Slow and steady wins the race. Well, not always but it’s the best way to strengthen your connective tissue and prevent injuries. As runners we’ve all heard that we should do strength training using body weight and light weights with lots of repetitions. I’ve said this myself many times. Lifting light weight with high reps is a great way for runners to improve strength, endurance, and maintain lean muscles. It’s definitely something you should be doing to maintain core and upper body strength.
But it’s not the only type of strength training you should be doing and if you’re really struggling to just get your runs in, due to other obligations, lifting heavy is an avenue you should seriously consider.
Lifting heavy will improve your speed and reduce your injury risk. It will help you power up steep climbs and prepare your legs for the steep pounding descents. You’re speed increases because your power increases. You’re injury risk is decreased specifically to your tendons and ligaments. Heavy lifting is the only evidence-based way to prevent injuries to those tissues. Injury to those tissues equals time off of running and usually more than you’d like since blood flow to tendons and ligaments isn’t as good as it is to muscles, so they heal slower.
Heavy lifting means you are lifting close to your maximal effort. It’s obviously going to be different for everyone and don’t be embarrassed about where your max effort is when you start. It’s essential that you lift slow and use the correct form for each lift. You don’t have to lift the weight very many times 4-6 repetitions is enough and 2-4 sets is enough. What’s great about this, is you don’t have to do a full body workout. Major benefits can be seen with 1-2 different lifts done daily. If you’re going to be doing several different lifts 2-3 times a week is enough, but you still shouldn’t be doing a full body work out.
The best lifts to include for runners are squats and deadlifts. There are many different types of squats you can use, but there are two that will help you, as a runner, the most. First, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. You can use either two dumbbells or a single barbell. With dumbbells you’ll want to make sure you keep them in the same position in both hands. They should be held at shoulder height with your forearms facing forward. If you use a barbell it should be on your shoulders. Now squat. Remember to keep it slow and controlled on the down and the up. Your knees should not go out in front of your toes, which means your butt has to come back, like sitting in a chair. Don’t bend forward.
The second squat is split squats. You can use either the dumbbells or a full barbell, which should be held in the same position as for the squat I just described. Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart. Take a step forward with one leg. Squat straight down, keeping your back straight. Again, your knee should not go in front of your toes and if you’re off balance tighten your abs. If your knee waves in and out pull in your glutes and really focus on keeping your legs solid. If you can’t maintain good form, lower the weight or you’ll hurt your knees. Raise your self up and down for the set and then switch legs.
Deadlifts are done with a barbell. If you’re not able to put plates on the ends, set both ends up on something no more than 4-6 inches off the floor. Step up close to the bar. Your feet will be below the bar. Bend your knees while keeping your back in a neutral position. Lift the bar with both hands by straightening your legs and moving your hips forward. Lock your hips and knees (squeeze your glutes). Return the bar to the floor by moving your hips back and bending your knees. Keep your back in a neutral position.
Heavy lifting like this won’t bulk up your legs and make you slow because you do a lot more running than lifting. If you were to stop running then you would see gains in the mass of your muscles.