By Personal Trainer Mollie Millington
There is an age-old debate about training specificity. If you want to become better at a certain sport, surely you should spend your time practicing that sport, rather than doing something else.
And yet, American football players take ballet classes and rugby teams attend regular yoga sessions.
Would professional teams be spending time and money on these other disciplines if it didn’t benefit their athletes?
Strength Training for Runners
Strength training can be a complement to any training regime. The typical body shape of an endurance (long distance) runner is usually not very bulky or full of muscle, but rather lanky. Adding in complementary strength training sessions can give them a competitive edge on the cross country course or on the track.
You may think runners only go in a straight line with one forward body motion. This is not always the case. In trail running or cross country, runners need to be able to move laterally too to avoid hazards on the course.
Exercises for developing outer legs
✓ Leg abductions
✓ Side lunges
These exercises can help develop the muscles on the outside of the legs, hips, and thighs that will support these movements and protect the legs from injury.
Endurance Vs Strength Training
Endurance & strength training performed on alternate days may optimise VO peak (peak oxygen consumption) development in both men and women.
In a 2015 study1, it was found that performance improved favourably if runners lifted weights on non-running days, rather than performing double sessions.
Overall training volume was monitored between the study groups to ensure it was equal. Peak oxygen consumption increased with a larger improvement observed when endurance and weight lifting were done on alternating days when compared to athletes who did both on the same day1.
✓ Women who took part in the study also saw their sub-maximal oxygen consumption decrease more when they trained on alternating days than endurance and weights on the same day. It is hypothesised that the alternating days allow for adequate recovery, allowing the body to ‘find value’ in next session.
✓ Karsten, et al.2 found that six weeks of sports specific maximal strength (heavy load of 80% 1-rep max) and conditioning training gave their subjects a significant performance improvement in a timed trial 5k result. There was also a non-significant, yet observed, improvement in cardiovascular values. Any improvement in CV performance would be an asset to endurance runners as that could give them a competitive edge over their opponents.
✓ Karsten, et al. recommend incorporating heavy resistance training sessions twice a week for at least six weeks prior to competitions.
Once the season starts however, lower loads will be more appropriate to avoid fatigue and negative impacts on performance.
Resistance Training Benefits
Resistance training has also proven to help keep fatigue at bay during a 10km time trial.3 Runners took part in a 8-week strength training program.
The study group saw significant improvement in their maximum dynamic strength test (1 rep max), drop jump, and peak treadmill speed when compared to the control group who did not take part in weight sessions.
✓ The strength training group also showed higher speeds on the last 7 laps of the 10km time trial compared to the control group.
It is hypothesised this is due to the control group fatiguing earlier in the race because their bodies were not as strong as the strength training group.
Suggested strength training exercises
In addition to the ones listed above, would be:
✓ Hamstring curls
✓ Hip raises
✓ Plyometric box jumps
✓ Core exercises
Core exercises will help maintain posture during fatigue as well as assist with balance and breathing.
Having strong hips and legs will also prevent pain in the:
✓ Piriformis; IT band; Hip flexors; Shins.
Take Home Message
I am of the belief that lifting weights will not hinder your performance as an athlete. If you are guided properly by a qualified personal trainer or coach, they will develop a training plan that will compliment your goals.
It will keep your bones strong and challenge your cardiovascular system. It will break up the monotony of training in the same sport day in and day out.
You might be able to use it as a time to socialise with other friends or meet new people in the gym. These things are important in achieving a work/life/fitness balance and will allow you to further develop as a well-rounded athlete.