Whether or not to incorporate strength training while training for a marathon has long been a topic of debate for runners and coaches. Until fairly recently, many believed it was counter- productive and potentially injurious for runners to lift weights while training for a race or maintaining high mileage. However, this paradigm is shifting among athletes and their coaches as new evidence suggests that strength training can actually improve running performance and help prevent injuries. Wherever you may fall on this spectrum, there are some good guidelines to follow when considering whether or not weight lifting into your training regimen. There are some common mistakes in strength training that all runners would do well to avoid.
Strength training for the runner is a very different routine than the typical gym goer. For the runner, strength routines should incorporate balance and flexibility exercises while targeting muscle groups which support the running stride. For example, many lifters focus on biceps, triceps, deltoids, abs, lats quads, hamstrings and calves. Runners should not forego these exercises; but they should center their focus on the hips, joints and core running muscles. If you are going to the gym and repeating the muscle teardown that you are getting on your hill runs, you are targeting the same muscle groups over and over again without prepping their supportive muscle groups.
Another common mistake many runners make while strength training is failing to approach their strength training routine with a viable workout plan. We get it; running a lot of miles takes planning priority. However, if you are going to spend time in the gym, you need to have a plan for those supplementary workouts as well. When I first started adding strength training sessions into my weekly workouts, I ran to the gym (about 4 miles each way) to get in some easy runs on my “off” day. I quickly found that this made me approach my workouts lazily since I felt that my priority workouts were already being accomplished. The minimal weights I was lifting were not really that productive until a friend of mine called me out. I consulted a trainer who was also a runner, and started making the most of my strength training workouts by writing out a plan. I write training plans for running; it is only logical that I should write a strength training plan for my supplemental workouts. Once I started approaching my lifting in this way, I found that my workouts became extremely productive. My speed and recovery times improved dramatically that year and I set a PR at my next race.
Strength training is an excellent (and many argue, imperative) way to boost your running performance and race times. If you are seeking to begin a training program, remember to phase your workouts much like you would when you are building mileage; start slowly and build gradually. Train multiple muscle groups. Stretch often to reduce soreness and promote recovery.
For more information on supplemental training, check out our other articles at Runnersgoal.com.