Lifting for Runners

In this video, Coach Erik gives a high level overview of WHY runners may want to train with weights. And, he provides some insight into the types of training that would be best for each reason.

00:00 Introduction
01:20 Types of Injuries
02:30 Mitigating Muscular Injuries
06:27 Mitigating Connective Tissue Injuries
09:08 Improving Posture
11:25 Improving Force Production
13:10 Training for Aesthetics


Alright, welcome back to the Fitness Edda. In this week’s topic, we’re going to be talking about lifting for runners. As usual, I am your host, Erik Castiglione. Let’s dive in.

So, we’re going to talk about various reasons a runner may want to strength train, and we’re going to go into what that might look like depending on the goal. So, the top three reasons that runners may want to start training with strength weights is for injury prevention, so we’ll talk about the most common injuries that we tend to see with runners. 2nd is improving their performance, whether that’s maintaining better posture, that they’re more efficient, or an ability to increase power. We’ve worked with runners in the past who struggled with hills, so that’s a big gap that we can help fill with strength training.

And then simply aesthetics. You know, sometimes people run, and they do it to lose weight, they do it for various appearance reasons, and they’re not happy with the way they look just by running alone. So, we’ll dive into that a little bit as well.

So first off, when it comes to injuries, it’s important to understand that there’s really two main types. There are your catastrophic, traumatic injuries, which we can do very little to prevent or mitigate. If you are stronger, you’re likely to be more resilient, and you may recover a little bit faster from such things. But what would be an example of this? If you get into a car accident and you suffer pain from that, no amount of training is going to prevent that. Or, for example, my older brother, he’s a Marine, they run all the time, and I don’t know what he stepped on, but he managed to roll his ankle so severely that he broke it. So, there’s really not a lot you can do to prevent those types of injuries.

Most of what we can mitigate through training are what we call overuse injuries. These are things like tendinitis, tendinopathy is really the term that’s used now, pulling muscles, tightness – that stuff can largely be mitigated through training.

When it comes to muscular injuries, things that people, runners typically experience, especially if you’re doing long distances, if you’re training for a marathon, or triathlon, or ultramarathons, anything like that, you may experience some pain in your hip flexors. You may have tight hamstrings, or the front of your shin, that muscle is called the tibialis, when you get shin splints, it’s all right in there. Again, most of this occurs, we call it overuse, you’re using the muscles, but they are not adequately prepared for what you are trying to do with them.

Every single step can be viewed as a repetition with a hip flexor. You are pulling your knee up as you are running. You may get, depending on the degree of how much you’re using, lifting your heels, same thing goes for the hamstrings, and then the foot flexion, that’s all tibialis. That’s when you’re raising your foot. So, if you have not adequately trained these muscles, it’s pretty easy to develop an overuse injury, especially as you tack on some running volume.

This is where strength intervention can help. Doing things like squats will get you in deep hip flexor position. You’re flexing your hips. There’s banded work that you can do specifically to target hip flexors. There’s run drills you can do with a Perform Better band, it’s about that big. It goes around your feet.

You can also do hip flexor raises using a TheraBand. It’s a longer band you tie one end around something. Numerous ways to target this. The same goes for the hamstrings. They are primarily type 2 muscle fibers. They respond better to higher intensity short burst training, so heavy lifts are great for that.

So, with the hip flexors, you typically want to use movements that are going to pull them through a full range of motion, like a deep squat, split squats, this is where single leg work comes in. It’s why a lot of runners really do enjoy lunges and things like that. Anything you can do that puts them through a full range of motion and helps build strength in that, will help alleviate some of that hip flexor pain. By comparison, the amount of load with each step is largely insignificant compared to what you can do with a squat. However, when you accumulate long, long distances, that’s a heck of a lot of reps.

Back to the hamstrings. You know, this is where deadlifts, hamstring curls, all that fun stuff comes in.

Any Romanian deadlift, any hinge variation is going to target your hamstrings. Uhm, same thing. You want to load these up, strengthen that, so by comparison, the amount of load you’re bearing when you’re actually running is trivial in comparison.

The tibialis is a little bit tougher, uhm, you can do plate raises with your actual foot, uhm, trying to lift a weight by flexing your foot, uh, you can do calf raises, which target the antagonistic muscle group, there’s a lot you can do.

The biggest thing with all of these is, you work to strengthen them, and that improves the tolerability of your muscles to handle work, it improves the work capacity of these specific muscles. And you want to train them through a full range of motion, so that by comparison when you are running, the amount of load being borne is decreased, and the range of motion is significantly smaller. So, you have a lot of tolerance on either end. And in that way, it is less likely that you will encounter a muscular injury. You can never prevent it 100%, but we can mitigate that risk.

When it comes to connective tissue, these are your tendons and your ligaments. Typically, if you have joint pain, that’s what you’re experiencing. The big ones for runners, we could probably throw the IT band in here too, but they’re your Achilles tendon, your knee tendons, if you have knee pain, anything in the bursar sacs around your knees. Usually, that’s an issue of overuse from the impact. You’re just absorbing too much force that you’re not prepared to absorb, and you get pain as a result.

So, how do we mitigate this? This is where strength training comes in, and it plays an indirect role. The best thing that you can do to improve your body’s ability to absorb force is plyometric exercises.

Jumps, bounds, all that fun stuff. Jumping rope for two minutes consistently can go a long way to improving your body’s ability, especially of the Achilles tendon, to absorb force.

So, if you’re preparing for a long race and you’re six months out and you haven’t been running, limit the run volume initially. You can get your cardio improved by doing non-load-bearing modalities like rowing, biking, etc., and start prepping the connective tissue by gradually increasing the dosage of the jumps that you’re doing.

