Many runners skip strength training because they think it will make them bulky and slow them down. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Doing squats and lunges builds leg muscle, which gives you more power in your stride. It also improves running economy so you can push harder.
Strength Training Myths
Strength training won't turn you into the Incredible Hulk. It can add muscle mass to your frame if you lift at a specific intensity for a specific number of reps per set. Information varies, but for most people hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is achieved by lifting weights at about 75 to 85 percent of your one-rep max (the most you can lift for one repetition) for three to five sets of 8 to 12 reps of each exercise.
To build strength, which is your goal if you want to increase your running speed, the prescription is different. Maximal strength is achieved by lifting 85 to 100 percent of your one-rep max for four to six sets of one to five reps. With this type of lifting you will gain strength, not bulk.
Running Economy and Pace
In a 2008 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2008, researchers looked at the effect of maximal strength training on running economy — the amount of energy needed to sustain a sub-maximal pace. Seventeen well-trained male and female runners were divided into two groups.
Group A performed maximal strength training involving four sets of four reps of half-squats three times a week for eight weeks in addition to their regular endurance training. Group B performed only endurance training. At the end of the study, group A saw significant improvements in running economy, rate of force development and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed, all of which contribute to a faster pace and less energy expended.
Lunges and Squats
Lunges and squats are some of the best lower-body exercises. They are compound movements involving all the major muscle groups in your legs, including your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves.
Add weight to lunges by placing a barbell across your shoulders or by holding dumbbells in your hands. You can do lunges in place, stepping forward or back, walking lunges and lateral lunges.
HOW TO DO IT: Take a big step forward with one foot, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Keep your torso erect and your shoulders back and contract your abs. Press through your front heel to stand up. Repeat on the other side.
Squats can be done with different equipment in a variety of styles. Use a heavy kettlebell to do sumo squats, front or back squats with a barbell across your front shoulders or back shoulders, using a Smith machine or holding dumbbells in the front rack position.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your toes pointing forward and feet slightly wider than hip width. Bend your knees, hips and ankles slowly and send your hips back as if sitting down into a chair. Stop when the knees are at a 90-degree angle. Return to a standing position to complete the squat movement.
Improve explosive power and put some spring in your step by performing jump training, or plyometrics, along with your maximal strength training. Using just your body weight, perform jump squats and lunges.
Start the squat and lunge just as you would with weight, but as you rise back up explode off the ground jumping as high as you can. Do a separate plyometrics workout once a week, or mix sets of squat jumps or lunge switches into your strength routine.
If you have never lifted weights before, you should not engage in a maximal strength-training program without professional coaching. You need to solidify your lifting technique before attempting to find your one-rep max. Once you have that number, a professional can help design a safe and effective program.