Beginning Weight Training for Runners

by Kari Meyers M.Ed
Exercise Physiologist

Weight training for runners doesn't have to be overwhelming and it's can really make you a better runner. Here are some tips by a running mom who happens to be an expert on the subject.

weight training for runners

Importance of Weight Training for Runners

We tend to think as runners the best thing to improve our running is, well running. There is truth to this statement, however, if we want to become faster runners, have more endurance and even lose weight, the key may lie in strength training.

"What?" you may say, "Miss a running day to lift a couple of 10 pound weights over my head, how is that going to help me?" The answer is simpler than you may think. The more muscle you have, the stronger you are, therefore, your legs are stronger and more powerful to carry you faster and farther.

Another myth that I feel is important to put out there is that strength training will make you "big" and "bulky." Of course you may put on a bit more muscle mass, but unless you are taking in a mass quantity of protein, power lifting everyday, and taking performance enhancing supplements, you muscle growth will be proportional and natural.

Where do I begin?

Start at the core or abdominals. Stronger ab muscles will not only look better but they improve your posture, strengthen you back, and help to make your stride more efficient.

Weight Training for Runners: Ab Workouts

Your abdominal muscles are made up of 6 muscles that span across the abdomen and connect the ribs to the pelvis. Being such a large group of muscles it takes a few exercises to target them.

Variations of core exercises can be performed each day. Each of the movement exercises repeat 10 to 15 times. Here are a few suggestions:

Lie flat on your back, knees bend so feet are flat on the floor.
Place fingertips behind ears.
In one smooth motion focus on lifting your head and upper torso straight up.
Keep you elbows open, avoid squeezing them around your head.
Avoid the motion that curls your body up to your knees.
Cross Crunches
cross crunches
Same as above, however, when you get to the top, twist slightly to the right.
Repeat on the left.
reverse crunch
Reverse Crunch
Again lie flat on your back, arms out to the side for support.
Begin with your legs lifted off the ground at a 90 degree angle or perpendicular to the ground.
Next, keeping you upper torso stationary, lift your legs and hips up, hold for 2 seconds and slowly lower.
Put your body in the push-up position, however rest your upper body on your elbows. Keep your entire body straight.
Hold position for 30 seconds.
plank variations
Plank Variations
See above position, rotate hips to the right, hold 30 seconds.
Relax and repeat on the left.

Now that we’ve covered some basic "core" weight training for runners, time to move onto the rest of the body.

Weight Training for Runners: Chest Workouts

Bench Press
bench press
(It is better to use a bench but you can lie flat on the floor.)
Simply hold the weights as low as you can.
Press upward until they meet at the top.
Same body position as bench, but hold the weights straight out to your side.
Now bring them together as if you are giving a "bear hug."

Weight Training for Runners: Back Workouts

One Arm Row
one arm row
Lunge forward with your left leg.
Put your left hand on your left knee.
Grab the weight with your right hand and let it hang down.
Now, lifting with your arm and the muscles on the right side of your back, you are going to do a motion that looks like you are picking a coin off the ground and putting it in your pocket.
Keep your elbow in tight, do not let it fly out to the side.
Repeat on other side.

Weight Training for Runners: Shoulder Workouts

military press
Military Press
Standing, hold the weights by your shoulders, arms on the side of the body.
Press straight up.
Frontal Raises
frontal raises
Let arms hang in front of hips, keeping a slight bend in the elbows.
Alternate raising the weights to eye level.

Weight Training for Runners: Bicep Workouts

basic curl
Basic Curl
Begin with the weights hanging straight down, palms facing forward.
Slowly curl the weight up to the shoulder.

Weight Training for Runners: Tricep Workouts

Kick Back
kick back
Lung forward with your left leg, put your left hand on your left knee.
Grab the weight with your right hand, hold you upper part of your right arm close to your body.
Let the weight hang down (forming a 90 degree angle).
Fully extend the arm out behind you.
Repeat on other arm.

Weight Training for Runners: Leg Workouts

Find a secure step about 6 to 12 inches off the ground.
Stand a good stride length away.
With the right leg, step forward, placing the foot completely flat on the step.
Do not let your knee pass your toes.
Repeat with other leg.
Dead Lift
dead lift
Legs straight, weight hanging in your hands in front of you.
Slowly and carefully lean forward.
Keep you back straight, head up and legs straight.
Go as far forward as comfortable without breaking your form and raise back up, make sure you squeeze your glutes (butt muscles).

These are examples of basic exercises. There are many variations to these and many, many more that you can do for each muscle group.

How much weight should I lift?

I usually recommend to my patients that they start with a set of 5 and 10 pound weights, and as the exercises become easier, look into adding weight by 2.5 to 5 pound increments.

Many of us take up running because the cost investment is minimal compared to many other sports, so the idea of spending extra money on weights can be a factor.

Never fear, you can supplement weights by making your own. Filling old milk jugs and water bottles with water or sand can be a great alternative.

How many times do I lift each one?

Here come some more definitions, ‘Repetitions’ and ‘Sets’. Reps is how many times you do each exercise. I recommend start with 10. If you can get to 20, add more weight. Sets is the number of times you do each group of reps. For the beginner runner, 2 sets is good.

How often should I lift?

2 to 3 times per week, but here is the catch, muscles need a day to rest from weight training. So for example if you want to do all of these exercises for a workout, you have to rest them from weight training for at least 24 hours before you work them again.

If you want to do some form of weight training every day you can split the routine up. For example: Monday – chest and biceps, Tuesday - back and triceps, Wednesday - shoulders and legs.

Weight training for runners should be incorporated into your weekly workouts. As you begin to find the exercises easier, start adding weights and more exercises.

Make sure you spend time at the end of each workout stretching each each muscle group that you worked, to avoid injury and soreness.

You should cut out the weight training about a week before you run a 5-10k. Cut out the weight training 2 weeks before any distance longer than a 10k. Otherwise the lactic acid (that burning sensation) in your muscles may slow your race pace.

Good luck and happy running!

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