Training for running events by running, as you’d probably expect, is a very good idea. It’s pretty much a necessity in fact, if you want to maintain, improve and progress (as anyone will know if you took a little bit too long away from training over Christmas). However, there’s a lot more you can do to support your running if you want to ensure you’re getting the best out of it.
Training in the gym is often seen as something that contradicts running training. Especially for longer distances, where the concept of putting on muscle and weight has obvious implications. In actual fact gym training, and weights in particular, are ridiculously beneficial to any runner, whether you’re a sprinter or an ultra-marathoner.
Firstly, weight training allows you to build strength. Now, strength may not be something you usually associate with running, but it means a lot more than the ability to lift something heavy. Muscular strength is defined as “the ability to exert a maximal amount of force for a short period of time”, in the context of running that means you have an increased capacity for things like bursts of speed. The upshot being that you’re a lot more in control of your body whilst running, making sure your running is a lot more efficient.
Form, posture & core
Another benefit of building muscles is form and posture. Running may seem like an exercise largely focussed on the lower half of body, but good running form utilises a lot more than just the legs. Although it isn’t as obvious, the core plays a massive part in running, maintaining balance as well as a good posture.
The upper body is something that’s often massively neglected in running. However, it’s this part of the body that builds momentum to go forward, utilising the weight of the arms to generate a rhythm with the legs. Next time you go out running try to let your arms sag at the sides and you’ll see how important they are.
A good full body gym workout means that not only can you work on specific areas that may have been neglected by running alone, but you can also make the whole thing more efficient; meaning it all works together as one seamless running machine.
6 gym exercises to help build strength for running
Here are a few examples of exercises to incorporate into your gym routine. Always remember to keep the weights light as a beginner until you have the form correct (ask a personal trainer) and increase only when you’re confident to do so.
Compound movements are exercises that work multiple muscle groups. There are loads of benefits to doing them over isolation exercises (ones that work just one muscle) including the ability to lift heavier weights, they require more energy (so more calories burned) and mean that you can work a lot more muscles in a shorter period of time - which is good when you’re spending a lot of time running. The fact that you’re working multiple muscles in one motion also helps with things like balance and building up your core.
1. Weighted Squats
Squats are widely viewed as the perfect exercise, working an enormous number of muscles across the whole body. There are many variations on performing a squat, with different positions affecting a range of muscles. Start with the most basic of squats to get used to the form before attempting other variants.
Place a barbell or two dumbells over your shoulders and stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder width apart. Make sure that you maintain a neutral spine through i.e. your head should be in line with a straight spine - don’t hunch forwards or dip your head.
Lower your body so that your knees drop in line with your feet to the point where it’s comfortable and then come back up. Take two seconds to go down and two seconds to come back up. As you lower make sure to keep the weight of the body on the heels. If you feel yourself falling forward onto the balls of the feet realign yourself to put more weight behind you, maintaining the neutral spine.
If you’re not confident with the exercise to begin with, perform it without a weight (these are called bodyweight squats), until you’re confident.
Reps: No more than 6
2. Weighted Lunges
Like the squat, lunges work a vast number of muscles across the body. The main differences are that each leg is worked independently, which means that not only does it help with balance, but it can help work on muscular imbalances on either side of the body - something that has a massive effect on an ability to run. They also help stretch your hip flexors, a common problem area with runners, as well as put less stress on the spine.
Hold the dumbbells in both hands and stand with your feet hip width apart. Holding your body upright with a neutral spine, step forward with one leg. The foot should land on the heel and the body is lowered so that the foot, knee and hip make a 90-degree angle. Use the ball of the foot to push back up into a standing position and repeat with the other leg.
Ensure that your legs remain hip width apart throughout the exercise to maintain balance. If the exercise it too difficult you can start by performing bodyweight lunges.
Reps: 5 on each leg
3. Renegade Rows
Yeah, it’s a daft name, but this is a pretty simple exercise that doesn’t only work your back muscles (which are really important for running posture) but also forces you to train your core and stability muscles.
With two dumbbells, get into a press up position with the dumbbells on the floor. Holding your body in the plank position, lift one dumbbell up towards your body so that your elbow rises behind you. Ensure that your arm and elbow remain next to your torso as you lift. Lower the weight and repeat with the other arm.
The key to this exercise is maintaining a strong core. So you need to ensure that you remain a neutral spine throughout as well as not losing balance to one side or the other. If you’re struggling to keep straight, then lower the weights.
Reps: 5 on each arm
4. Chest Press
Another favourite with bodybuilders, but an extremely important exercise due to the fact that it works an enormous range of muscles across the upper body. It’s also important to remember that because we’re looking at a full body workout that removes any imbalances, if you’re working the back muscles you’ll also need to work the muscles at the front as well. Because the exercises uses arms separately we can also.
Lying with your back on a bench and holding a dumbbell in each hand, lift the weights up in front of you so that they’re held up above the chest, your arms in a straight line. Lower both weights to the side until you feel a slight stretch and then repeat the exercises taking two seconds to go up and then two down. I imagine a straight 90 degree line drawn from your elbow to your hand and keep that position throughout the whole exercise.
It’s important to ensure that your back remains flat against the bench. If you begin to arch you’re back then lower the weights until you can comfortably perform the exercise in a neutral position.
Whereas the previous exercises are focused on building muscle strength. Plyometric exercises look at building up power (speed and strength). Essentially targeting movements where you’ll use explosive force, like if you quickly need to overtake someone.
5. Box Jumps
With your feet in a shoulder width position, lower yourself into a quarter squat and explosively jump up onto the box with your hands swinging forwards. You should land with your feet in the centre then push yourself into a standing position. Carefully step or jump back down into the starting position.
If any part of the exercise is difficult or you’re unable to land in the centre of the box, then lower the height accordingly.
6. Power Lunges
Power lunges are the explosive form of the lunge mentioned early. Combining the strength and balance benefits of a lung with a plyometric jump makes for a difficult exercise, but one with enormous benefits to a runner.
Without using any weights, start with your feet hip width apart and your back and head completely straight. Jump up slightly and land in a lunge position with your weight on your heel, ensuring that your knee of the other leg lands just above the ground (otherwise you’ll end up with some bruises). Push back with the heel and your other foot to propel yourself upwards, swapping your legs in the air so that you land on the heel of the other foot. Use your hand to help propel the motion by swinging them forwards, alternating with each leg.
Reps: 5 on each leg
Remember, if unsure, speak to a Personal Trainer (PT)
This workout is designed to complement your running. So aim for twice a week, increasing the weights when you can comfortably do more than the number of reps.
If you’re not sure about how to do some of the exercises, or you feel any sort of pain, then remember to speak to a PT to ensure you’re carrying it out properly. Online workouts are good for guidance, but different people have varied needs when it comes to exercise. Remember to warm up and stretch as well. We don’t want you getting injured before any races coming up.
Written by: Tom Wheatley, Editor of the AllRounder, a blog "made by people who enjoy fitness but like enjoying life just as much".
Model: Lee Seymour
Photo location: FitMiBODY