How Strong Are You?
As an endurance coach, I encourage athletes to take strength seriously. A good strength program will help build endurance and resiliency for your activity, keeping you injury free and help your performance. The goal for endurance athletes is to improve performance on the road and in the trails, and so, strength training done effectively, mitigates internal muscle breakdown which is critical to the endurance athlete. It will improve endurance, performance, mobility, and recovery.
Intelligent strength training doesn’t mean spending hours on machines at the gym. Intelligent strength training supports your endurance training, can be performed in 2- 3 short sessions each week, and makes you feel awesome. Not only do you run and walk better, but you are stronger for all your daily activities: lugging groceries, lifting your kids, or putting your dog in the back of the car. As you age, strength training should start to take up a larger percentage of your weekly training minutes.
Strength training for runners has two purposes: it can focus on the specific needs of an athlete with biomechanical imbalances to help overcome or prevent injuries, which promotes more consistent training and hence, improvement.
And, strength training done as a compound, multi- joint movement, like deadlifts, single leg deadlifts or kettlebell swings (not your standard gym machine stuff, where you are just sitting down and isolating one muscle group) will promote a balanced and strong body for improved performance. Performed correctly, barbells and kettlebells used for lifts and pushes or ballistic training, requires you to brace the core strongly and this results in a strong posterior chain - your back, glutes and hamstrings, which is a huge benefit for runners.
The barbell or kettlebell deadlift, teaches us how to hinge at the hips correctly, use the hamstrings effectively, and increases strength for the action of running. Matt Pearce talks about the benefits of deadlifting for runners here in this Training Peaks article. Like the plank, deadlifting will also make you bulletproof for lifting boxes on moving day.
I encourage runners and walkers to find a good gym, and a certified strength and conditioning expert when starting a strength program. Someone who is knowledgeable of the Functional Movement Screen testing (FMS), which is the observation and testing of 7 basic movements in order to assess strengths and weakness, and who can help you find a simple but effective routine that works for you. You don’t need a personal trainer, but 2-4 sessions with an instructor to teach you proper form and movement and to set you up with a program is a great start.
A good strength program can be fit into a 30 minute window 2-3 times a week, and the payoff with a strong posterior chain and great mobility will be noticeable. Not to be confused with Olympic lifting, or weightlifting, proper strength training for runners will not cause you to gain weight, or compromise your cardio training. Your muscles will become stronger and denser, your mobility will improve, and your posture and stamina will create a strong platform for your endurance training. Other anecdotal positive side effects of strength training are better sleep quality, greater confidence, and helping with metabolism.
A popular form of gym training suggests the only way to develop strength is for athletes to reach intense degrees of fatigue – this would be the flood of lactic acid and burn intrinsic with high intensity interval workouts (also known as ‘bang for your buck workouts). Technically this training should be used sparingly, in peaking situations for example. High acid baths incurred frequently result in a decrease in work capacity and force athletes to ‘put up’ with the unpleasant sensations of fatigue. In a nutshell this training disrupts many physiological processes that support improved aerobic endurance performance.
One of the best way to find a gym or an instructor to work with, is simply good old fashioned word of mouth. Ask around, read reviews of gyms and set aside some time to learn to be strong!
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