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How to use strength training to run faster, longer, and injury-free

by RunnersConnect: Coaching Community, Running Experts, Inspiring Runners, No Fluff Blog
December 14th 2022

We’ve put together some of the best interviews we’ve conducted over the past 6 years from masters coaches, researchers and high-performing athletes to help you bette... More

Hello fellow runners, I am your host, Finn Melanson and this is the run to the top podcast podcast dedicated to making you a better runner with each and every episode, we are created and produced by the expert team of coaches at runners connect dot net where you can find the best running information on the internet as well as training plans to fit every runner and every budget. What are your thoughts on strength training when it comes to getting better at running or preparing for your next big race? Do you think there's a place for it? Are you skeptical about whether it's necessary or are you on the opposite end of the spectrum swearing by it, attributing it to injury prevention, attributing it to your most memorable training and racing breakthroughs. Either way here at runners connect we are big believers in strength training and that's what today's episode is all about. We've put together some of the best interviews we've conducted over the past six years from masters coaches, researchers and high performing athletes to help you better understand the benefits of strength training in any running program will dispel some of the myths out there around strength training, what the academic research says about its applicability to running the types of strength training you should be doing how often you should be doing it, what progression should look like in this area and more.

And the best part is in this podcast, we are boiling everything down to just the best advice and words of wisdom. So if you're ready to learn how to make the most of strength training for your running performance. Today's interview roundup is just what you need. If you're a runner who constantly struggles with gas bloating and cramps, check out mass Symes from by optimizers, their digestive enzymes can help get rid of stomach issues naturally and I'll explain more later in the episode as well as how you can save 10% at mass forward slash run to the top. If you are looking for a way to naturally boost energy, enhance athletic recovery and get the most from your training, then you should take a look at adding essential amino acids, also known as E A S to your pre or post run drink. I'll go over the benefits later in the episode. But if you want to see some of the research yourself, head over to get Keyon dot com forward slash run to the top. First up is Lindsay Bomb grin, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor specializing in strength training for runners in this clip, Lindsay dispels some of the myths around strength training for runners and goes into detail about why it's so critical for improvement in our sport.

This is science people. The stride of your run is generated by the force. You can push your foot away from the ground, correct your running stride is generated by force like force and mass force and mass. This is science. Right? And so the more force you can strike the ground with, the more you will propel yourself forward faster, the better your PR has become all that jazz, right? Strength training is the foundation of that, your power generating muscles are your hips, your glutes, your hamstrings, right? That's your lower body. Those are power generators that propel propel you forward. The stronger those are, the better your stride will be, the faster you will run, the less injuries you will have because your hips are stable, your core is stable, supporting you. So, I just think it just like it's science. And I just got a message a DM that landed in my inbox like two days ago that I should screenshot and send to you. It literally said I stopped running because of Covid she lives in, you know, kind of Minnesota cold weather um for five months over Covid, I couldn't go to the gym, I couldn't use, I didn't have a treadmill, whatever.

So I just I resorted to your workout plans. I did them for the last five months. I went out for my first run the other day and crushed a pR like, I am so much faster. I am so and I'm like, yes, next up is dr Jordan's santos conscious hero, a former professional runner and doctor of exercise physiology. In this clip, Jordan's reflects on the research showing the positive running benefits of consistent strength training. Let's listen in. Well, one of the main problems actually, especially for regression all runners is that a lot of them don't do any strength training at all. And that's a big mistake. I think a lot of research has shown that strength training is a key, it's a CAY training to improve your performance, right economy to reduce risk of injury and stuff. So I don't know why people don't don't hit the gym when they are. Even professional runners have a lot of lack of knowledge with regards to strength training. And I don't know why this happens because research is very clear. Almost every single study that has focused on a strength training has found that these kinds of training improves your performance improves the Russian economy.

