Strength training is something that all runners know they should do in theory, but in actual practice it tends to be half-hearted at best. Here's a common scenario: you start a new training program and you tell yourself that you're going to strength train "2-3 times a week". Maybe you stick with it for a week or two. Somewhere around week 3 you might skip a strength training session altogether, or decide to cut a workout short. Another week or so will go by and you'll start saying things to yourself like "Why should I work out my legs? I run, that's enough", or "Strengthening my arms isn't going to help my running" and these will be good enough excuses for you to ditch your strength session. Pretty soon you'll have gone weeks without doing so much as a push up. Sound familiar?
As runners, we often have trouble committing to anything that isn't running, even if we know we should. There's this mindset that if you want to get better at running, then all you need to do is run more. But that isn't necessarily true. Strength training has been proven to increase running economy, improve overall running form, and decrease risk of injury. On top of that, strength training builds lean muscle, which increases your metabolism, even at rest. At the end of the day, strength training helps you to be able to run at a higher intensity for longer periods of time, and you'll expend less energy to run a given distance.
To see the benefits of a strength routine, aim to strength train 2-3 times a week, on non-consecutive days. A good routine will include a mix of stabilization exercises (single-leg squats, single-leg dead lifts), core exercises (plank variations, v-ups), and explosive plyometric exercises (burpees, squat jumps). Make sure to include all muscle groups to get a full body workout. And try to vary your workout every couple weeks. The change will keep your body guessing, and keep you from getting bored of the same ol' routine.
I have made strength training a priority. I am currently incorporating moderate to heavy weights 4-5 times a week, in addition to 3-4 mid-distance (5-10 mile) runs. Marathon training does not start for me until the end of June, so I am using this time to build a solid foundation of lean muscle. I have seen first hand how it has improved my running. "Hard" paces feel easier (still not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but easier). I find that I do not get fatigued as quickly, and recover much faster than I did when I did not strength train as often.
Do you have a go-to strength routine? Tell me about it!