What does meaningful strength training for runners look like?

2. May 2019

For ambitious runners it’s clear: strength training is part of the programme. But what does sensible strength training for runners look like?

It is actually quite simple: endurance training strengthens the heart, circulatory system and metabolism; strength training builds up the muscles. A regular runner should therefore specifically train both. The most important questions and answers at a glance:

How much strength training per week makes sense? 

Foot muscle and stabilisation exercises using your own body weight can be easily performed on a daily basis. Endurance athletes should not do real strength training with weights more than three times a week. Depending on the individual requirements, a mixture of hypertrophy training and strength endurance training makes the most sense.

Does it make sense for endurance athletes to do maximum strength training? 

Maximum strength training is strength training at an extremely high intensity, i.e. using the heaviest weights, so that only 1 to 3 repetitions are possible. It therefore makes sense for endurance athletes to combine maximum strength training with hypertrophy training (highest circumference increase in the muscles) if injuries and/or performance deficits indicate that there is not enough muscle strength for the running motion sequence. Usually, however, exercises that allow 10 to 15 repetitions are sufficient.

Can you do strength training throughout the year? 

General strength training can certainly be done throughout the year. However, strength training with heavy weights can temporarily reduce your running performance. So, you should stop doing strength training at least two weeks before a competition and runners who are inexperienced in strength training should stop even earlier beforehand. Strength training can be easily integrated into your annual programme, preferably during the preparatory phase or when there are no competitions on the horizon.

Strength training before or after running training? 

On each respective training day, you should start with the training that you want to place particular emphasis on. Thus, if you want to make progress with regards to muscle strength and strength training constitutes the most important training measure, then start with that and run a few kilometres afterwards. If the focus is primarily on the effects of endurance and your strength training only serves to maintain your previously gained skills, then complete the continuous run first and lift a few weights afterwards. It goes without saying that you already need to be well trained if you want to complete two units on the same day.

How long should the break be after strength training? 

Strength training, especially when done in the so-called hypertrophy zone (i.e. at extremely high intensities), taxes the muscles significantly more than endurance training. This is why a break of 48 to 72 hours is advisable after strength training. 

How should you do sensible strength training? 

Strength training should first start with a warm-up programme of approximately 15 minutes. Strength training itself usually consists of several exercises which – if done dynamically – are completed in series. Depending on the weight selected, series of 1 to more than 100 repetitions are conceivable. Doing a few repetitions with appropriately heavy weights is called maximum strength training (intramuscular coordination training). If it is possible to do around 8 to 15 repetitions, then this is referred to as hypertrophy training, since the volume growth of the muscles is at its highest within this intensity range. So-called strength endurance training is when you do around 20 to 40 repetitions. In this instance, you train both your strength and ability to use this strength over a longer period of time. It is possible to do 50 repetitions and more when there is even less resistance. In this case, it is referred to as inter-muscular coordination training. 

What do beginners need to watch out for when doing strength training?

As is always the case with a methodologically sound training programme, strength training starts with easy exercises and moves on to difficult ones. A new exercise starts with inter-muscular coordination training, which is then performed in the strength endurance zone for a while, and then further intensified right up to the hypertrophy zone. The maximum strength zone is not usually required for amateur endurance athletes. 

How beneficial are exercises using your own body weight? 

Using your own body weight for strength training is a desirable and easily accessible form of training. However, the dosage is not quite so simple because many exercises do not easily lend themselves to much variation. In the case of effective and popular plank exercises, which are mainly isometric and done in static positions, the load can be varied by merely changing the leverage (planking on your arms and feet with outstretched knees, or on your arms and knees). 

How beneficial is strength training in a fitness centre? 

Doing exercises on equipment in a fitness centre is popular and rightly so. They allow you to strengthen virtually every muscle in your body. However, understanding your own muscular weaknesses is a prerequisite for sensible training. And these are not easy to determine. It is often difficult to define which muscle in a chain of several is too weak, whereby its function needs to be partly taken over by other muscles. Good support in a fitness centre is therefore by all means important.

Dumbbell training at home, yes or no?

Dumbbell training is a highly effective form of strength training and is therefore particularly popular with top athletes. Dumbbell training can completely train muscle chains (e.g. squats), uses the auxiliary muscles (for balancing the weight), and the movements can be varied at will and adapted to those of your core sport. Such training can be easily done at home and particularly keeps the financial outlay in check. For beginners, disadvantages lie in the high coordination requirements. It is therefore best to get instruction from an expert at the beginning to ensure you perform the exercises accurately.