But I guess that this is something that researchers have to have to change. Try to send this message to the coaches include strength training into the training programs of the athletes and they will see that the benefits are huge. So it's actually worth it to to try and What kind of strength training are we talking about here? Are you talking about heavy lifting? You're talking about using dumbbells, Does it matter? Well, it depends on the level of the athletes obviously, but basic exercises like death lift squads, even bench press, all these kinds of exercises are are important. I will recommend to use heavy workloads rather than light ones, try to lift at high speeds. Try to base your strength training on speed rather than on the weight and stuff. And of course diplomatic training is important as well. Even hills is a form of strength training, so every, every everyone does the skills, but not everyone hits the game to do like proper strength training and how often have you found to be the, the optimal amount of time to go to the gym?

Is it twice a week ago, I recently did meth analysis of every single study using the strength training to improve writing economy in elite runners and we found that every single study found an improvement in performance and writing economy when doing heavy work clothes, strength training and according to that meth analysis, the most appropriate or the best frequency of these kinds of training will be like twice or even three times per week depending on how good you are and how many sessions you do, but at least two times a week. Great. And and even if someone is in an elite runner, that's something that could kind of give them a bit of a motivation but bring them up to the next level for them if they added it in as well, definitely because the stronger runners can actually train a little bit more, uh he will recover better from other sessions, his hormone endocrine system will be better. So there are many benefits and you don't have to train like really, really hard in the gym all the time.

Obviously there is a progression if you're a recreational runner, you can start with simple exercises and as soon as you start to improve you can actually do like more complex exercises with that helpful advice. Let's now turn our attention to JD Sherry, a biomechanics and physical therapy expert in this clip, J talks about three key components of strength training, postural work, lifting work and power work. And he also goes into detail about what's involved, why they matter and examples to illustrate best practices. So there's a few things here, right? You can break this down into kind of three categories, so I'm gonna break it down into postural endurance. Um Break it into a strength training and into explosive training. Right? So um from the postural standpoint it is not just don't slump or you know, stand with a straight back, it gets into um how you how you carry yourself when you run. Right? So it's no secret that waters get tired as they run.

And um you know, you can train to make sure you can maintain better posture alignment throughout the course of a run. Whether it be a shorter intense run or a longer slower is Iran or ultra or whatever. Right? I mean you're going to get tired, you need to have the possible strength and muscle memory to combat changes in postural alignment that's that's mandatory. So that's a chunk of of work um I would say that you know, for that type of training right? Um you know higher repetition, low load exercise works really, really, really well. Um so, you know, you can talk about, it's doing bodyweight things, you can talk about using band work and a bunch of simple things, right? So, um core work, medicine, ball routines and all that stuff is great, and and you know, how high repetition, low load work does does great things for posture, alignment work. Um the next two elements are different, right? I mean, to, to do strength training, you obviously need to have some heavy things to lift. Um so, I know I don't have access to a gym, I hate going to the gym or whatever, I mean, there's some ways around that in terms of equipment, but at the end of the day, the run there were serious um you know, find a way to get in the weight room and, and I will tell you the runners I work with that, people have introduced this, I don't know any of them who have stopped doing this at all.

Um and that's if even for the novice up to the elite level, so I find, I think that once people give us stuff a chance they find out, wow, I can, I can move some things and, you know, I noticed that I actually feel better into, you know, 10 miles into my long run, it's, I don't have to make a case anymore, people just get it right. So, um we get into lifting work, um you know, we're talking about true strength work. We're talking about uh you know, kind of primary movements here. I think everything really comes down to one of two movements, whether something is going to be uh squat based, which is a vertical motion um or dead lift base, which is more of a front to back type motion. Um And for those of you readers listeners who aren't familiar with, those are two very different patterns and how we stabilize things. Um when you do a vertical motion up and down, there tends to be a certain amount of split between the muscles around the knees, the muscles around the hips. Um And when you do a when you do a vertical motion in a squat and then when you do a dead lift type motion, there tends to be more emphasis on hip muscles and the muscles.

