Last week I had a request to write about strength training. Because we all know that strength training is the way to avoid injury right? Well, not always.
I’ve been doing some strength training twice a week for a while now. I had a break after Edinburgh but built back up again as my miles built up. I’ve definitely gotten stronger and hopefully this will translate to getting a bit faster.
I do a mixture of bodyweight exercises and weights, generally free weights (so not the machines) concentrating on core and run specific muscle groups and movements. It’s been fun to see some improvement and do something different.
I have three points about strength training for runners:
Firstly, you’re a runner. If you’re doing this stuff to help your running, it shouldn’t hinder it.
So while it might be fun to see how heavy you can lift, that’s not your primary goal here. If what you do in the gym is having a negative impact on your next run workout, you need to back off it a bit.
It frustrates me when I see people saying they’ve been to the gym and now ‘can’t lift my arms’ or ‘can’t walk down stairs’. That’s not going to be good come tomorrow’s long run.
Secondly, know what you’re doing. Ask a friend who knows their stuff, ask an instructor in the gym to check your form or get a PT session with someone who understands runners (see point above).
On Monday I went to the gym and watched two women. One was obviously new to the gym and nervous. She kept checking her phone for the next thing she was supposed to do and picked up some 1kg weights which were was too light for her (and most people). I wanted to step in and help her, but I didn’t want to scare her off or step on the gym staff’s toes.
Then a woman next to me was doing some weighted squats but her form wasn’t good. Her knees were coming in and way too far forward as she squatted, her heels lifting off the ground and one foot turning in.
Again, I didn’t step in, and so it serves me right that later that day I got an ache in my back that got more and more painful. Karma for not stepping in, or the result of me paying too much attention to everyone else and not enough to what I was doing? Either way I felt pretty stupid that my week’s running had been jeopardised by something I was doing to help my training.
Finally, don’t get sucked in by ‘fun’ sounding 30-day challenges like 500 kettlebell swing a day, or 50 million push-ups a fortnight. I get why these appeal to people – they’re a time specific goal with a daily action that sounds challenging but achievable.
But they don’t serve any purpose other than bragging rights. There’s no point for an average runner doing 500 of any exercise other than putting one foot in front of the other, and there’s no way your form is going to hold out for that many reps.
Is you want to do something every day to help your running, give yourself a 30-day challenge that will actually help. Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth at night – top teeth left leg, bottom teeth right leg. Once this gets easy, write your phone number with your free foot at the same time. It’s less Instagram brag worthy but it will make a difference.
So when when someone tells you that strength training is the key to ‘staying injury free’ that comes with some caveats and isn’t always about lifting big weights.