Resistance training for runners

scotland coast to coast finishThe problem with little brothers is they generally do their best to upstage you, but sometimes they do come in useful. My youngest brother is currently studying for a sports science degree which means I have my own personal strength and conditioning coach whenever I need it. Being the kind, sharing person that I am I thought I’d ask him to do a guest post about resistance training for runners so you can all hear his wise words too. Strength training like this is something I think a lot of runners (me included) neglect so I thought it would be an interesting topic to hear more about, so without further ado here it is:

Being a non-blogger myself it has taken me a good few cups of tea to work out how to start a post that is worthy of an inclusion onto a blog, especially that of my brothers of which I am sure to receive grief for if it is of a poor quality. However upon long deliberation and a few slices of my mother’s finest brownie I have come to the conclusion that an introduction of sorts into whom I am is probably the best plan of action.

I am the non-balding younger brother of the balding middle aged father of 2 who runs this blog. I am a keen runner/triathloner/adventurer myself and I was the other half of the Brothers Grim who conquered Rat Race’s Scotland Coast to Coast in September. In 2014 I plan to complete an Ironman 70.3, the Yorkshire marathon and hopefully the 3 peaks challenge.

When I’m not schooling my brother in a race I am a student in the final year of my Sport and Exercise Science degree at the University of Exeter (no I do not want to be a P.E teacher). My main interest lies in Physiotherapy and I’m hopefully going to be beginning a Masters in January 2015. I currently provide the strength and conditioning for University squash club under the tutorship of the S and C department as well as some volunteer work helping to rehabilitate stroke patients  with Action After Stroke, a local charity in Exeter.

Bath 10k in snow 2The aim of this post is to provide some insight into effective resistance training for runners, dispel some myths in the area and provide a small plan for a basic workout everyone can do. Although I am by no means an expert in the area, I do have enough knowledge and basic experience to sift through the waffle supplied in other similar posts across the big wide web and a number of journal articles within the field of resistance training to provide you with some fairly concise advice.

Ultimately the research in this area is lacking. The vast amount of advice is based on a small amount of empirical evidence and expert opinion for example Alberto Salazar (http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/alberto-salazar-on-strength-training-for-runners/). However significant links have been found between resistance training and injury prevention (decreased occurrence by 1/3) although the evidence base for runners specifically is lacking (Lauersen et al , 2013).

For the normal every day runner it would appear to be beneficial. Correct use of training can improve the muscular imbalances that are so common in the everyday runner for example weak gluteal muscles (bum muscles). It can help to develop that power aspect that is going to help you to produce that sprint finish; this muscular power has been shown to be the deciding factor between elite athletes 5k time (Paavolainen et al, 1999). It can also aid the development of a correct running gait that is so important for running economy. Without going onto a massive tangent it can be summarised that resistance training appears to be beneficial to improve performance with a large amount of this resulting from improved running economy and decreased injury risk (Jung, 2003).

Indeed Erikson (2005) provides a nice succinct review in the National Strength and Conditioning Associations training manual:

Intelligent use of the weight room, just like intelligent implementation of a running program, can have a dramatic influence on the success of the competitor. This success can be defined as faster running times, but can also be extended to include reduced injury risk, and an overall heightened enjoyment of the sport, a goal that many athletes surely have”

Now before you all go and dust of best your tank top and short combo and head down to the local gym there is another key message.  Resistance training needs to be functional, it needs to be progressive and it needs to be performed with appropriate intensity with the correct technique.

Now for those of you who are worried about bulking up then this is where the “appropriateness” comes into play. For me to suggest to you to go into the gym and perform 5 sets of 6 – 8 repetitions at 85% of your 1 rep max for a squat would be a massive waste of your time from a running perspective as it’s going to promote hypertrophic changes amongst other things. Indeed also the use of the low-weight high-repetitions concept is largely avoided now in the training of runners.

Resistance training is a large umbrella term and doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a gym with a load of dumbells as is the common misconception. Indeed plyometrics, body-weight or resistance bands are all suitable methods of resistance training. After all, resistance doesn’t necessarily mean a lump of metal. To avoid opening a whole can of worms and due to the fact that the large proportion of readers of this will not be resistance trained, I feel the best way for me to give you some training advice is to utilise either body weight or simple equipment that many of you will have easy access to. Ultimately an effective training programme should be individualised and developed alongside a physiotherapist however I feel there are a number of exercises which would be an effective supplement to most individuals training in particular to develop core strength and all-round stability.

I would recommend the following programme to be completed twice a week. The sets and reps outlined are just a guide and you can adjust them accordingly to make the workout harder or easier. However never increase the load by more than 10% between sessions (remember my earlier comment about progression). It’s really important that you maintain the technique that is illustrated in the videos. Remember quality not quantity is the key. Poor form only leads to injuries.

Below you’ll find a set of videos that show you the technique for each of these exercises.

Circuit #1 (30 – 60 seconds rest between circuits; 15 – 30 seconds between exercises if needed – longer or less is fine; complete 3 circuits):

  1. Bird dog – 12 repetitions per side
  2. Runners touch – 10 repetitions per side
  3. Lateral step up’s – 15 repetitions per side
  4. Reverse plank – hold for 45 seconds keeping your bottom off the floor as the video shows. There should be no contact with the floor between your heels and your shoulders

Circuit # 2 (complete 3 circuits)

  1. Back squat – if you are new to squatting then use no resistance or a low resistance (10 – 15kg). It’s hard for me to put a number on the weight for this but you should try and aim for 8 – 10 repetitions. Follow the technique in the video closely for this one and make sure your thigh becomes parallel with the ground at the bottom of the squat. If you suffer from knee problems then a half squat could still be used with very low or no resistance.
  2. Low to high wood chops – 10 repetitions per side. Find a resistance to achieve this amount of repetitions. Probably around 5 – 15kg.
  3. Glute bridges – 10 repetitions. Go single leg if you need a challenge
  4. Cherry pickers – 10 repetitions per direction. Use a 2 or 3kg medicine ball. If you haven’t got access to a gym then be creative.

Hopefully the videos attached provide you with enough information to go away and have a go at this workout. This workout is only the tip of the ice berg and there are lots of other types of work you can be doing however as a start I think this is a good place to begin. Moving onto more advanced lifts such as the clean and jerk and snatch using relatively low weight would be great for developing power but should only be attempted under the guidance of an accredited strength and conditioning coach if you have no prior experience. Apart from the low to high wood chops, all of these exercises could be completed at home if you use a little imagination with regards to finding a weight.

If you have any questions on anything related to this post or anything else to do with training then please don’t hesitate to ask. (you can follow Josh on Twitter @Josh_Tipping)

If you haven’t found this little gem already then I recommend you keeping a close eye on Kinetic Revolution for all things running (http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/).

In the meantime, happy running and enjoy your training.

References

  • Erickson, T. M. (2005). The benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.NSCA Perform. Training J4(2), 13-17
  • Jung, A. P. (2003). The impact of resistance training on distance running performance. Sports Medicine33(7), 539-552.
  • Lauersen, J. B., Bertelsen, D. M., & Andersen, L. B. (2013). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2013.
  • Paavolainen, L., Häkkinen, K., Hämäläinen, I., Nummela, A., & Rusko, H. (1999). Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Journal of Applied Physiology86(5), 1527-1533.

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