And I would say that you have to train both for sure. But my research has shown that overwhelmingly most runners are more deficient in the front to back pattern than the up and down pattern. So the dead lift, the hip hinge E type motions tend to get much more translation. They're fixing a lot of the imbalances that the majority runners have. Um Not to say squad is not important, but but I would say that if I had put things in kind of, you know, averages, I say two thirds and the hip hinge E type motions and one third in the squat type motion, and then there we break those down into, you know, double leg exercises, single leg exercises, you know, what's the point of the workout, right? If we're doing things on um, you know, more kind of stability type work, then we're doing lots of single leg stuff and lighter weights. And if we're doing things, you know, maybe even put in some unstable surfaces, but, you know, if your goal is to truly get stronger, you know, we put both feet on the ground, hard ground, not standing on fancy toys and lava boards were on the ground. And um, you know, we're really trying to drive a lot of load and uh and and strength training doesn't depend on time, Right? If you say lift this, you know, £250 bar, you just lift the bar, I don't time you I don't care about how long case left the bar, Strength training is all about, you know, building a bigger reservoir of of right of dr um and uh and that has a big role, but but there's a big problem if you just train strength, um you lose out on a very, very, very big aspect of running, which brings us to power work.

Okay? Um and and so let's go over just a quick little concept um when you look at strengthening for runners, or I should say strengthen for any athlete, right? Um it takes about half a second to develop peak force. So if we say, let this bar, push this bar, do a carry whatever you're doing right, it takes time to develop peak strength. It takes about half a second, right? Um the problem is when you're running um the stance time, the time on ground that we have we run is between about 0.8 seconds. If you're Hussein bolt, okay, um up to about, you know, let's say 0.2 to 2.25 for some are average like, you know, eight minutes, 8 30 minute milers, right? So there's a there's a the time you're on the ground, the time you have to develop forces you run is much less than the time that you get in strength training, right? So, so power training teaches us to build that strength deserve or deliver that strength deserve in a shorter period of time, that's much more reflective of running performance. Um and so you need to have the right balance of strength work and the right balance of explosive training in your program.

And and that that balance should be something that allows you to run well, right? I mean, it will be sore from time to time, but the goal is not to do, you know, crossfit workouts when you're in there, you know, again, you know, six days a week in the gym, you know, the goals for running performance training for runners are just that right, that's running performance training. You know, if I have athletes who are mountain bikers or their power lifters or whatever, they do different types of workouts, right? I mean, the goal is to deliver running specific plan to help you run better, not just to lift more weight in the gym. Wow, awesome lessons learned from J In this next clip, dr Alex Harrison and endurance strength specialist talks about how to use strength training for better running results, diving into the details about the joint angles and ranges of motion where you want to be strong, how strength training improves running economy as well as the precise weight lifting movements and number of reps you want to be doing within your programs, there's a couple, a couple different schools of thought or different categories.

I would place people into if if you're the marathon or that wants to be a good marathon or but not make it your career, which I think is most of most of our audience probably being able to see squat one times your body weight or do something like a power clean with maybe 10.8 or one times your body weight would be a great base level of strength to make sure that you have to be sort of sturdy and durable as a marathon runner. Now, if you if you if you make money running marathons and that's your goal is to be a professional marathon or I would say you can probably get away with less than that, but you just have to have very good fatigue management in your training to avoid injury because you sort of have to flirt with the line of how little muscle can I have and still run really fast and be strong in the specific ranges of motion that I need. Um without having what we call indiscriminate hypertrophy, which is the accumulation of muscle mass for the sake of muscle mass, which is what runners don't, they don't want, you don't necessarily want to have big old boulder shoulders running your marathon, which is part of the reason why you're running isn't your isn't the this exactly for you?

I have, I have a picture of of myself as a cross country runner in high school and I was behind, I was behind a runner who was in the foreground of the picture and you could you could see me on both sides of the runner. Yeah, I get it. Now, talk about a power clean, you mentioned that, I have no idea what that is. Is that something that we, as runners would would want to be able to do or use? Absolutely. So the weightlifting movements are are things like the clean the jerk, the snatch or the power derivatives where you don't have to catch in a full squad. Um so essentially it's with a barbell, you're picking up a weight from the floor, transitioning smoothly and effectively with good spine positions to a power position which mimics sort of a stance phase and running a more upright position and then you jump explosively with the weight in your hands and catch it on your shoulders and how much weight, how much weight is. So to start with a PVC pipe, it weighs nothing.

