Strength training has somewhat of an uneasy relationship with runners. Most runners know they should do it, some runners do it religiously while others avoid it as just another distraction from running.
First, let’s add some context to strength training for runners. If running is Batman, then strength training is Robin. It’s the support act, not the main show, so it should never dominate a running program.
Strength training should leave you with more bounce in your step and spring in your legs. It should enhance your running session and make you a better runner.
Any strength session that reduces your running output is either poorly timed or poorly designed.
Second, let’s look at the phases of strength training and how they relate to the phases of a running program.
When your running is at a base level (fairly consistent “base” volume), your strength training can build in preparation for the next phase. The risk of overload is fairly small so running can build strength and power.
As you move into your building phase (gradually increasing volume), your strength training shouldn’t be building as well. Trying to grow both running and lifting volumes simultaneously is super risky. You can either maintain your strength training while steadily building your running volume, or you can back off on strength to allow for a faster build in running volume.
When your running starts moving towards a pre race peak, strength training can augment your performance by focusing on fast production of power and bouncy plyometric exercises.
So overall strength training almost moves in the opposite direction to your running program. Strength training will build while running is consistent, and then strength remains consistent while running is building.
With that in mind, you can see how having the same strength program all year round is not going to be optimal for your running performance. And all the online posts about “best strength training for runners” couldn’t possibly address the changing needs of a runner by consistently doing the same session.
The best way to implement strength training for a runner who hasn’t tried it in the past is to start small and light. Keep things easy and try a number of different movements. Focus on maintaining good technique and not leaving yourself sore afterwards.
Once you’ve got into the program and gauged how your body recovers, you can then start to push things along with more loading and volume in your strength training. Just remember to keep focused on Batman and don’t let Robin take centre stage. And if you ever feel the urge to buy a bum bag and an Adidas tracksuit, just ponder whether your strength focus has gone too far.
Pete has over 20 years experience as a Physiotherapist and specialises in running biomechanics and complex injuries. He believes that you must identify and fix the underlying cause of an injury, to recover faster, prevent recurrences and improve performance.