If you really want to improve your performance while running then consider doing strength training. By slipping in various strength training exercises into your weekly work out you can increase muscle mass, reduce fats levels and improve your stamina.
It might be tricky to fit it into your busy schedule, but where there is a will there’s a way. You don’t have to go crazy, and of course it’s essential to have rest days, but the right weight training will make you stronger, help your speed, and enable you to go for longer with less effort, plus you’ll improve your general fitness.
What type of exercises can you do?
There are a huge range of strength exercises you can do, here are some which should be part of any keen runner’s program.
Squats are a great activity, not only for your legs but also core body strength. By doing squats you’re using all your leg muscles: quads, hams, and triceps.
Make sure you use the free weights to ensure a full body workout and find a gym with a power rack, as it’s safer and you can rest the bar between sets. Try to avoid the smith machine as you’ll be using less muscles.
If you’re really worried about hurting your lower back or are generally unsure about doing squats, then just ask someone at the gym to watch your form and possibly spot you. After no time you’ll build your legs up, which will help you running.
Lunges with free weights
These are also a great exercise for all your leg muscles. They also help you improve balance, and also work the upper body slightly. Lunges are a great exercise for any keen runner wanting to improve their fitness.
This is another useful strength training exercise. It mainly works your quads and is great for building strength for longer distances. This exercise is similar to squats, but is more focused on your legs than core body. I prefer squats, but they are a decent alternative if you don’t have them at your gym.
There is no doubt that by building your calves into solid pounds of muscle you’ll increase your running performance. Sturdy calves are vital for pelting up steep hills as well. They are quite easy to do as well, and you don’t necessarily need a calf machine, just raise your body on the balls of your feet while holding weights.
What do you do with your arms and upper body when you run? You move them to help with balance, project you forwards, and gain momentum. Building up your upper body will also help you run faster, give you more power, and improve general fitness. Plus you’ll look better with your shirt off.
I’m a huge fan of bench press. It’s a quality compound exercise that works your entire upper body. Do bench exercises with the bar, again stay away from the smith machine. It works your whole chest, your biceps, back and triceps.
Shoulder press or overhead press
These are both useful exercises to boost those shoulder muscles and project you further when you’re running. Most gyms have shoulder press machines, or you can use free weights.
Overhead press is hard and difficult to increase the weight each session, but it really works those muscles, plus it’s a compound exercise which improves core strength.
Building a solid back will also drive you forward as you’re sprinting along. Look at the backs of the top athletes and you’ll see what I mean. Lat pull down works your upper back. Try seated rows as well for your lower back.
How many sets and reps?
A final point to consider is the number of sets and reps. I’ve tried lower weights with high reps, but I find less reps with higher weights work best. 3 sets of 8 to 12 is one option, but recently I’ve been doing 5 sets of 5. I’m trying to bulk up and build strength and it seems to be working. It all depends what you can fit in.
Try to incorporate strength training before or after your run to build muscle and improve your performance. You could do it on your rest days, but don’t overdo it or you’ll injure yourself and lose motivation. Let me know how you get on.