Yeah, absolutely, develop proper technique first get a weightlifting coach. Some crossfit coaches are great, some are um need work, but but go to a gym and get range to move explosively with weight and your running performance will be enhanced. And and how is that gonna happen? Oh, how will the performance enhancement actually occur? Yeah, I mean, what is, what is that kind of movement and that kind of exercise going to do to make us faster. Two things it will grow sports specific muscle fibers. So in in a sport specific range of motion. So one of the things that the weightlifting movements do better than most other movements is um, is develop strength and power in the joint angles that mimic running, which is really important and you can be strong in all sorts of ranges of motion and that's great for health and and injury prevention. But what's most important for performance enhancement is to be strong in the ranges of motion that you actually use during running and that's what that's what the power clean and other similar movements will do.

So not only does it make you stronger in those positions and more durable, but it'll make your kick faster, it'll make your top speed faster, but it will also improve running economy. So, running economy as you probably know, is the amount of energy that it takes to cover a certain distance at pace. So you will be able to cover uh a mile. Using less energy at the same pace, less oxygen, less carbohydrate by doing weight training alone. Well, okay, so describe this exercise specifically. And then how many reps are we doing when we're, when we're novice to it? This is this is all pretty new to me. So, I'm the novice asking for, you know, on information. So if you go and Google, how many reps of power clean should I do as an endurance athlete, you're going to get 15, 30, do it for endurance. And it's totally wrong. What you should, what you should be doing is training for strength and power in the weight room.

And the way that you do that is through sets of 2-5 reps where in each, in each rep you move explosively, you move as explosively as possible once you've developed proper technique. So, this is part of where you really need a coach to help you figure out how to move explosively what the proper technique is for making that move explosive. Yes, Yeah. Oh my gosh, Well, this is really interesting. I mean, it makes so much sense to me that if you have this kind of, if your muscles are responding to this type of movement, then when you need this in an explosive part of your running training your and to have the, you're going to have the brain and the muscle connection to be able to do it bingo. And I think the most important part to highlight is beyond the speed and power and and being able to call upon that reserve of speed that you might have. Um you actually will inherently improve it spares energy while you run at the same pace.

Let's say you're an eight minute, eight minute mile pace runner in the marathon, you will actually use less energy at that pace running the marathon simply by building the reserve of speed, power, strength in the weight room. So elaborate on that. Like, how long would it take to get to a point where you are sparing energy and how much energy are we talking about being spared? Well, the good news is for a total novice, we're talking about four weeks. Well, for yeah, it's really fast to be honest. Um for for a relative beginner who maybe hasn't done this type of exercise in in years or hasn't moved explosively, but has done basic resistance training. Um 6-12 weeks. And you're gonna be seeing improvement. And this is something that you would do sort of in the general prep and specific prep phases, maybe 8-12 weeks out of a marathon or even six weeks out of a marathon. Um not not in the four weeks leading up to a marathon. I recently received a question from a listener, he wanted to know if it was possible to avoid digestion problems by eating only healthy organic food.

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To get our fundamental supplement for fitness chiana minnows. Next on our interview line up is SAm Macintosh, a powerlifter, triathlete and marathon are certified in weightlifting coaching, who specializes in leading masters level athletes to maximize their running performance in this clip, SAm builds on some of the points Alex made in the last clip, talking about how much strength training runners need in their programs and what specifically they should be doing at the gym in terms of exercises, number of reps and more. Let's listen in if you're a marathon runner and I would say two sessions a week is what I usually prescribed for people who are training for marathons, but that can go that can be really appropriate for a five or 10-K. Racer as well. I would say if they're going over the short distance they were deaf benefit from more power based strength workouts? So lots of plyometrics working the fast twitch stuff and that sort of thing. Whereas marathon is um ultra runners in particular, that it's more about strengthening their bodies for that type of endurance work because you don't know anyone who comes to the end of a marathon and they're completely out of breath, they may have done a sprint finish or something, but in those last six miles of a marathon, you're not out of breath and out of puff, you are in pain.

