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Strength training for runners: one gym workout

Strength training is often overlooked by runners, but it's one of the most important parts of an athlete's training schedule

As runners, we sometimes neglect important aspects of training. Some of us skip the warmup while others might cut the cooldown short. Some people do both. We know we shouldn’t do this, but sometimes we convince ourselves that it’s OK. Another often neglected but very important part of our schedule is strength training. Sometimes we think, “Who needs the gym? I’ve got the roads, track and trails.” We don’t need to be in the gym pumping iron every day, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing some lifting every week. 

How often should you strength train?

Certified personal trainer, Barry’s Bootcamp instructor and Under Armour trainer Kevin Yeboah says he recommends that runners strength train two to three times a week. “It seems to work best for athletes to do it every other day,” he says. “So if you run on Monday, you can strength train on Tuesday. Or if you want to do them in the same day, I would suggest doing it after your run.” Fifteen to 30 minutes is all that’s necessary.  

Yeboah’s fellow Under Armour trainer, Jennifer Rochon, agrees that runners only need to strength train two or maybe three times a week, and she says it’s important to give your body time to recover after a session. 

“When you’re strength training, it will require some time to build and to rest, and depending on your recovery rate, you might need more rest than someone else,” says Rochon, a Montreal-based personal trainer who specializes in women’s fitness. “So if you’re going for an active recovery run, of course you can run, but you don’t want your run to counter-effect what you’re trying to get from that strength training. It’s important to figure out a schedule that works for your recovery.” 

Rochon adds that consistency is key when it comes to strength work, so “if you can find a routine you can be consistent with, then you’ll see an improvement in your running.” 

Why strength training is important 

Rochon acknowledges that strength training can be easy to ignore. “You’re running and you think you’re healthy, but then your hips and your joints start to hurt.” Strength work will help your ligaments, bones and of course muscles grow stronger, Rochon says, which will help you as a runner.

“When you run, it’s technically like you’re doing a single-leg squat, and if you’re not absorbing that force, things will start to hurt,” she says. “If your alignment isn’t great, you’ll have a hard time staying injury-free.” Yeboah adds that, when walking, you divide your body weight by two, with each leg taking half of your weight. That’s not the case when you start running. 

“When you run, it’s like four to 10 times that amount, depending on how fast and how far you’re going,” he says. “So if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s like 300 pounds on one leg at least.” Absorbing that impact is so important for runners, because if you’re landing wrong with every step, that force will take a huge toll on your body. 

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“Strength training is definitely important for injury prevention, but even for performance in running,” Yeboah says. “If you can increase the power that you have behind each step, then you’ll run faster and farther. If you can increase the efficiency of your run, you’ll be able to endure a bit longer. Strength training helps with all of that.” 

Yeboah’s recommended workouts

When it comes to what exercises you should do in training, Yeboah says basic is always better. “Nobody runs perfectly right off the bat, so focusing on form and fixing any issues is easiest to do with basic lifts. Basic movements are the ones I would start with. I’ve been working out forever, but I don’t do a fancy squat. So staying with the basic movements is a good thing to do.”

Yeboah recommends squats, deadlifts and lunges for runners, and he notes that it’s important to focus on maintaining correct form and a decent tempo, which he says should be around three to one: three seconds down, one second up. Yeboah’s instructions for these are all the same: three to four sets with 12 to 15 repetitions (dumbbell weight range 10 to 25 lbs). 

How to do goblet squats 

Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward, grab your dumbbell and hold it with both hands in front of your body, against your chest. Begin the squat by pushing your hips back and driving your weight into your heels as you lower into the squat. When your knees reach 90 degrees, push up through the heels and return back to a standing position, squeezing your glutes at the top. 

How to do Romanian deadlifts 

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Pickup your dumbbell and hold it by the ends with both your hands and allow your arms to hang relaxed in front of your body. Hinging at the hips, bend forward by pushing your hips back and keeping your legs as straight as possible while keeping the dumbbell close to your body. Maintain a flat back and neutral spine at all times. Once you’ve pushed your hips as far back as you can (allow a slight bend at the knee at the bottom of the movement) return to the starting position and squeeze the glutes at the top to complete the rep. 

Forward lunges with dumbbell 

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Pick up your dumbbell and hold it with both hands in front of your body, against your chest. Step forward with one leg into the forward lunge position, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Push off the front leg and return to the standing position to complete the rep. Repeat on the other leg.

Rochon’s recommended workouts 

Rochon suggests trying single-leg squats, slaloms and jumping side to side with a focus on sticking each landing. “Those are all great exercises you should have in your toolbox, especially if you’re planning on running.” These exercises work on stabilizer muscles, which are so important for efficient running. 

Single-leg touchdown

Dumbbells are optional for this exercise, and you should perform four sets of six to 10 repetitions. Start by standing on a platform or bench that’s about 12 inches tall, with dumbbells in each hand. Load your weight onto your right foot, making sure your toes are pointing straight forward. Extend the left leg back as you simultaneously bend at the hips and right knee to lower your left heel towards the ground. Your weight should remain solely on your right foot, dumbbells in hands, arms extended. As your left heel comes close to the ground or lightly touches, press through your right foot and drive your left knee to a balancing position. Keep an eye on your alignment as you go through your reps – your knee should always track over your second or third toe. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps before switching to the other side.

Three lateral hops to stick

Again, perform four sets, this time with eight repetitions each (three hops count as one repetition). Start in your balance position, which will also be your stick position. When you bring your knee up, always make sure your toes are pointing up and your arms are mimicking a running stride. Hop three times from side to side and hold your stick position for at least two seconds before moving on to another repetition. Keep an eye on your alignment as you go through your reps your knee should always track over your second or third toe. 

Plank runner’s lunge to t-rotations 

Like the previous two, cover four sets with this plank exercise at 10 repetitions per round. Start in a high plank position, hands underneath your shoulder blades, grasping your dumbbells (which are on the ground). Your body should create a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. Drive your right knee forward and place your right foot (heel down) close to your upper body. Grip the dumbbell with your right hand to lift it up vertically, rotate your torso to the side until your arm is fully extended. Slowly reverse the movement to your starting position and repeat on the other side. Complete the prescribed numbers of reps, alternating from side to side. 

You don’t need a fancy gym with the best equipment on the market to fit your strength training into your schedule. A simple gym setup or even just bodyweight exercises will help you prevent injuries and get faster. Just 15 to 30 minute sessions a couple of times per week will go a long way, which isn’t that much to ask for considering the benefits of strength training for runners. 

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