Knowledge Base Running Strength Training

Strength Training for Runners

Everyone needs strength, that’s clear. But should you train strength on machines, with free weights or with your own body weight? Does strength training come before or after running? How long does it take to recover from muscle training? Here is an overview of the different options.



How should endurance athletes best train their muscles?

No question, people need muscles, otherwise they would not even be able to sit on a chair at rest. Strong muscles are also a necessity for athletes. Endurance training strengthens the heart, circulation and metabolism. Strength training strengthens the muscles. A runner needs both. But it is equally true that fast running and large muscles can only be combined to a limited extent. Really fast runners are generally slim and thinly built. So the question arises as to how runners should best train strength. The most important points at a glance:

General information about strength training

Strength training usually consists of several exercises that are completed in the form of sets. Depending on the weight selected, series of 1 to more than 100 repetitions are conceivable. If the number of repetitions is low and the weights are correspondingly heavy, this is maximum strength training (intramuscular coordination training). When you do 8 to 15 repetitions, this is known as hypertrophy training. The increase in muscle volume is highest in this intensity range. The so-called strength endurance training takes place at repetition numbers of around 20 to 40. Here, in addition to the actual strength, the ability to use this strength over a longer period of time is also trained. Even lower weights allow repetitions of 50 or more. In this case, it is less strength training and more intermuscular coordination training.

Strength training is progressive from the light to the heavy. Introduce a new exercise via intermuscular coordination training. Lift a low weight in the strength endurance range before you work up to the hypertrophy range. The actual maximal strength range is usually not required for recreational endurance athletes.

Between the individual sets (usually 2 to 3), you need to rest. Rests are longer the more intense the loads were. In hypertrophy training, rests of 5 minutes may be required. Once a muscle is completely fatigued, you should not continue to load that muscle. In strength endurance training, breaks are in the range of 45 to 90 seconds.

Do endurance athletes need maximum strength training?

Maximum strength training is strength training with the highest intensities, i.e. the heaviest weights. Hypertrophy training (i.e. body building, highest increase in muscle size), is when you lift weights 8 to 15 times per set. Such training naturally has an effect on maximum strength. However, the actual maximum strength training means even higher weights, and only 3 to 1 repetitions are possible.

For endurance athletes, a combination of maximum strength training and hypertrophy training makes sense when maximum performance peaks have to be achieved at short notice (i.e. surging in the middle of a race). Or injuries and/or performance gaps indicate that there is a lack of muscle strength when running. Particularly delicate muscle groups are the hip abductors (middle and small gluteal muscles), which are responsible for safely stabilizing the pelvis on the respective standing leg. In most cases, however, weights that allow repetitions of 10 to 15 will suffice.

You can incorporate strength training in your routine year round. However, it is important to be aware that such training can temporarily reduce running performance. Therefore, you should rest a minimum of two weeks before a competition, and even more for runners who are inexperienced in strength training. Another good idea is to integrate strength training into your annual program in the form of one or more blocks. Preferably, during the build-up phase or the non-competition period.

What are the benefits of body weight exercises?

Your body weight is a useful tool for strength training because it is readily available and can be used at any time and in any place, even during a running workout on the road. However, the dosage is not that easy. With many body weight exercises a real variation of the load is not possible. This is particularly true with the effective and popular support exercises, which are usually performed isometrically, i.e. without movement. In these exercises, the load can only be varied by changing the lever ratios. However, these exercises have the advantage of integrating the whole body, which results in a practical load on the muscles. Complex exercises with a sequence of movements using one’s own body weight are useful. With these exercises you improve not only your strength but mobility and coordination at the same time.

Which are the advantages of the gym?

Exercises on machines in the gym are popular, and not without reason. Training on machines allows you to strengthen virtually every muscle individually. And because the machines guide the movements nicely, there’s not that much that can go wrong. This is why for general and versatile strengthening, using machines in the gym can be a good option.

The prerequisite for a targeted workout, however, is knowing your own muscular weaknesses. You should also consider which muscle in a chain of several (e.g. extensor chain of the leg, consisting of toe flexors, calf muscles, knee extensors, hip extensors) is too weak, so that its function has to be partially taken over by other muscles. This is often difficult to define. Thus, in many cases it may make more sense to strengthen the muscles as a whole in their actual movement and not in isolation. In the gym, people often train individual muscles separately. Whether this is ultimately an advantage or disadvantage for runners is uncertain.

Strength training: free weights vs. machines?

Strength training before or after running training?

You should always schedule the most important training stimulus first. If you want to progress in terms of muscle strength and strength training is the most important training measure, start with strength and run a few kilometers afterwards. It is the opposite if your main goal for the day is endurance and the strength training is only to maintain previously acquired skills. In this case, you should run first and then do some strength training. In any case, you need to be well-trained if you want to complete two units on the same day.

How long should you recover from strength training?

Strength training, especially if it goes into the so-called hypertrophy range (i.e. it is performed at quite high intensities), clearly puts more strain on the muscles than endurance training. Therefore, after strength training, a break of 48 to 72 hours is advisable before the next similar program can be completed. Endurance athletes can train daily, and in the case of top athletes, even twice-daily without any problems. Strength training requires a more cautious approach. Otherwise, there is a great risk of overload and the desired progress will not be made. A basic rule for endurance athletes is to not do true strength training more than three times a week. This rule does not apply to many body weight and gymnastic exercises in the strength endurance range. You can perform these strength exercises as often as desired.

Dumbbell training at home?

Dumbbell training is a highly effective form of strength training and is particularly popular with top athletes. With dumbbell training you can work on complete muscle chains. For example with squats, you use auxiliary muscles (balancing the weight) and movements can be modified as desired and adapted to those of the core sport. Such training can be easily implemented at home, especially since the cost is reasonable. Disadvantages for the beginner are the high coordinative requirements and the necessary knowledge of how the exercises have to be done. It is considerably more difficult to perform an exercise cleanly with a free barbell than it is to move a lever around a defined axis on a machine, as in a gym.

In summary, strength training is an important to indispensable addition to the endurance program and should be performed two to three times a week, at best in blocks. The closer the movements performed in strength training are to those required in the primary sport, the more effective it will be.

Strength Training for Runners: Tips from Viktor Röthlin


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