Strength training for runners is becoming more and more common. It used to be an aspect of training that just professional runners would consider, but now with more and more people doing local 5 to 10k’s and wanting to improve their times, more people are looking towards strength training due to its effectiveness at improving running performance. Here is our guide to runners who are looking do strength training at home.
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Strength training can have a positive impact on how fast people can run, especially because it enables people to run faster due to increased force production. “Concurrent endurance and heavy strength training can increase running speed and power output at VO2max” (1). This means that individuals are able to increase their speed whilst running at their VO2 max with strength training in conjunction with endurance training, hence improving their running performance. These finding have also been found in elite runners , meaning this effect is likely to be similar or even more pronounced in the general public.
This being said, if you run once or twice a week and are not very consistent with your training, you may find that strength training will of be little impact to your running, as you’re not running enough to see the benefits. Also there will be a max point at which getting stronger will no longer improve you’re running or endurance capabilities. As studies have not been carried out on these topics it’s hard to know when strength training stops being less effective, let’s just say if you can Back Squat 1.5 your body weight, you’re probably doing okay for strength when it comes to running, and if you are struggling to perform a bodyweight split squat then you will likely see a lot of benefits.
This article is aimed at runners who are looking to get strong at home without equipment, this is a very doable endeavour, however I think it is necessary to point out some difficulties with this approach.
Those of us who are strength training at home on a regular basis are very aware that the monotony of using similar exercises can be one of the most challenging aspects of the training itself. This is especially true for those who are more advanced and already have attained the physical capabilities to perform some of the most difficult exercises, meaning the exercises will rarely change if you only have access to bodyweight exercises.
One of the key principles of resistance training is progressive overload , without it, we stagnate and do not progress any further. When we are using external load, be it free weights or machines, we can very easy increase the difficulty of the exercise. However with just bodyweight exercises this can be more difficult, it is certainly achievable, but it will require a great deal more attention.
You can still use progressive overload to your advantage without equipment, I suggest you read through our extensive article and get a grip of the concept as this will allow you to apply it much more effectively.
Improving your max bench press is not going to improve your running performance, so what movement patterns do we want to focus on when using strength training for running performance.
The squatting movement pattern is the key to improving the strength of the legs and is an important component of at home strength training for runners. This is one of the most challenging movement patterns to train at home without equipment, which makes single leg squatting movements crucial.
Single leg squats will be the staple of runners strength training, it is extremely effective at improving the strength of the muscles in the legs, specifically the quadriceps and the muscles of the glutes.
Having strong hamstrings is important for runners to reap the benefits from strength training. This is usually done through hinging with external load, however as this article is for those who do not have access to weights, this goal will be achieved through hamstring specific work.
The glutes are another essential movement pattern that runners will want to be strengthening in their resistance training sessions. This movement pattern thankfully has a large variety of bodyweight exercises.
Yes, I think everyone should have the capability to perform basic movements like press ups and pull ups. Obviously these movements will have much less of an impact on running performance, but it terms of general health and wellbeing theses exercises will be very beneficial.
Runners strength training will depend heavily on how often they run per week, when their next race is and how much free time they have. I think that runners should aim to strength train one to two times a week based on these factors. Getting a range of 4-8 sets done on each of the movement patterns outlined above to ensure progress, or at the very least, maintenance.
For my clients that are runners, I tend to write sessions with Bi-sets and Tri-sets, so we can get through a large variety of movement patterns in one session. Obviously it also depends on how much time you have available also, but I will give an example of an at home strength session design so you can get a feel for it, each exercise would be performed for 4 sets till a point of high fatigue but not failure.
Sample Session Design
A1) Single Leg Squat
A3) Hip Dominant
B2) Core Stability
B3) Injury Mitigation
The timing of your strength training will be very important if you do not want it to impact your running performance. Doing strength training at a high intensity can cause fatigue for up to two days, so you need to be sure that you are not doing strength training sessions before your speed work or interval sessions as this will have a negative impact, the goal is to perform it either before your easy run or long run this way if your pace is affected you will still obtain the desired adaptation. Here is a sample week;
Monday - Strength Training Upper Body
Tuesday - Tempo Run
Wednesday - Easy Run
Thursday - Off
Friday - Strength Training Lower Body
Saturday - Easy Run
Sunday - Long Run
The best way for runners to mitigate injury is to ensure they perform the appropriate amount of training volume their body can recover from. However having strong and resilient joints from both resistance training and corrective exercises may also be likely to help, here are some exercises you can perform to help mitigate running injuries in the knee and ankle.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.