TRANSFORM YOUR RUN THROUGH STRENGTH // BY DAVID LIPMAN August 2, 2017 – Posted in: Expert Advice

Hopefully strength training in endurance sport is not a foreign concept to you. There has been significant research into strength training for triathletes and runners of all distances in recent times and it is overwhelmingly positive. I would suggest that it is difficult to debate the utility of strength training for endurance athletes but I have also found that this is not necessarily reflected in the practices of runners.

Strength training has some more traditionally accepted benefits for runners. I won’t labour these as they are well covered elsewhere. They include: improved efficiency, improved time trial times and injury prevention. What I will cover is more regarding other benefits and where to fit it into your training week.

Where

Generally strength training is considered less specific to running than any running training sessions would be. Thus it is prioritised lower for training stimulus. This has implications for where it should go in the training week and when to cease it prior to racing (this may even be why it is not widely accepted and utilised by all runners but I have a feeling this is not the only reason). Ideally strength work should be at a time in the training week where the sessions can be of good quality and where it does not impact your ability to perform more key sessions in the week. It will likely be later in the week as generally more important sessions are earlier in the training week. Strength sessions themselves should be separated by 48hrs or so to allow them not to impact each other. I would suggest that at least 2 strength sessions be in a given training week for most runners, though those who have never done any strength work and have a significant training load already may get away with one. Thus I would think most would be using strength sessions on a Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday, or indeed Tuesday/Friday (assuming your major goal is a Sunday long run).

Taper

In terms of taper and when to stop strength work: a lot of this depends on your training age and how your body responds. As a result there will be a fair bit of trial and error in this for you to work through unfortunately. Generally tapers are up to 2 weeks and involve cutting volume from sessions starting with less specific things. As a result, strength training has the propensity to be cut quite early. This is fine, particularly if you do not recover from it well. I may suggest that doing something simple, even at a low intensity (ie with no weights or very light weights) may be a good primer though, so it is worth experimenting with, rather than the knee jerk reaction of dropping all strength work weeks out.

Example

Personally I use them on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This is because the stimulus I require is more as someone who has a good strength training ‘training age’ (>10 years). I also don’t stop strength work much before a race. I tend to cut volume and some less specific exercises from 10 days or so out of the race, then do my last strength sessions with very minimal load (2-3 exercises with only a few reps on 2 or so sets) as late as 2 or 3 days prior to the race depending on a few factors.

Other Reasons

As the author of this article, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that I am a big advocate of strength training. My reasons include the above mentioned, as well as the fact that it is essential for good health in my opinion. There are others that are a little atypical though:

Do things you suck at

We tend to gravitate towards things we are good at, that is natural. But I would suggest that in life, and training as a microcosm thereof, we should gravitate towards areas of weakness if we truly want to improve. The cycle is perpetuating; you are not good at them, dislike them, avoid them and thus the weakness continues. Almost inevitably the best training stimulus and best ‘bang for your buck’ will come from things you dislike doing. The surest way to improve and get the best improvement is to work on your weaknesses. I would suggest that this provides the perfect opportunity.

The mental aspect

I think the biggest reason runners are not using strength training is that they love running. What I mean here is that, they love running and thus any other activities for training are not as enjoyable (if not completely unenjoyable). A disconnect occurs when optimal performance is sought, or when there are injuries that may be associated with weakness that requires some strength training to rectify it (or could have prevented it). But this dislike for strength training may be one of its biggest assets. Doing things that you dislike is hard, particularly mentally. This mental struggle and pushing yourself through stuff you struggle to do is one of the most potent stimuli for growth in athletic and life endeavors. Learning to push mentally and “suffer” is CRUCIAL for endurance success. Period.

Know you are ready

I often look around start lines and think (or at least tell myself), these people have not suffered like me. They have not prepared like me. They may be a little more gifted than me, but they can’t suffer like me. If we are near each other at the end, I have them. THIS is what doing things you hate in training gives you. This is what being strong gives you.

You need to know that you are optimally prepared for what you are about to encounter. Strength is part of that.

In summary

Be optimally prepared

Be strong mentally and physically

Suffer in training to perform on race day

Strength will help performance and help prevent injuries in ways you’d never imagined

See you in the gym team

David Lipman is an ex-meathead turned trail runner. By day he drinks too much coffee, works as a doctor and spends his free time in the gym or running. He holds many coaching qualifications, a medical degree and has degrees in podiatry and exercise physiology.

For some training tips and to follow his trailrunning adventures catch him on Instagram: @dlipman5