What to know about strength training, and some examples of workouts you can try in the gym.
High-frequency running, circuit training, and yoga — you’ve tried it all.
You wonder where you should even start, overwhelmed and stressed by the endless clusters of information available to you.
Getting results isn’t easy. Aimless exercise programming leads to frustration, stress, and giving up altogether. Problem is, with pool sessions, cross-training workouts, and speed development sessions, it’s easy to forget a key component to athletic success — strength. The ability to tolerate foot contact impact, generate force, and apply it into the ground to propel the body forward is crucial to endurance and injury prevention. Put a premium on developing a base of strength development and you’ll see improvements in running and fitness across the board.
Let’s narrow the focus on strength to relative strength and absolute strength.
Relative strength is the amount of strength to body size, or how strong you are for your size. This reflects a person’s ability to control or move their body through space, a vital trait in athletics. All else being equal, smaller individuals have higher relative strength. This is why despite both athletes being in great condition, a 145-pound male with equal absolute strength to a 180-pound male will apply greater relative forces into the ground and run faster.
Absolute strength is the maximum amount of force exerted, regardless of muscle or body size. Greater amounts of absolute strength favor those with higher bodyweight and in general, larger individuals. Greater absolute strength will improve relative strength capabilities.
Improving strength with multi-joint strength movements is a missing link in training for runners. Strength training will delay the onset of muscle fatigue, decrease the loss of energy during stride impact, and increase the ability to generate force for sprint speed. Two days per week and 45 minutes per workout, as described on the following page, will help you build a faster, stronger, more resilient body to improve your running performance.
Strength Training For Endurance: What to Do
Many endurance athletes insist on high-rep sets and volume with little rest. This trains local muscular endurance, but when 3-6 days of specific endurance training is performed already, it becomes a point of diminishing returns. Greater performance increases occur when combining maximal and explosive strength training than with circuit training with minimal loading in endurance athletes. Performance increases are greater when common weak points, such as strength and explosiveness, are exploited through training.
Even in the presence of decreased endurance training volume, concurrent endurance and strength training improves endurance performance. Getting stronger makes submaximal intensity exercises easier and is a missing piece for endurance success. Even in the absence of high training volume running performance increases. Additionally, training underdeveloped muscles prevents muscle imbalances and repetitive stress injuries that keep many athletes sidelined during periods of intense training.
What To Do
Strength training shouldn’t be the main focus of training; two days per week is plenty to see increases in strength and exercise performance while working around endurance workouts. Space strength training exercises apart at least a day for full recovery between sessions and plan them away from your most difficult endurance training sessions. The focus remains training for your event — don’t sabotage your endurance performance because you went hard in your strength training yesterday.
Strength training will be focused on compound, multi-joint exercises, as these get the most bang for your buck. Exercises are selected to minimize stress on joints that are over-stressed due to the repetitive nature of endurance exercises.
These exercises will place an emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings to offset the quad-dominant nature of most endurance events. Bilateral and unilateral training is included to minimize muscle imbalances in muscles that provide stability and prime-mover capabilities.
Keep rest minimal between exercises. Take 1-2 minutes between sets.
1A. Goblet Squat: 4×6
Hold a kettlebell upside down or a dumbbell underneath the weighted end at chest level. Feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width. Sit down and back as if you’re sitting into a chair until the elbows nearly touch the knees, or 90 degrees. Press through the heels and stand up, extending the hips at the top.
1B. Side Plank: 4×30 seconds
Lie on the side of your body with legs fully extended. Place forearm on mat under shoulder and elevate the body. With body raised maintain a neutral spine and hold position for time. Repeat with the other side.
2A. Dumbbell 1-arm Row: 3×8
Grab a dumbbell with a neutral grip (palm facing in). Kneel on a bench and keep the spine neutral and core engaged. Fully extend your elbow then drive your elbow back until the dumbbell reaches your torso.
2B. Dumbbell Bench Press: 3×8
Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in both hands and feet pressed firmly into the ground. Press the weight out in front over your shoulders and chest. Return under control and repeat.
3A. Step back Lunge: 3×8
Stand tall with two dumbbells in each hand. Take a controlled step backwards and drop the hips until the back knee nearly touches the ground. Push off the back foot and stand tall with hips extended. Repeat for desired reps before repeating with other leg.
3B. Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3×8
Stand tall with two dumbbells held at shoulder height. Squeeze the glutes and press the dumbbells overhead, lockout the elbows and slowly return the dumbbells back to shoulder height. Repeat for desired reps.
RELATED: The Benefits Of Circuit Training
Keep rest minimal between exercises. Take 1-2 minutes between sets.
1A. Lateral Band Walk: 2×12/side
Choose a low-moderate strength resistance band (often yellow or green). Wrap the band above the ankle and stand with the feet at shoulder width. Bend the knees into an athletic position and take a lateral step with the right foot, followed by the right foot. Maintain tension and hip level during the exercise. Perform all reps with one leg then repeat on opposite side.
1B. Plank: 2×30-60 seconds
Lie prone on with the body propped up on the forearms and toes. Feet should be placed together and elbows positioned underneath the shoulders. Raise body upward into a straight line, maintaining neutral spine. Hold position for time.
2. Single Arm DB Snatch: 3×5
Start with an overhand grip on a dumbbell in between your legs, your feet about shoulder width apart, and your core engaged. Bend your knees and hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight. The dumbbell should be about knee height. Explosively extend your hips, knees, and ankles while shrugging your shoulder at the same time. Catch the dumbbell overhead with your knees softy bent and your elbow locked out. Stand up tall and slowly lower the weight before repeating.
3A. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3×6-8
Start with a dumbbell in both hands and feet planted firmly on the floor. Slightly bend the knees and hinge at the hips, pushing your butt as far back possible while keeping the shoulders retracted. Go slightly below the base of the knee and return to standing by fully extending your hips and standing tall.
3B. Pushups: 3×6-8
4A. Barbell Glute Bridge: 3×8
Load a barbell and slide your hips underneath. Consider using a mat and position the bar in the crease of your hips. Lie flat on the floor with hands on the bar at shoulder length. Drive through your heels and extend your hips fully. The weight should be supported by your upper back and your heels. Slowly return the weight to the floor and repeat for reps.
4B. Inverted Row (bodyweight): 3×8
Position yourself underneath a secured barbell or TRX suspension trainer. Horizontally facing the ceiling with extended arms grab the barbell and pull your chest to the bar while keeping the core braced.
Record and chart all exercises and weights used. Progressively overloading the body is vital to obtaining both long and short-term training benefits.
Improving strength with multi-joint strength movements is a missing link in training for runners. Strength training will delay the onset of muscle fatigue, decrease the loss of energy during stride impact, and increase the ability to generate force for sprint speed. Two days per week, 45 minutes per workout will help you build a faster, stronger, more resilient body to improve your running performance.
About The Author:
Eric Bach, CSCS, PN1 is a strength coach, author, and fitness consultant in Denver, Colorado. He is owner of Bach Performance where he coaches clients take control of their lives, helping them become stronger, leaner and more athletic. Follow him on Facebook for expert articles, tips, and coaching.