Strategically placed bouts of cross training have been proven to help boost your overall performance by keeping you healthy and happy. For example, I always suggest that my athletes do an easy pool session the day after their long run to help speed recover. But one of the best things you can do to enhance your running is add some strength training to your regular routine. That's because a great weight workout will not only make your muscles stronger and more powerful, but it will also harden your body to the impact of running those higher mileage sessions. Despite what you might think you are not going to end up looking like a muscle bound bodybuilder that runs slow as molasses. Bottom line, strength training is health insurance for any runner!
Freedom of Choice
To start off, you have numerous options in the type of resistance training equipment that you can use for your program. This can include free weights that consist of barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, selectorized weight machines, plus rubber tubing, bands, and weighted bars. Pick one that matches your fitness goal and experience level, budget, and space concerns if you plan on working out at home. Each piece of equipment has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, free weights help build better body awareness in the form of balance and coordination. On the other hand, weight machines are easy to use and give you maximum benefits in a shorter period of time since there is less time involved in set–up and moving from one exercise to the next if you are crunched for time.
In addition, strength training can be broken down into compound movements that use numerous muscles to perform the exercise, and those that more effectively isolate an individual muscle group. For example squats are a great multi-joint exercise that works the important stabilizer muscles around the hip, knee, and ankle joints, providing for a more functional type of strength that is critical to running injury free. This not only translates into better performance from your body during daily activities, but also helps reduce problems such as injuries caused by misalignments and poor body awareness. Plus, compound moves are the best alternative for building metabolism boosting muscle! On the other hand, isolation exercises are great to use in the beginning of a program where deconditioned or unfit people lack the neuromuscular control and joint stability to perform a multi-joint exercise. Thus you want to set yourself up for success, instead of failure. So when designing a strength training program, chose your exercises wisely.
It is also important to keep the body in balance by working all of the major muscles groups during your strength training program. Poor structural balance can lead to you having problems with your neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, and knees. That’s because the structure of your body dictates how it functions, and how it functions determines your overall performance. So if you are a women who is concentrating on her thighs by doing a lot of squats, you also need to train the muscles in the back of your lower body by performing some dead lifts to prevent hip and back pain. Or perhaps you are a man who does a lot of bench pressing, in that case you should also be training the lat muscles in your back by doing a few rowing movements to help head off neck and shoulder problems.
Finally, there are various different types of systems that can you can use to increase your muscular strength and endurance. One is a total body routine that includes doing mulitple upper and lower body exercises in each training session. While the second option consists of performing what is known as a ‘push/pull’ routine where one day you do your pushing movements; squat, bench, press and triceps, and the other day you perform only pulling exercises; deadlift, rows, and biceps. The other basic concept for you to understand is that the less repetitions and more weight you do, the more you work on developing your overall strength. While, the less weight and more repetitions you perform, the more you train your muscle endurance.
Back to Basics
The first thing you need to know about performing your program is how fast to lift the weight. Usually I see people who lift too fast. Not only can this increase the chance of injury, but it is also not as effective as using slow controlled movements. The trick is to lift for at least a two count while raising a weight during the concentric or shortening phase, and then lower it for around a four count during the lengthening or eccentric phase where you are about 40% stronger due to mechanical advantage. When people just let the weight drop back down they are only working half of the movement, since they are essentially skipping the lengthening or eccentric phase. In addition, you can overcome the weight of a barbell or dumbbell by using too much momentum. That's because once you get a weight moving by using a lot of force in the beginning of the exercise, it doesn't take as much effort to keep it going.
Next, you have to know when to breathe. A lot of people actually hold their breath while they're lifting, because they are concentrating so hard. But that is not the thing to do because you can dramatically increase the pressure in your chest, causing what is called the Valsalva Maneuver. So it is not only important to breathe, but to also do it at the right time. You can achieve the best results by waiting to breathe out until you get to the hardest part of the lift known as the "sticking point". At that point in the lift your muscles start to feel like they are quivering, because they are working at their maximum. If you breathe out at this time you can relax your muscles, and move right through the sticking point.
A well designed weight lifting program will have you alternating your reps and sets each workout to produce the best results. In addition, allowing at least two days of rest in between each training session will help work aorund any potential delayed onset muscle soreness since it usually peaks 48 hours after a tough workout. This type of Undulating Periodization has been proven more effective in producing maximum strength gains than the traditional Linear model, especially when you are crunched for time during your busy training year balancing work/life responsibilities. If you break it down based on the number of sets and repetitions you should perform, a hard workout might consist of three to four sets of 6 to 8 reps, while easy would be two to three sets of 8 to 10 reps for each workout.
You can even switch between pushing and pulling movements from week to week for maximum benefits.
Here are some of the more tried and true moves that can help you build a better body for running:
Plus, here’s what a typical week will look like for you:
So don't be afraid to give strength training a try, I promise you will not regret it. Now all you have left to do is get out there and put your plan into action. As a famous shoe company once said, JUST DO IT!
About the Author: Dr. Timothy Moore
Timothy J. Moore, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., M.C.H.E.S., is a health and fitness consultant with over 30 years of experience, having worked with top organizations such as the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic and US Fitness Holdings. As a Former Division I athlete and track coach at the University of Maryland, Dr. Tim has coached collegiate All-Americans, top professionals, and world champion senior competitors, as well as life coaching clients that include celebrity entertainers and Fortune 500 executives. Dr. Tim has also served on the Personal Trainer Exam Committee for the American Council on Exercise, as the Fitness Editor for Shape magazine, and as a consultant to sporting goods companies such as Reebok. While features on Dr. Tim have appeared in People magazine and USA Today,as well as on television's Good Morning America. Finally, for his work in the industry Dr. Tim was honored by being named to the prestigious Who’s Who in the World.