Head Coach, runninglane.com
Because muscular endurance is our focus of attention for distance running I feel one of the most effective ways to increase your conditioning is by gradually building muscle tone and strength. If you prefer traditional weight lifting the best approach will be to work your way up to greater and greater resistance. If you prefer body-weight exercises, a beneficial method is to use ballistic exercises in your routine (P90X, for example).
Regardless of which method you choose the goal is to compliment your running. Do not lift more than your body will allow! Be aware of your limits and stay within them to avoid injury. As with all exercises there is a risk of injury in the gym and you should consult a physician if you are unsure of what is a safe routine for you.
The biggest benefit of traditional weight lifting is the opportunity to isolate specific muscles and muscle groups. In ballistic programs the greatest benefit is the stimulation of balance and promotion of coordination. Both of these approaches are vital to good running. To combine the two, I’m a fan of free-weights and resistance-bands for several exercises because they trigger the stabilizer muscles along with the primary muscle groups.
For example: if you lie with your back straight and flat on a bench press, firmly gripping 10lb dumbbells, you can press the dumbbells up and down. As the arm moves away from your body you are forced to stabilize the motion while also lifting the weights. This encourages strength and tone in the muscle while cementing coordination in the movement. A typical exercise on the bench press will be to lift the dumbbells 10 times, rest for two minutes, then repeat.
To get stronger and see progress in your routine you will have to SLOWLY build up your total number of repetitions and the weight you lift. As you select your initial weight or resistance band, stay with that resistance and number of repetitions for 5 sessions (working every other day) before increasing for another 5 sessions.
You should never increase the weight you lift by more than 20% per cycle. For example if you lift 10 lb dumbbells for 10 repetitions and two sets, at the end of your five session cycle you will increase the weight. This means you may go to the 12 lb dumbbell for two sets of 10 reps. Or you may stay with 10 lb dumbbells and increase your number of lifts to two sets of 12 reps. Either choice is an improvement and each represents a 20% increase in work. These principles can be carried out in every aspect of your strength training routine.
A great example of ballistic exercise is the “10-Minute Trainer” program distributed by Beachbody LLC. I do not endorse any single workout because I believe everyone needs to find a routine that works best for them, but the “10-Minute Trainer” provides an introduction to ballistic exercises that most people can understand and keep up with. The goal is always to be moving with a purpose and in a way that builds strength and balance.
Finally we come to core work. This is the single most vital area for quality running. However it also poses the greatest risk for most people because of the stress a core workout can put on the lower back. Ab crunches are the classic exercise for building the core. Personally I recommend using “plank” exercises because they are much safer for your back. A quick internet search will produce infinite pictures to show various plank exercises. Try a few and find the ones that are comfortable for you, then focus on keeping your core strong as you hold yourself still.
These examples should give you an idea of what to look for in an exercise routine. Again, I cannot stress this enough, the goal in any strength training program is to compliment your running. It should not push you to a point where you risk injury! Explore the options and feel free to ask our coaches for their opinions. Once your find you routine, stay committed and you’ll see the results.