Gym work for runners. Increase your chance of making progress by not doing stupid stuff.

I have a confession to make…

I hate writing about strength training for runners.

If your passion is running, chances are you don’t want to be bothered with having to go to the gym when you could be pounding the pavements instead. Me telling you that you must lift or you’ll end up injured is like your mum nagging you to brush your teeth or you’ll end up with fillings.

It’s boring.

Perhaps instead, I could advise you on which practices to avoid when setting foot in the gym. I mean, if you’re going to make the effort to mingle with the meatheads, you should at least get something out of it.

So here goes;

  1. Avoid plyometrics like the plaque. Most runners are fragile enough already and unless you’re a healthy, functionally sound eighteen year old, explosive, open-chain lower body movements will likely break you faster than damned near any other activity you could choose to perform in the gym. If you want the benefits of plyometrics without the high risk of injury, simply perform relatively light loads (around 50-60% of your 1rm) for 5 sets of 3 reps, lowering the bar slowly and then exploding upwards (obviously keep this somewhat controlled. If your feet are leaving the ground with a loaded barbell on your back then you have either a.) completely screwed up your percentages or b.) not have much experience with lifting- in which instance you should place the bar back in the rack and then go and find a coach.)
  1. Give conventional deadlifts a wide berth. The shear forces placed across the spine when performing this lift do not couple at all well with regular high impact sports such as running. Yes, the literature shows no difference in time to recovery when compared to the squat or press, but this is a classic case of where the science hasn’t yet caught up to the anecdotal evidence. Ask any intermediate-pro lifter about the systemic recovery costs of regular deadlifting and you’ll get the same answer – and most of these guys aren’t running marathons. Throwing a bunch of running into the mix is like trying to bungee jump with a frayed cord over a frozen lake - something is going to break. Unless your goal is specifically to build a stronger deadlift, you can avoid overtraining and/or injury by simply switching to a trap bar deadlift or breaking the movement down into its smaller constituents.
  1. I’ve said this a million times: glute bridges, crab walks and unweighted squats are NOT strength training. Strength is accrued over time by incrementally placing heavier loads upon the skeleton, which in turn forces the body to build stronger muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. If farting around in front of your tv doing hip thrusts and 3kg kettlebell-whatever’s could actually make a person physically stronger, the start line of the London Marathon would likely resemble a horde of Viking warriors. YES, they have their place. NO, they should not form the base of your training plan.
  1. Don’t give up on your gym work one or two weeks after starting because you’re sore, or your paces have taken a hit. Strength training is a long term process. Your body will adapt, you just need to have a little patience.
  1. Forget training at home if you don’t have a squat rack, bar and plates. Most of us need to see progression in our training. That’s why we enter races. Many of you want to break a 20 minute 5k or go sub 4 hours or better in a marathon. These goals are what drive us to get out of bed and put our running shoes on. If we had absolutely no clue as to whether we were getting better or not, the drive to train would undoubtedly decrease over time. The same has to apply to strength work. If you’re not seeing progress, you’re going to get bored. And if you have little interest in strength training anyway, lets face it, when left to figure things out yourself at home, you’re going to last about a week before you throw in the towel. Progressing at the gym is easy; you just add more weight to the bar. It’s surprisingly motivating when you realise that your squat has gone from thirty kilos to 50 kilos for five reps over the course of a few months. Why? Because it’s tangible; just like going from a four hour marathon to a three-fifty marathon. If you’re training bodyweight squats at home and on your first attempt you can do fifty in a row, where do you go from there? One hundred? Two hundred? Good luck trying to run the next day.

Hopefully this will be of some use to you. Stay tuned for part two!

written by

Peter Stables

Strength & Conditioning Coach from Bath

Club: No

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