Coach Mike Mead

Strength Training  Basics for Runners

There has been a lot written over the past 10 years about the benefits of strength training and cross training for runners. I’ve talked about cross training in a previous installment (September 2004), but want to focus this article on strength training.

Years ago there was a cartoon strip that joked how distance runners looked like they fell out the back of an ambulance. Most people think of distance runners as long and lanky -- perhaps 90-pound weaklings. If you run regularly, you’re not necessarily a 90-pound weakling.

If you want to run faster you have to get stronger! If you’re running regularly the legs will be okay, but what about your upper body and core? Granted, you don’t need arms like the Hulk, but you don’t want pencil-sized arms either.

Many of us are too busy to work in regular visits to the gym or health club, or are more fiscally conservative (cheap) and typically don’t want to pay monthly fees. Besides, who wants to battle the bodybuilders over a few dumbbells? However, you need to have some sort of a strength training program.

If your life is fast-paced like my life, there is nothing like the basics of strength training to make you more of a complete runner. You don’t need any fancy machines or bulky weights to get stronger.

Spend four or five times a week getting in the basics. What are the basics, you ask? We’ll that would be push-ups, pull-ups, dips and crunches. Do crunches rather than sit-ups because I’ve heard various experts over the years advise sit-ups to be harmful to the lower back if done improperly.

Just like with weight training, start out easy. With pull-ups and dips, do one set (8-10, or as many as you can) of each and work up to three or four sets. With push-ups and crunches, try to get in 20-30 the first time and work at getting into the triple-digits in repetitions as you get stronger.

There are variations to these basic exercises, but do the one you’re most comfortable doing provided you are doing it correctly. Be sure to do them with proper technique and control. Pull-up and dips might be harder to do if you don’t have access to the proper equipment. But you can improvise using a strong tree limb to do pull-ups or using a chair to do a variation of a dip.

Just like running, the key to gaining upper body strength is consistency. Don’t expect to bulk up doing these basics, but do expect to become a more efficient runner.