Your body is is struggling to cope with basically what you're doing to it and how long you've been doing it for and strength training makes your body more resilient against that sort of pain and against that frequent repetitive impact of running, which I think has a bad rap, you know, how many times it people being told, you know, running is bad for your knees, it's not bad for your knees if your body is strong enough to cope with the full body movement that is running and you know, I could go into other stuff about, you know, making sure your body is flexible and stable enough to cope with the and your form is good. But it's yeah, it troubled me a lot when I first came into running circles and the trashing club, I was astounded that people were covering those types of distances and not strengthening their bodies literally. So what kind of things do you do you need to do in the gym? So you're there twice a week. What what kind of things would you say are the most important? And light weights, heavy weights, lots of reps, fewer reps. Does it matter or what do You think?

Absolutes it matters. I would say it's really based on your goals. So there is a guy, I think his name is James Lawrence, he's he did 50 in 50 states in 50 days and he advocates a lot of non traditional strength work in his program. So he does like five reps, Three reps, One reps of the power lifts and that's quite an unusual approach, but it's definitely one that's workable getting strong, getting strong and being able to cope with that much volume at the same time. But I would say for most people who are just looking to bulletproof, they're running and make themselves stronger and more resilient and against injury. We're looking at, you know, 6 to 8 reps, that's what we in, Including our programs that endure stronger and with weights that are actually really challenging you. And what we do is what I see a lot of runners do in the gym, number one, which we can talk about later. They were the running trainers in the gym, which just you should not do. And number two, they're doing like 20 reps of of really, really light weight and you want to make your muscles strong not to cope with the demands of running because I think people think it's a body weight moving exercise, It's cumulative stress rather than acute stress.

So you wanna be lifting weights that are challenging you. And yeah, in terms of movement, I think that the genuine sort of like a general sort of like a squat dead lift lunge are great for runners. I don't think nearly enough runners do lunges and also not to neglect the upper body as well. We did a post on that recently on the end, you're stronger account, we see a lot of runners just working their lower bodies, but running is a full body movement and you know, a lot of the forward propulsion is generated by your arms. So of course you want strong arms as well. So I think we program things like pressing and over pressing and bench press and things like that. It's very hard to give a general prescription. I think when I hang out on a lot of runners facebook groups um and give out some advice on that when I see that people have asked for it in these communities and and they're always looking for these very general prescriptions. Like how many reps should I do is like, it really depends on your goals and it depends on where you're at now, Like do you strength train already have you only just started, What distance do you run? Have you got any existing pain points that you need to get, you know, that you need to improve.

So it's a very specific question, but there are some general recommendations that you, that you can use, like, and you can definitely, I've seen people post their strength training workouts on these facebook communities and I'm like, okay, I don't see how that is particularly helping at a glance, but again, it depends on the goals, they might want to look like a bodybuilder who runs and if that is the case then yeah, bodybuilding style workout should be what they're doing. Finally, we have Jeff Godett Coach here at runners connect in this clip, Jeff speaks to the importance of progression and strength training for runners, why it's important how the body adapts, whether pain should be present in any of these exercises and more. Let's listen in one more time. So there's two reasons progression is important. One is uh just overall strength and the second is what we've been talking about, which is injuries. And I think one of the reasons that, because what I see often is we ask runners, you know, are you like, when they come in on board or they are injured and we ask them, you know, are you doing any strength training? A lot of them will say yes, so I think that's really good because I think the running community now is, has been, we've been talking about strength training for a long time, so runners are doing the strength training, but what we find is I'll say, oh you're doing strength training and people answer, yeah, I've been doing it for 3 to 4 weeks, but it initially got better and then, you know, then once I got past three or four miles, I got hurt again or the injury kind of crept back up.

