Colorado Springs Group Runs

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Resistance training for Runners

A common topic is whether or not runners should lift weights.  The answer should be simple, right?  Yes or no?  But I think there is more complexity there, and as a podcaster I really like points out, context matters.

I want to use the term resistance training in place of weight training as one can achieve the goals without lifting weights.  For instance, body weight exercises can be quite effect at the start of a program.  Resistance training, to me, also includes plyometric training.

First, yes, we runners should be doing resistance training. The rationale from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) position paper is that resistance training can increase muscle mass and can stop the loss of muscle mass.  Basically, if we do not use a muscle group, we lose it.  While we runners are using our legs regularly, we likely are ignoring the rest of our body.  Heck, even running can lead to leg muscle imbalances.

It is important to understand that when we lose muscle mass, we lose active tissue that expends energy throughout the day.  Now, you will see very large numbers in terms of how many kilocalories a pound of muscle burns.  I will venture that most of the numbers are way too high.  While muscle tissue is active, it is not as active as many people think.

ACSM recommends working major muscle groups (chest, back, arms, legs, abdominals, and back) 2-3 times per week with at least 1 set of 8-12 repetitions.  I think it is obvious that if you increase the sets that you are likely to see more benefits.  The resistance should be between 60 and 80% of one repetition max (1RM, think of how much you could lift just one time).

One of the fears I often hear from runners is that weight training will add bulk.  Yes, this is possible, but the type of training and your muscle physiology will dictate how much bulk you are likely to add.  To look like Mr. Universe you are going to have to have the muscle fibers that will respond to such training and spend far more time in the gym that the ACSM (or I) will recommend. (I will leave aside the issue of performance enhancing drugs like steroids.)

As mentioned above, the biggest reason to add resistance training is to keep from losing muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass can have a big impact on your daily living as you get older.  It can be as simple as having difficulty lifting a small child (like a grandchild).

It is critical that exercises be performed properly.  Poor technique could lead to injury or not focus on the muscles targeted and slow the development.  This would be a good reason to pay for a few sessions with a certified personal trainer (not just asking the biggest dude in the gym).  The best bet in this area is a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  Let the trainer know exactly what you are looking for:  to be taught proper technique for lifts that are going to help you.  The question comes, "What lifts are those"?  (More on that later.)

A key question that arises for runners is: Should I train my legs?  I would say for most runners you could skip the legs.  I know this sounds weird, but depending on how much you are running you might be fatiguing your legs with the running and not want to increase the fatigue with resistance training.  However, I am open to some training.  If you choose to train the legs, I recommend squats as a multi-joint exercise for the legs.  I will also discuss some plyometric exercises that will train the legs.

 In training, it is recommended to start with large muscle groups and work smaller muscle groups after.

I am pretty traditional in that I think people should progress from hypertrophy (making the muscle fibers larger), to strength (increasing force production in each fiber) to power, possibly (the ability to generate force quickly).  Another factor that can be included is stabilization.

Stabilization is part of the strength-endurance phase that the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) promotes.  This type of training works on balance.  For instance, doing exercises on an unstable platform such as single-leg bicep curls or stability ball chest press can be beneficial since running is a single-legged exercise.  These exercise engage the core: the muscles of abdomen and back that keep us upright.

For hypertrophy, NSCA recommends 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions per set with the resistance at 67 to 85% of 1RM with 30 to 90 seconds between sets.   Hypertrophy is a good place to start, and there is no shame in starting with light weights as you learn proper technique.  One can conceivably stay in hypertrophy training forever.  You will need to increase the weight as you get stronger so that you are just able to finish the workout.  It is not going to do you a great deal of good if the resistance is too low once you get stronger.  If you are completing 3 sets of 12 easily, increase the weight by 5 to 10%.

For strength, you will want to increase the resistance to about 85% of 1RM, reduce the reps to no more than 6 and sets to 2 to 4 (although some will say 6) with 2 to 5 minutes between sets.  It is critical that you allow for more rest between sets as you need time for the muscle to restore itself chemically.

That is enough for now.  The next blog will deal with power and core workouts.

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