Using Weight Training to Increase Your Speed
Cardio and weight training are often seen as opposites. In fact, many people are under the impression that engaging in one form of training can directly counteract all of your hard work in the other. As a result many runners tend to be completely lopsided in their workouts, focusing all of their time and energy on their runs and neglecting other aspects of their overall fitness. Which is not a great thing to do.
In fact, ignoring weight training and dedicating absolutely all of your training time to cardio will not only impact your overall fitness but it could also be holding you back from making some really impressive progress on your runs. Why is weight training important for runners? How can you use this oft-ignored training method effectively in your routine?
Benefits of Lifting
To fully understand the value that strength training holds for runners, it’s important to think about running itself in a slightly different light than you might be used to. Although officially classified as a cardio or endurance workout, running is actually a loadbearing activity. It just so happens that that the load you’re bearing is your own body weight.
Still, each step requires your legs to propel your weight up and forward. And then those same muscles and joints have to catch that weight as your feet meet the ground again. By following a well-designed weight training program, then, you can effectively increase the ease with which your muscle handle that weight. Remember, when you go through you’re lifts, you’ll be working with more weight than you have to move on a run. As a result, your runs will be easier by comparison.
It’s also important to point out that there are actually two forms of endurance. Of course, there’s the cardiovascular type – which is what people usually mean when they simply talk about endurance. Strictly speaking, though, this refers to the ability of your heart to maintain an activity over a prolonged period. Here’s the thing: each of your muscles have their own endurance which deals specifically with their repeat an activity over and over.
Weight training, then, gives you the ability to develop that muscular endurance more effectively than running does. Again, by forcing your muscles to perform a movement over and over under added resistance, the repetition of running will be easier by comparison.
Picking Your Exercises
Of course, these benefits depend on a properly designed weight training routine. And, you may have noticed that these recommendations aren’t dealing with “strength” training. Instead, you’ll want to use those weights to develop power.
While it might seem pedantic, the different between strength and power is pretty significant – especially to athletes. Strength is a muscle’s ability to work against resistance. Power, however, describes that same muscle’s ability to move that same weight quickly. Put simply, power is dynamic strength. The difference can be illustrated if you compare a standard squat to a jump squat.
While you may be able to squat 150 pounds without a problem, could you jump with that same amount of weight on your back? Power, therefore, is much more important to the runner than strength. To develop your power, you’ll want to select dynamic, compound lifts that require you to generate force quickly and coordinate the efforts of several different muscle groups. Squats, deadlifts, thrusters, power cleans, bent-over rows and snatches are perfect lifts for the runner.
Stringing It Together
How, though, can you chain those exercises together to build an effective workout to complement your runs? As mentioned, there are two main benefits that runners can gain from weight training: endurance and power. The problem, though, is that each of those goals require two very different training methods.
Building explosive power requires you to lift heavy weights at 3 reps for about 3 sets. Endurance, logically, is kind of at the other end of the spectrum. For that, you’ll want to get your reps to 15 or higher – which also means working with a much lower weight.
So, once you have your exercises selected, how can you work toward both of those goals without spending hours upon hours in the weightroom? A technique called “pyramid sets” can get that done. To follow a pyramid, your workout would look like this:
- Perform a set of 3 reps. Rest for 90 seconds.
- Reduce the weight. Perform a set of 8 reps. Rest for 90 seconds.
- Reduce the weight. Perform a set of 15 reps. Rest for 90 seconds.
- Repeat with the next exercise.
Granted, these guidelines are fairly general. And that is entirely on purpose. Since you are a runner who also lifts, it’s important that these lifting sessions work around your standard training routine and fit your individual circumstances.
Generally, you would only want to perform this kind of cross-training once or twice each week. It’s important to remember, though, that these workouts are meant to complete- not compete with – your running. If your lifting starts to get in the way, either because you’re too sore or because you don’t have room for both in your schedule, then something needs to change.
Keep in mind, as well, that you don’t absolutely need to get your hands on an Olympic bar to incorporate weight training into your routine. In fact, body weight training can also be an effective method which requires very little extra equipment. Just remember that if you do opt for body weight workouts, you’ll have to get creative to find variations of the exercises that are challenging enough to build the power that you’re looking for.