Q: Why should I incorporate strength training into my running training? And what are the best ways/exercises to do that?
A: So. Many. Reasons.
For starters, imagine two people training for their first half marathon. One is strong, the other weak. Who's more durable and more likely to handle the increase in mileage without getting injured?
At a minimum, you've got to be able to tolerate forces equivalent to 2.5 times your bodyweight per stride. For a 150lb person, this is 375lbs of force. Go run 1 mile and you quickly accumulate about 750,000 lbs of force. You're welcome to do the math if you're a marathoner, but the facts are clear: you need to be VERY strong in order to tolerate the loading that comes along with this sport.
The well-intentioned runner who wants to incorporate speed training to get faster, would actually be wise to start with strength training, THEN add in speed work. Strength forms the base on top of which speed can happen. It doesn't work in reverse.
Oh, and let's briefly talk hormones. Testosterone is a key hormone when it comes to performance. It helps you not only perform at a high level, but recover more quickly between hard sessions, too. Well, distance running alone will not help you acquire the levels of testosterone needed to do this. In fact, high mileage may even reduce testosterone levels. So what's a runner to do? Reach for some sort of cream? Heck no. Lift something heavy a couple times each week!
So let's sum up: strength training is for those who want to run longer or faster, without being chronically injured. There is no speed without strength and there is no endurance without strength.
Which exercises work the best?
I think it's important to note that I don't know you and I don't know your history so it's impossible for me to tell you exactly what to do. If you have little experience in this area, I would recommend seeking help from a qualified strength coach.
With that in mind, you can't go wrong mastering some fundamental human movements. To keep things very simple, we'll focus on four: crawling, the squat, the hip hinge, and the carry.
I bet in 10 years you'll see way more people doing this, but right now be prepared to a) get some weird looks in the gym and b) beat them in a race. Crawling is a developmental movement pattern we all do when we are around one or two years old and it works like magic to develop our shoulder, core, and hip integrity, but mainly it prepares us to walk and eventually run.
Simply stated, since crawling precedes walking and running, if you can't crawl beautifully, then chances are you can't run beautifully.
For strength training, try the Leopard Crawl. Keep your knees only an inch off the ground and your head held high, eyes looking forward. Be sure to lift and place your hands and feet and avoid holding your breath as you crawl. You can crawl forward, backward, sideways, in circles, just play around!
Beginners should learn the Goblet Squat, while more advanced trainees should progress towards the Barbell Front Squat. Both variations of the squat really challenge your abs to brace reflexively while strengthening your hips, which is something the average runner certainly needs.
The Hip Hinge / Deadlift
I can't stress how important it is to groove a good pattern without weights FIRST. Remember the suggestion about working with a coach? Just like with running form, what you think you're doing and what you're actually doing may be two different things. So, learn how to hinge at your hips and not with your back. Use a video if necessary.
Beginners can start with glute bridges, then progress to hip thrusts, single leg hip thrusts, and soon enough, barbell glute bridges. All are safe, simple, highly effective exercises that will strengthen your backside tremendously.
Goldthorp’s client Faye Hellman demonstrates a barbell glute bridge. It’s no coincidence that Hellman PR'd in the bridge (215lbs) AND the mile (5:26) at the Saucony Mile in June.
Soon, though, you'll really benefit by learning to deadlift properly. The deadlift strengthens too many muscles to list, but primarily targets the muscles along the back of the body. You know, the ones that grow weak from sitting all day. Posture, butt muscles, core strength, force production, and more, it's all in there!
The Farmer Carry and Suitcase Carry are my go-to choices because they’re simple and hugely effective at building strength. For the Farmer Carry, just hold a heavy weight in each hand and walk. The Suitcase Carry is exactly how it sounds, walk with a weight in one hand – and notice how tight your core gets on the other side of your body!
The rules for both of these movements are to maintain great posture at all times and don't allow your feet to cross paths. I usually recommend choosing a weight you can carry with great form for 20-60 seconds.
As runners we really just want to run, but to get faster and be able to keep running for a lifetime, strength training is essential.
John Goldthorp is the founder of Fix Your Run, a specialized fitness coaching business that helps runners become faster and less prone to injury. Recently named "Philly's Best Running Coach" by Philadelphia Magazine, he currently works with clients at Optimal Sport 1315 in Center City, online at FixYourRun.com, and leads weekly group speed training sessions at PhillySurgeRunning.com.