit too much or your ankles have a “door stop feeling” rather than an open door policy, you won’t be getting the necessary power to utilize your glutes efficiently.
Your hip flexors play a huge role here too.
So there you go. You can see some of the many benefits and the power behind them, and it’s your choice to take it or leave it. I would suggest giving it a shot, and if so, do it for at least 3 months to see some of the benefits. If you want some guidance, reach out and find out if one of my programs works for you! You can also look below this article for a list of a few exercises to start using today.
Get in the weight room and start layering strength and endurance together to create a more resilient and athletic body.
Get strong and happy running!
Full Body Strength Routine
What you need: 1 pair of dumbbells + 1 resistance band
Time commitment: About 25 minutes
How to set it up: Perform 2-3 sets of all exercises and start with 6 reps of everything.
Frequency: Try this out for 3-4 weeks, 1-2 times weekly. Then you need to progress or change it up!