Welcome to the our first Q&A section. Every two weeks we pick one question from our subscribers list and answer it here in detail. Answers will be personalized and addressed specifically to the person asking. It can be any type of questions, from training, nutrition, health, specific race in Japan or anywhere else, very general or very specific, you define it. In other words, the content of this Q&A category is made by you ! If you too would like to have your question published here and  answered, please subscribe and send us an email !

Our first question is coming from Bob P, a veteran and experienced runner who has been running for more than 20 years, an age grouper in his sixties, training mainly for 10k’s and Half Marathons. He currently runs about 8 hours a week for a total of about 80km. His question goes:

How important is weight and core training for running? If important, how many times a week, and about how long for each session?

 

Strength training serves many purposes for runners. It helps correct muscle imbalance, keep a balance functional body and maintaining skeletal muscle mass. For you Bob, the latter is the most important because as you age, especially after the age of 40, we tend to naturally loose muscle mass, which contributes to decreased metabolism and eventually naturally gaining body fat if we don’t adjust food intake. Running is such a repetitive movement that if we don’t take care of our body we will over-develop the running muscles and underuse those non-running specific ones. More importantly, as most of us have desk job, we tend to develop muscle imbalances that we carry through running. The typical example is the use of the Gluteus group muscles that are usually weak among runners. They tend not to know how to “fire” them properly and overuse their hamstrings instead.

So what should you do?

It all depends on where in the season you’re at, your current strength status and the type of event you’re training for. We can roughly separate strength training into two categories: General strength and functional strength.

General strength are exercises that are not running specific and challenges the body in a very general manner, it can be bodyweight or with external weights. Typical example would be push-ups, planks, barbell squats etc. They are not running specific because the way they challenge us is very different from what running demands on our body. First when we run, our spine is never in a neutral position, we’re never standing on both feet, and we’re not lying on the ground ! So for these exercises, the law of diminishing return kicks in quickly. Would you gain from learning how to do 10 push-ups? I would say yes, and not only for runners but for everyone and your daily life in general. 100 push-ups? Probably not for runners. You want to do general strength early in the season, long before your A-race (your most important race).

What about loads, reps, sets for heavy lifting? And why?

If you’re just starting barbell deadlifts for example, you want to start learning the proper form with the empty bar. Then you increase the load until you can get 10 to 12 reps nice and clean for 2 to 3 sets. Once you get familiar, it is time to build your strength capacity. To do so, go for lower reps, about 5 to 8 maximum, longer rest between sets and about 3 to 5 sets. As for why would you want to increase strength? Simply because it will translate to better running economy. If you are able to squat 90kg vs 40kg, then carrying a body weight of 70kg will represent a lower percentage of your max capacity, it is as simple as that.

Functional/specific strength training are exercises that are very close to running in terms of physiological demand. For example single leg squats, jumping lunges with core balance etc. Basically plyometric exercises that are performed standing, on a split stance or single leg, requires upper body coordination with the spine in motion. You want to do these exercises later in the season when you’re approaching your main race.

How often? Ideally you want to aim for two to three times a week, about 30min per session. You don’t need much more as this is supplemental. The purpose is to get your body adapt to a type of stress that are running specific and that can help during the latter stage of a race. You legs will be inevitably fatigued at the 38th km of a marathon, but your upper body can still remain strong, and that will make a big difference when your brain will have to deal with muscle leg fatigue vs whole body fatigue.

 

An example of a good exercise that targets the glutes, the core strength, coordination, balance and power would be jumping lunges with internal hip rotation.

Jumping lunge

  • Start from the end of a lunge position, left foot forward
  • Jump and switch leg while in the air, right foot now forward.

Hip internal rotation

  • Start from the end of a lunge position, left foot forward
  • Hold your hands together in front of you, parallel to the ground.
  • Drive your arms together to the left by rotating from the hip, arms still parallels to the ground

Now combine the two movements:

  • From a lunge position, left foot forward, torso and arms to the left rotated from the hip
  • Jump and switch position while midair to land in the opposite position: right foot forward and arms rotated to the right.

This is a very difficult and challenging exercise. Of course you don’t have to do this to run a personal best, but the idea is to find a type of functional workout that challenges most of the secondary physical demands of running. It will make you a well-rounded and balanced athlete.

 

In a nutshell, the benefits are:

  • Maintain lean muscle mass (crucial after the age of 40)
  • Improve running economy
  • Avoid muscle imbalance
  • Maintain mobility and general strength
  • Help prevent running injuries

Feel free to leave a comment or ask any questions !

 

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Harrisson

Otaku Ultramarathoner - Strength & Conditioning NASM Certified Personal Trainer - NAASFP certified Running Coach - Pn1 Nutrition Coach

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Q&A #1 from Bob P.

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