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Cross-training for runners: strength training

by Caroline44
Monday 29th February 2016
Where do I go?
The Athlete Centre in Osney Mead, Oxford (www.theathletecentre.com)
What they say about it...
The Athlete Centre is a 'strength and conditioning facility', which specialises in cross training, weightlifting and strength training.  
I train there with a strength coach who specialises in strength training for runners, Andy Kidd. He cites 4 reasons why runners should strength training:
1. It improves endurance
2. It can reduce risk of injury
3. It can improve speed
4. It can improve fat loss
He has lots more information on his website:  www.akstrength.com.  The blog page is full of useful advice on the subject.
What I think about it...
It has made me a stronger runner and physically more robust. Prior to strength training, I was a hunched over accountant with a painful left hip and a seriously dodgy lower back.  This is now very much a thing of the past. (But not the accountant bit – sadly I am still one of those).
I will never love strength training in the way that I love running.  But, I have come to appreciate what it can do for me.  Concentrating on the correct technique for each exercise has taught me what it feels like when my body moves correctly.  I have been able to use this awareness while running to correct the poor movement habits that cause my running ‘niggles’ (it’s those hunched shoulders again).  And I love the power I now feel when my glutes fire up and propel me up hills.
What did it cost?
My first session was free, which gave me the opportunity to gauge whether I could work with Andy.  My first 8 session block cost £240, with a commitment to be there twice weekly.  This was a big financial and time commitment for me, but I did make significant improvement, which motivated me to continue.  A year later, I still train with Andy once a week and on my own once a week – following a programme which Andy sets for me and regularly reviews.
If all this sounds way outside your budget, then there are other options: there are strength based classes at most gyms, or you could seek out an experienced training buddy, or you could ask for a strength training gym programme.    
However, if you can at all afford it, I would really recommend some 1:1 sessions with a qualified strength coach.  A good strength coach will watch you closely and identify any imbalances or compensations that your body has learnt to protect old injuries.  He/she will then be able to design a programme for your body and your goals.  Crucially they will teach you correct lifting technique to ensure that your muscles fire correctly.  This will maximise the benefit you get from strength training.
How much preparation was required (equipment, clothing, set-up etc)?  
None.  I wear my running kit!  
How hard was it on a scale of 1 - 10?  
It ramps up during the session.  By the last rep on the last set– then it should by a 9 or a 10.  To benefit from strength training, you do need to lift a weight that is heavy enough to stop you from doing more than 8-12 reps.  
Also, some exercises hurt more than others.  Single leg hip thrusts are straight from hell.
How much did you ache the next day on a scale of 1 - 10?  
In the first couple of months, I did ache quite a bit the next day – but probably no more than a 6.  And this was usually in the muscles that I didn’t use when running, so I could still run.
What muscles did it work? 
This will depend on the programme you are following – which should target your personal weaknesses and strengthen the bits that running doesn’t.  
For example, my programme targets my weak posterior chain (shoulders, back, lats, glutes) and my weaker left hip.  So I do a lot of shoulder retractions and single leg exercises that don’t allow my right hip to help out, e.g. step ups onto a high box, calf raises, lunges and split squats.  And did I mention the single leg hip thrusts?  They are pure evil. 
Could you do it if you were injured and couldn’t run?  
This will depend on the injury, but I would definitely advocate strength training as a key part of any rehabilitation programme. Talk to your doctor/physio/osteopath about your injury.  They may also be able to recommend a suitable gym/coach/personal trainer to get you back to top running form.
How good or bad was it for your street cred (with 1 being very bad and 10 being awesome)
It can be pretty awesome – but selection of gym and strength coach is crucial here.  
I love the vibe at The Athlete Centre, as all the people are there to get stronger and fitter.  None of them dye themselves orange, oil back their hair and pose by the water fountain! And there are no fluffy blondes with immaculate make up and plastic ‘tits and bits’.
When selecting a coach, do choose someone who trains for functional strength rather than beauty competitions.  Yes really – some people do pump their 'vanity muscles' just to look good.
On the subject of muscles – I can confirm that you won’t bulk out to Arnie proportions.  There is a big difference between training for strength and weight lifting to bulk out.  
How likely would you be to go regularly?
To make a real difference, you do need to commit to two sessions a week.  
Personally I find this easily achievable by focussing on the benefits that this cross training will bring me.  And not thinking about those single leg hip thrusts.

Photo by One Way Stock

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