Weight Lifting for Runners

By: RJ

Running as an exercise is great. It is efficient, it potentially gets you outdoors, and it can boost that sweet sweet neurochemical dopamine. However, running on its own has the potential to be damaging to your body. This is because if you are constantly using the same muscles to do the same actions over and over again, your body smartly assumes these are the primary muscles you need and neglects other ones making them weaker and opening you up to injury. This is why we recommend cross training i.e. doing other activities that engage different muscle groups, thus keeping your body well rounded and maintaining musculature  that supports a wide range of movement. 

While cross training by doing other cardio activities (biking, hiking, XC Skiing) can help develop other muscles, you can also target them directly by weight and resistance training. And before you run out to get a gym membership or pop over online to get a set of dumbbells remember that primarily what the gym provides is the access to standardized weights and equipment. But you are always in possession of the most economical set of weights, which is of course your own body. This is to say that you don’t necessarily need to hit the gym or buy something to strength train and I'll discuss both bodyweight and external weight exercises here. But first some general guidance from the experts (not me, I am shamelessly ripping and distilling from coaches such as Joe Holder and Jason Fitzgerald).

So why do we want to weight train? From the most pragmatic stance it’s about efficiency. Efficiency from making the muscles that drive your run stronger so you can get more push per stride, efficiency from strengthening the muscles and connective tissues that keep your body together so you can reduce injury risk, and efficiency from being more in tune with your own body as much of weight training is about intentional movement and form. You can certainly also weight train for gains and mass but that requires a more significant nutrition change and training mentality so we won’t talk about that here where the goals are to increase strength.

Is there a reason not to do weight training? Not really as it so happens! We all can benefit from some weight training! The primary concern about weight training for runners is that we’ll increase our mass and that will impact our speed. But generally speaking if you are keeping it to a moderate level of training without vastly changing your diet, this will not become an issue. The second concern is injury. It is horrifically easy to hurt yourself while weight training which is why you MUST nail your form early on and BEFORE you begin increasing the weight. Consider the following advice

  • If the exercise involves weights, begin by performing the motion without weights to understand the form
  • If it is a body weight exercise, perform it slowly at first and with control (awareness of your body at all times)
  • Always begin with a weight that you are certain you can do 
  • Add weights slowly, like every 2 weeks slowly
  • It should be a struggle not a strain. If you have to scream your way through the reps, you have too much weight
  • Listen to your body. If it feels like you are doing more than you can handle, or if your form feels off, decrease the weights and or the reps until you can find a balance. There is no shame in working out smart. 

Alright so we’re going to do some weight lifting, what is our overarching strategy? Well as I mentioned we are going after strength improvement not muscle mass. This means periodic workouts, appropriate rest, and heavy loads. To sum it up

  1. Train the whole body from top to bottom ideally with compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups. 
  2. Lift heavy (once you have good form), basically you want a weight that you can do 4 repetitions with effort and numbers 5 and 6 will be a struggle. BUT if even doing 1 rep is a struggle, then that weight is too high. 
  3. The end goal should be many sets of few strong reps.
  4. Respect the rest period between sets. We are all busy but your body needs about 2 minutes between sets to get ready again so give it time
  5. Don’t forget the core. The core is the cause and solution to many mobility issues and having a stronger core will almost always benefit you
  6. Workouts should be 2 to 3 times a week. Try to have at least 3 hours in between a run and a strength training session to reduce fatigue. 
  7. Be consistent, commit to working out at least once a week. Unfortunately you can begin losing what you’ve worked for within a few weeks if you stop. So keep at it!
  8. Change it up, surprise your body. When you are comfortable and confident in your form you can vary up how you workout by changing the weights, reps, holding a position, and increasing or decreasing the speed. But always do so within the realm of control. 

And now for the biggest question; what do you actually do? Well it’s been said by the pros that all runners need is to: push, pull, squat, hinge, carry, and lunge. So here are some free weight and body weight exercises and some helpful youtube videos to show that (I think the videos do more to help illustrate good form). Happy lifting Friends

  • Bench Press
  • Push-Up
  • Pull-up
  • Rows
  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Suitcase hold
  • Farmer’s Carry
  • Lunge
  • Calf Raises
  • Planks
  • Glute Bridges
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Hip  Abductions

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