And I think the reason for that is when runners start doing strength training, they don't progress so they get a routine, whether it be online or purchased or whatever, where it's like, here's a hip strengthening routine and they just do that same hip strength and routine week after week. So maybe they're doing it three days a week or whatever they're prescribed and they just do it week after week after week after week. Well, just like running our muscles will eventually, what will adapt, I mean, that's the goal of doing strength training, is that they will get stronger, but if you just continue to do the same routine week after week, then your muscles are going to hit a point where they're no longer going to get stronger and you're just gonna stay kind of at that point. And so I think that's where a lot of runners who get stuck when they are injured and are doing strength work, but then find that either their progress towards health stalls or they get to a certain point where the injury keeps coming back at a certain mileage number. And that to me is because we're not properly progressing. So after those 3 to 4 weeks, once the body is adapted, we need to either add we need to add some new stimulus in order to continue to make progress with that muscle.

So how do we how do we actually do that Jeff? How do, Yeah, So there's three, there's three main ways. The first is we can add repetitions. So if you're doing, let's say if you're doing a hip thrust, you can and you're starting with 8 to 10, you would then move to 10 to 12. And that's really a good way to progress if and that generally works on muscular endurance. So that's a good way to progress. If, for example, I mean, you can add these progressions at your own discretion, but that's a good way to progress. If you're, for example, if you're injured and you're coming back and now you can get three miles before you get kind of you start to feel the injury again or three or four miles, that's a good way to progress because it's going to work on muscular endurance. The second way to progress is to add weight or resistance. So let's say again, going back to our hip thrust exercise if you are probably the easiest way to do a hip thrust would be a double leg hip thrust. So you're using both legs at the same time to thrust your hips, You could then switch to doing a one legged hip thrust. So you're just using one leg at a time to do the hip thrust.

Then we could add some type of weight, whether it be a band or if you're at the gym a barbell, something like that where we're adding weight to the hip which makes it harder to do the hip thrust. And so with weight, the nice thing is depending on what kind of exercise you're doing, you can continue to add weight basically to your own discretion as long as you want. So that would be, so adding resistance or weight to your exercise would be the way to go there to add weight. Can be a little tricky depending on what kind of exercise you're doing. So some exercises make adding weight a little bit easier than others. And obviously with weight sometimes that means you're gonna need a gym or some type of facility that has either the weights or the bands or whatever to to allow you to make to to add weight. How are you gonna know Jeff, how are you going to know when to when to start adding these different different additions to continue the strength training process? Yeah, good question. So there's two ways. One um you can have a strength training program that's designed for like for that.

Like a good if you get a good strength training program then it should have progression built in um If you want to do your own then really what you're looking to do is kind of measure your effort level for each exercise. So when you're doing the exercise kind of measure on a scale of like 1 to 10 what your effort level is, and once the effort level gets to the point where it's in like the 3 to 5 range, then you know that the muscle is probably adapted and is ready to move on to um to either more repetitions or adding weight in some type of way. What about pain there? There shouldn't be any pain there, right? Yeah. Generally speaking, if you're doing strength training um there really should not be any pain. Um There can certainly be soreness, especially after the workout, but when you're doing the exercise there really shouldn't be any pain. Unless what you're prescribed specifically says there should be pain. Now I say that because there are some examples for like for example, the achilles tendon when we do um decelerated calf raises there, there can be pain there, which is okay and that's a really fine line, probably beyond the scope of this, just this brief talk about it, but there's sometimes when you're re having a specific injury where pain is okay in the right amounts and in the right way.

Um And I think that's just that's just really specific to the injury you're dealing with and the type of program that you're following for, for injury prevention. But for the most part you shouldn't be having pain wow. What an amazing group of people to learn from about the applications of strength training to our running performance. What was your biggest takeaway or favorite lesson learned? I'm curious share it with us on facebook or instagram as we'd love to chat with you about it. Thanks for listening to the run to the top podcast. I'm your host, Finma Lanson. As always, our mission here is to help you become a better runner with every episode. Please consider connecting with me on instagram at run single track and the rest of our team at runners connect. Also consider supporting our show for free with a rating on the Spotify and Apple podcast players. And lastly, if you love the show and want behind the scenes bonus content experiences with our guests and premier access to contests and giveaways. Then subscribe to our newsletter by going to runners connect dot net back slash podcast Until next time.

Happy training

How to use strength training to run faster, longer, and injury-free
How to use strength training to run faster, longer, and injury-free
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