And that way when you do start running your body’s primed to handle that kind of impact, and you’re less likely to run into these. And so, the jumps are what’s going to give you the best adaptation to prepare your body. for the impact.

Strength training plays an indirect role here, because the best way that we can prepare our bodies to jump more is by strengthening the structures around them, through strength training. So, we can improve the muscles that tend to get overused through direct strength training, and the ancillary benefits of strength training here is that we can now handle higher jump volume, which in turn will improve our body’s ability to absorb impact, which, let’s face it, every step that you take, it’s a lot of impact, especially if you’re running marathons.

So, at the end of the day, strength training is a great way to mitigate overuse injuries, but again, we can’t prevent them 100%, nor can we prepare really for the catastrophic, traumatic injury that you may encounter just by sheer dumb luck.

Performance. The vast majority of this is going to be driven by your aerobic engine. The better aerobically fit you are, the more likely you’re going to be able to sustain a higher pace. What can we do to try to further improve this? A lot of times, when people’s posture breaks down, they collapse forward, or they arch their back. They’re not in a great position where you’re going to get the most expansion out of your lungs. So, you are already tired, and now you are further inhibiting your ability to breathe.

If you’re not in a great position, you may lose a little bit of your gait. So, by improving our ability to maintain good posture, and hold it for longer, you can kind of stave off the effects of fatigue that are going to further inhibit your ability to breathe.

I do get this question a lot, is there strength training for posture? Yes and no. Any upper back work that you do is going to strengthen that musculature, if you are sitting so hunched over from years of being desk bound or surgery or whatever. You know, my father is a surgeon, and when we first started, it took months of work before naturally his shoulders just kind of sat back a little bit more.

So, on the one hand you can strengthen the upper back muscles, and that will help pull you into a better position, but the other benefit of repeated strength training with the upper back is you’re more aware of your position. It’s the proprioception that comes with it, you’re more aware of where your shoulders are in space, and you can make a better, conscious decision to hold yourself in a better position. So, yes, you need to have the muscular strength and range of motion to achieve those positions, but you also need the self-awareness to get in those positions.

And strength training can accomplish both of those. So, that’s how it can affect posture, and again, hopefully help our distance runners maintain better positions so they don’t get too out of breath too soon.

And then power and speed – your ability to produce force quickly. This is where you will get a lot of benefit from strength training, especially if you are training in such a way, with heavy weights, low repetitions, or training with the intent to build power. Olympic lifts, box squats, any of those where you’re producing force quickly. So, you can increase your top end speed here.

This is why I say, you know, your limiting factor is going to be your aerobic engine. But, if I can operate at 90% of my max speed for a very long time, because I’m not very powerful, but I have a heck of an aerobic engine, or aerobic base, if I can improve my top end speed, then one of two things can happen. Either I can, you know, now maintain 90% of my new top end speed and I’m moving faster, or I’m operating at a lower percentage of the new max, which comparatively should be less effort. In theory, anyway. You know, this is theoretical. In the real world, we encounter confounding variables, we’ll call them.

So, power and speed you can certainly improve through strength training, which will improve your high-end potential, is what we’ll call it. And then, of course, your ability to navigate hills. We have worked with numerous runners who just feel like they get their energy sapped when they’re going uphill, because they’re not powerful enough to accommodate that. And any kind of strength work will help.

Lastly, runners may want to pursue strength training on the side for aesthetic reasons. I know a lot of people get into running because they think it is the most efficient way to lose weight. I have harped on this subject many times in the past, about why that is not the best way to lose weight. That should largely be handled through nutrition.

But suffice it to say, even those that do successfully lose a lot of weight do not get the toned, athletic look that they’re looking for when they’re doing distance. And with good reason. You’re focusing on type 1 muscle fibers, you’re not actually building muscles, and running is highly catabolic. It actually breaks down muscle tissue. So, you know, you get the so-called skinny fat look. And that’s not what a lot of people want. So, they may pursue strength training to improve their muscle mass.

And we just need to be careful here. If you are serious about distance running, the more weight that you carry, the harder that’s going to be. It eats up a lot of oxygen. It’s, I’m 230 pounds. It’s significantly harder for me to run a mile now than when I was 180 pounds. I feel like I’m putting out the same amount of effort, and my time is significantly slower. So, it, it is doable, but it takes a lot more work to make it maintain the speed if you’re putting on muscle mass. So, we do want to be careful with how much we’re training here.

Then again, frankly, if you are doing a crap load of run volume in addition to the strength training, you probably won’t see huge returns on the strength training from a muscular standpoint. Because you’re still highly catabolic in the training that you’re doing. So, you don’t really need to worry about getting too big as a runner.

But certainly, that would be another reason to strength train. And if you’re doing upper body work, again. You’ll get those postural benefits. And you probably won’t build too much mass. But you’ll build enough to feel better about yourself. And you’ll get very little interference.

So, if I’m doing squats, I may want to do those on a non-running day. Ideally, we want to have our strength and our runs separated by at least six hours. So separate days is not a bad idea at all. Whereas, if I’m going to do some upper body lifting, I can probably do that on the same day as my runs because I’m not going to get a whole lot of interference using the same muscles.

So, it is possible to lift for runners. Uhm, again, we just wanted to get into the reasons why a runner may pursue some strength training and give you a very high-level overview of what that might look like, how it can help, and the best ways to go about it. So, this was a super high-level overview. If you have questions about specifics, please give us a comment. We appreciate the feedback.

Give us a like, subscribe, anything for the algorithm. And if you do need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a coach. That’s what we’re here for. We’ll catch you guys next time.

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