Secrets Of Effective Strength Training
Lift heavy loads to get the big rewards
Many runners avoid strengthbuilding sessions. This is what’s known as a terrible idea
Purists say the best supplementary workout for runners is more running. There’s some truth to this, but many top athletes also strength train. By working weak muscles and correcting imbalances, these runners hope to reduce their injury risk, so they can run even more. Strength training also boosts running economy, allowing you to hold the same pace while burning less oxygen. All of this becomes more important once you reach your mid-30s and start fighting age-related muscle loss. The challenge is that endurance work and strength training place competing demands on your body. To get the most out of your strength sessions without compromising your running, keep these guidelines in mind.
WHAT TO LIFT
Recent studies have shown that tiny dumbbells, big barbells or bodyweight exercises can produce similar gains, as long as you lift to momentary failure, the point at which you can’t complete another rep with perfect form. Include two or three exercises each for the upper and lower body, plus some that target core and hip strength; aim for three sets of each exercise, twice a week.
To optimise running economy, focus on lower-body exercises that recruit large amounts of muscle all at once, such as weighted lunges and squats. Or include explosive plyometric exercises such as two-legged and one-legged jumps. Eventually, try drop jumps, which involve stepping off a low box or step and then jumping as high as you can as soon as you land.
WHEN TO LIFT
Runners should generally run before lifting any weights, because trying to run afterwards can alter your mechanics, potentially ingraining harmful habits. Lift weights either immediately after a hard workout or later the same day. That makes your hard days extra-hard but ensures that you can recover on easy days.
You don’t have to lift hard all year long. Studies have found that a six-week block of focused strengthtraining during a race build-up will boost performance. It’s still good to keep up a low-key maintenance programme for the rest of the year, but you can reserve lifting to failure to coincide with preparing for goal races. Scale back your lifting two weeks before race day and don’t lift at all during the last week so you can recover and be ready to race at your best.
A hard run plus a strength session might leave you jellylegged the next day. Make sure that you’re getting enough protein to help your muscles repair – not just right after the workouts, but throughout the day. Aim for four to five doses of about 20g of protein (such as two eggs and 250ml of milk), including one just before bed.
To deal with nextday soreness, try aids such as ice baths and compression garments, but it’s far better to prevent soreness by gradually building up your strength routine. If you haven’t been lifting weights, take a six-week block to build up to lifting to failure. Be similarly cautious with new exercises. You should be tired the day after a running-andweights double – but if you can’t even get out of bed, you’re not getting faster.
Do as many reps as you can with good form – which may not be many after speedwork.