Strength is the foundation of every athletic movement there is, whether it’s running, biking, soccer, you name it
And as a runner, there is nothing more important than strength training to help you run faster and protect your body against injury.
8 Strength Training Strategies That Actually Work For Runners
Therefore, here are six strength-building strategies you need to build strong muscle so you can prevent injury and run your best.
1. The Magnificent Seven
When it comes to the best strength training exercises, there are no secret moves.
In my experience, the squats, lunges, deadlifts, planks, push-ups, burpees and shoulder presses are the best strength-building exercises you can do to improve your running and become the best athlete you can be.
These “big seven” weight training exercises build strength and engage every muscle in your body from head to toe, forcing your muscle systems to work together rather than isolating them to work independently.
Therefore, the magnificent 7 should make be the bread and butter of your strength workouts.
Stick with low reps for the first few months of training, working diligently on practicing and mastering proper lifting form. Aim for two to three set of seven to 12 reps, with about 90-second to two minutes of rest between sets.
Here are more runners’ strength oriented routines:
2. Circuit Training
Circuit training is a high intensity workout that mixes aerobic exercises with strength training. And when done right way, can be one of the best running-specific strength routines you can ever do.
Think of circuit training as resistance training mixed with interval training. You get the best of two worlds: the muscle building properties of a weight workout along with the endurance boosting and calorie burn of intense cardio.
With circuit training, you could customize your training program to meet your own fitness goals, whether you are in to lose weight or add muscle mass. The exact mix of aerobic and strength exercises depends, mostly, on your training goals, fitness level, and your own imagination.
Here is one of my favorite circuit training routines to try. I love this routine because it’s really convenient. All you need is your bodyweight, a mat, some space and there you go. Of course, you can always make it more challenging by adding weights.
Perform each of these exercises for the given reps before moving onto the next exercise with no rest. Repeat the circuit for three times. Take one to two minutes of recovery between each circuit.
- Run for 400 meters.
- Do 20 air squats
- Do 20 push-ups
- Do 20 burpees
- Do 20 forward lunges
- Plank holds for one minute
3. Embrace Free Weights
Opting free weights is the perfect strategy. With free weights, you can target every muscle groups in your body without wasting costly time moving from machine to machine or going back and forth between different pieces of equipment.
According to a study published in the journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, exercising with free weights instead of machines leads to greater muscle activation, thus better fitness gains.
They also help you achieve better balance and symmetry between both sides of your body by forcing your weak side to work unaided by the dominant side, thus both sides grow at the same rate.
4. Progressive Overload
Strength building is more of a marathon, not a sprint.
This is one of the profound lessons you need to learn and put into practice as soon as you can, so please if you had to take one thing from this whole post, I beg you to remember this.
Progressive overload is the foundation of strength training, and it’s all about ensuring that you are lifting more and more and forcing your muscles to work harder than before.
So in order to keep gaining strength, you have to consistently add more weight or do more reps with the same weight, period.
This powerful concept applies to all aspects of training including running, and strength training.
So if you hit the weight room or the running every day and do the same routine over and over again, you are not applying this principle in your workouts.
Instead, aim to increase your workload after each workout.
For instance, if you can squat 100 pounds for 10 reps this week, you should aim to perform 12 reps with the same weight, or perform 10 reps but with 105 pounds. Always progressing, but in a slow and gradual manner.
5. Drop Sets
Drop sets are some of the most overlooked strength building strategies that there is.
This is one of the little known (especially among runners) strength building strategies, and something I picked up while doing The Beast Strength workout program.
Also known as the “multi-poundage system, a drop set is a technique where you do a strength exercise and then reduce (drop) the weight and keep doing more reps until you reach complete muscle failure, which can help you recruit more muscles fibers for faster results.
Perform this technique with dumbbells. So next time you reach failure with a certain dumbbell exercises, drop the weight, grab a lighter weight, then do as many reps as you can with good form until you reach complete muscle failure.
6. Use Good Form
The efficiency of your weight lifting sessions is big part of the results you are going to get.
In fact, you can follow the best strength building strategies and do the right exercises all the time, but if you don’t do the exercises right, your efforts are futile, even counter-productive.
Therefore, to make the most out of every strength workout, here are some common proper from traits that will help you train efficiently and injury-free.
- Keep your back straight throughout the exercises. Don’t arch your back, rock your body to generate moment or strain your neck.
- Make sure that you are breathing throughout the movement. Holding your breath in wastes energy and hinders performance.
- Lift the weight in a controlled manner. Jerking them up and rushing around lead to cheat reaps, even injury.
- Never bend at the waist. Instead, bend at your hips and knees.
- Keep your core muscle tight with every move you perform. This can help you strengthen your core while preventing spine problems.
- Keep your mind focused on the task at hand. Leave the gossip and the mind wander for later.
- Feel free to ask for advice. But avoid coping what others are doing in the gym. Bad form can be contagious. That’s how bad form patterns get spread in the first time.
7. Pack in Protein
No matter how hard you push yourself in the weight room, if you don’t fill your daily needs of this vital ingredient, then you will struggle to build muscles and get stronger.
Protein is key for healthy diet for many reasons. For starters, it’s crucial to building muscle and speeding up the recovery process—especially after a hard workout. Furthermore, protein can help you feel fuller for longer, thus prevent hunger pangs and unhealthy snacking.
As a result, shoot for at least one to two grams per pound of your bodyweight per day to ensure proper recovery and muscle growth. Which means that if you weigh 170 pounds, you will want to aim for about 200 to 300 grams per day. Your protein needs increase when you are doing a lot of running or resistance training of course.
Make sure also to consume 10 to 20 grams of protein before your workouts to help you include a muscle-building effect and speed up recovery. This is the equivalent of two glasses of milk.
Plus, have another rich protein meal or shake within 30 to 60 minutes following a workout mixed with the good carbs to replenish your energy store and speed up recovery.
Protein rich sources include lean meat, eggs, fish and dairy products. Add supplements to your diet if you have to.
8. Schedule Recovery
Last week was my recovery week. I didn’t perform any traditional weight training or running all week long. All I did was couple of yoga light sessions and three long walks.
Why recovery is important you might ask.
This recovery week will give your body the needed time to heal the micro tears caused by hard training and adapt to more training stimulus. If you ignore proper recovery, then your athletic performance will suffer and you will increase the risk of injury and/or burnouts.
Good news is that you can save yourself a lot of trouble by adding a reload—fancy term for recovery—week into your training program.
Therefore, if you are training on a regular basis, you may need a recovery week.
I recommend that take a recovery every fourth or fifth week of hard training. During the deload week, you train with weights that are lighter than normal. Shoot for 60 percent of your 1RM, and reduce the number of reps by half.
You can also take a week off (just like what I did last week), and don’t even go near the gym or running track. Instead, keep it light. Do yoga, walk, swim, or get a massage.