Become a complete athlete
ack in the 1970s and 1980s, runners rarely thought about strength: The weights room was a torture chamber full of bodybuilders. In the last decade, if you wanted to sound like an informed member of the running world, you threw out one word about strength: core. Developing strength in those magical muscles in your abdomen, trunk and lower back was touted as the most vital ancillary work you could do.
Core stabilising muscles are certainly important, but so are the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the lower and upper body. Several studies have found evidence that lifting heavy weights, especially with the lower body, improves race times for well-trained distance runners.
More recently, attention in the strength and conditioning world has moved away from raw strength and towards reducing the discrepancy in strength and flexibility between paired muscles. ‘Functional movement is really the buzz phrase,’ says Rosario. ‘We address any biomechanical inefficiencies. We make sure strength is equal on each side.’
While exercises targeting the abs, obliques, lower back and hips are still included in this approach, so are exercises that work on the quads, hamstrings, calves, Achilles tendons, shoulders and chest muscles. Rosario’s athletes mostly use kettlebells and their own body weight. Other coaches add in balance boards, medicine balls and elastic bands. The common goal is addressing strength imbalances and applying them in a running-specific manner. To lower injury risk, Rosario’s athletes can’t move on to heavier weights until they have mastered good form.
Another option for developing strength and power is to train on steep hills. One recent study found that hill runs developed stronger hip flexors, which could be related to better form and efficiency, and faster times. Coach John Goodridge argues that hill sprints are just as effective as lunges or squats. ‘As a 67-year-old coach, I'm in the minority, old-school club and do not emphasise weight training, core or running drills,’ he says. ‘I make use of hills throughout the year.’
Goodridge is not a lone voice: Many coaches find explosive hill reps of seven to 10 seconds on a steep gradient (20-30 per cent) to be as effective as squats in building lower-body power.
CHANGE THIS Strength-train your whole body, not just your legs or midsection.
WHY You need full-body strength to run with your best form, using your full range of motion and power. Strength also reduces injury risk. You can’t get all the strength you need just by running more.
THE CHALLENGE Strength training takes extra time and energy on top of running. And runners tend to find it a tedious discipline, with none of the joy or clearly visible progress of running.
THE RISK Poor form with heavy weights can lead to injury.