Author bio: This article is brought to you by Caroline Geoghegan at Run With Caroline. Caroline is a qualified personal trainer, running coach and a 5k, 10k and half marathon runner. She helps people become stronger, faster and more motivated runners.
Running alone will only get you so far if you’re trying to improve your half marathon performance and times. It is for this reason that I am a huge advocate for strength training for distance runners.
Strength training is essential for any distance runner looking to improve their endurance, power, stamina and speed.
You can think of strength training as a way to build a strong and solid foundation so your body feels supported through all types of training.
It helps you build stronger muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues. It also helps to improve your speed and power and lowers your risk of injury – which is a huge plus for any distance runner!
Furthermore, if you’re worried about your running form, strength training is also great for distance runners looking to improve their running form and efficiency.
So if you’re wondering what to do next in your training, why not include ancillary work like strength training in your plan and run faster and stronger for longer.
Here are five strength training tips for distance runners to help you crush your next half marathon.
If you’re new to strength training, you’re probably wondering where to start. Strength training doesn’t need to be complicated.
Start with some simple body weight exercises like air squats and forward lunges.
Body weight exercises are great for beginners because you don’t need any equipment to do them – your body weight is the resistance/weight.
They can also be done virtually anywhere – at the gym, from the comfort of your own home and even outdoors!
The key with any strength training for distance runners is to focus on full body strength exercises and workouts that target your core.
Forget about workout routines that focus on arms one day and legs the next. A well rounded strength training plan for distance runners should ideally focus on movements that mimic running mechanics.
Once you’ve mastered some simple strength exercises for runners, you can then start to look at incorporating equipment – more on this below.
Add some weight
Progression in the form of added weight, difficulty and resistance is incredibly important when it comes to strength training.
This is so your body avoids getting used to a particular workout or hitting a plateau in your training.
Added weight in the form of equipment is the most popular form of progression. Kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, a weighted backpack and even kitchen condiments can all be used to make a workout more difficult.
Whether you choose a 4kg kettlebell over a 12kg kettlebell depends on your fitness levels, where you are in your training plan and type of exercise you are doing.
Not everyone has access to multiple weights. That’s why I recommend buying equipment like dumbbells if you’re starting out.
Dumbbells are really versatile and you can buy adjustable dumbbell sets nowadays that offer different levels of weight.
Medicine balls are also very flexible and can be used in a number of different exercises.
If you don’t have access to equipment, get creative! Milk cartons, water bottles, weighted backpacks and shopping bags are all examples of weights you can use at home.
Build a habit
As with running, you need to be consistent with your strength training in order to see the benefits on the race track.
Each session should ideally last between 30-60 minutes and focus on all body movements, as described above.
Here is a sample strength training session using body weight exercises. It targets full body strength and your core.
Do three sets of each exercise and take one minute rest in between each exercise.
- Air squat (10-12 reps)
- Forward lunge (10-12 reps)
- Hip bridge (10-12 reps)
- Plank (hold for 30 seconds)
- Push up (10 reps)
- Russian twist (10 reps)
And here is a sample strength training session using added weight in the form of dumbbells using your desired weight. Again, it targets full body strength and your core.
Do three sets of each exercise and take 1 minute rest in between each exercise.
- Deadlift (10 reps)
- Weighted squat and press (10 reps)
- Weighted lunge forward step up (10 reps)
- Weighted hip bridge (10 reps)
- Bent over row (10 reps)
- Side plank with weight (5 reps each side, 10 reps total)
It’s best to complete a strength training session before or after a rest day. Some runners even do them after an easy run, but it depends on your preferences.
This way you don’t tire yourself out before a long run and give your body adequate time to rest and recover.
Don’t forget your core
Improving your core strength by doing core strength exercises is a must for any distance runner.
Your core is important as a runner as it enables you to hold a strong and stable position for longer.
The muscles in your back, stomach and hips are key components for good core strength and all work together to create good running form and posture.
They also help you run upright, transfer energy and distribute the stress of bearing weight on two legs whilst you run.
There are some common core exercises for runners that you can include in your training plan.
You can either do them in a focused core strength session, or set aside 10-15 minutes at the end of your main session and focus on them then.
Prevention is better than the cure
Strength training helps to combat a lot of common running injuries like runner’s knee, IT band syndrome and shin splints.
Unfortunately, the injury rate in a lot of half marathoners is still pretty high. This is why strength training should be an integral part of any training routine.
The fact remains, strength training helps to dramatically reduce the risk of injury in a lot of distance runners. Studies have even shown that strength training helps to cure IT band syndrome!
The benefits of implementing an effective strength training strategy are clear. So, what are you waiting for? Start your strength training journey today to run stronger and avoid niggling injuries for good.