Resistance Training

Weight training

To develop strength, runners need to apply force against a resistance. The intensity and frequency of the force will dictate the type of strength that is developed:

Maximum strengthis the greatest force that is possible in a single maximum contraction.

Strength endurance is the ability to express force many times over.

Endurance runners will benefit from developing in both of these areas. By working on maximum strength you will improve your physical robustness. In other words, your muscles, tendons and ligaments will be better conditioned to be able to withstand the demands of your training. Stress in the joints and muscle attachment sites will be negated and so will your risk of injury.

By working on strength endurance you will improve your ability to keep going in a long event or training session. Resistance training burns more calories and so helps to control weight and this in turn makes resistance training feel easier. Have you ever noticed that running uphill feels harder if you are carrying a few extra pounds?!

Runners also need to be aware that, as we get older our muscle mass decreases unless we work to counteract it so strength work becomes even more important as we age.

Let's consider the kind of training we can do in both of these areas:

Maximum Strength

To improve maximum strength you usually need to get yourself off to the gym and use weights. You will have a choice of weights machines or free weights - bars and dumb bells. We recommend free weights because they train the movements rather than the muscles. To be a better runner you don't need to build muscle but you need stability in the joint area. Runners need groups or chains of muscles to work efficiently together. Free weights develop functional movement by recruiting muscles along the same chain rather than isolating one muscle in particular. They will also highlight any muscle imbalances and so you become aware of how you can improve your posture. A tight lower back, rounded shoulders or a weak core, for example, will be exposed and a programme can be put in place to work in these areas.

When you first introduce weight training into your programme it is imperative that you do it under the guidance of a qualified coach or instructor. Posture and technique are crucial. If you perform the exercises with the wrong technique or poor posture you are more likely to injure yourself than to prevent injury. One of the objectives of a strength session is to "switch on" or "fire" certain muscles. Again, a coach or an instructor will be able to see if you are doing this and educate you on how to do it if you're not.

Strength Endurance

You can improve your strength endurance through:

  • circuit training - this will be made up of a series of exercises that you perform 8 times or more, by counting the repetitions or performing them for a certain length of time. Circuits can be carried out using your own body weight, thera-bands and medicine balls. All of these can provide resistance to improve your strength endurance.
  • running against a resistance such as hills, sand, water, wind or even just the ground itself.
  • other activities with an emphasis on duration such as cross country skiing, cycling, swimming.

To gain fitness from your strength programme you should put in a session twice per week. If you haven't got enough time for this, once a week would still give you a good return but you should be aware that the fitness gains taper off after 72 hours. If you can put a "stimulus" in every three days your improvements will be more rapid than if it is only once every seven days. You should also consider carefully which muscle groups you are trying to develop. Balance is crucial. Muscles not only work together but also have opposing muscle groups. Runners need to be as symmetrical as possible and your coach or instructor will ensure that you work opposing muscle groups to the desired level.

It is highly probable that, as you are a runner, your programme will emphasise the legs and core rather than the upper body. Exercises such as squats, dead lifts and lunges will probably be included in your session rather than work on your arms or chest.

Other aspects of strength training might include isometric strength where no movement takes place (e.g. Plank position) or fast explosive strength often referred to as Plyometrics e,g, hopping.