A good number of runners know that strength training can help them run better, but most are interested in running, more running, and running in a race.
Runners just love running.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of training an endurance athlete is convincing him or her to take time out of their running schedule to strength train. The training plan they’re using—and there’s almost always a plan—is incredibly important to them, as is the time they spend on the road. For example, if they’re training for a full marathon, then they’re spending on average 8-10 hours on the road or treadmill per week, in addition to living their day-to-day busy life.
As the personal trainer, you’re more interested in helping your client run her best race, but also in preventing injury. Here’s how you can get them interested in your programming, without them feeling like it’ll take away their time from the road or hurt their results.
1. Find out more about their race or running program.
If your client is a runner with a race coming up, you’ll need to gather a lot of information to help her build the perfect strength training program that can supplement her running. Start by focusing on asking this series of questions:
- Where is the race? This question is important as the location should dictate the type of training your client is doing. For example, if her race is in the mountains, glute and hamstring strength are extremely important. If she’s running a trail race, balance and stability are going to be essential.
- When is it? While you need to understand how long she has left to train (and add strength!), the time of year is also an important consideration. If it’s in the summer, your client has to acclimate to the heat. In the winter, she needs to acclimate to cold and ensure her muscles are properly warmed. Training in the heat is a much different challenge than training in the winter.
- What will the terrain be like? If you didn’t talk about terrain when she told you where the race was, this is the opportunity. Training for a hilly course is a much different program from training for a flat beach or a trail race.
- Is this her first time training for that distance or is she looking to beat an old time? Understanding her goals is important, as it dictates the type of program you’d put together for her. If she’s running her first 5k, a good basic strength program that focuses on glute and core strength will be very helpful for her. If she’s running her fifth half marathon and is looking to break two hours, you can add in some plyometrics and SAQ (speed, agility, and quickness) drills along with her strength training, for example.
- Is she working through any injuries? As with any client, you must understand any lingering or recurring injuries before you design a program. If she says she doesn’t have any existing injuries, prod her about issues that may come and go, such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and lower back pain. All of these are common running issues, which many runners may ignore or neglect to mention.
2. One program does not fit all runners.
Just like one strength training program does not apply to all people who want to strength train, a single strength training program can’t be tailored for all runners either!
The program will really depend on the experience level of the runner. For the runner just starting out, you can focus on adding a short routine with basic lower body strength exercises, such as glute bridges, hip thrusts, clamshells, Bulgarian split squats, and walking lunges to make a big difference in their running performance.
If your client is an experienced racer, adding SAQ drills and plyometrics to a mix of exercises that work the posterior chain can also make a big difference in their speed and strength. The combination of building strength and getting their heart rate up should keep your client happy, too.
3. Focus on what your running client needs.
Keeping the needs and desires of your running client in mind, you can consider developing a 30-minute intense and effective workout for her. It should emphasize these areas:
Strong glutes are critical for pelvis and knee stability on the road. When a runner is unstable (usually seen by a wobbly gait), it can lead to some common running injuries, like “runner’s knee” and IT band syndrome. Doing exercises that isolate the glutes helps stabilize their gait. Try adding these exercises:
Hip thrusts, with or without a barbell
Single-leg glute bridges
Similar to glute strength, abdominal strength is also important for stability out on the road. Strong abdominals help runners maintain a strong posture, which helps prevent lower back pain that often comes from fatigue on long runs. Some good ab exercises for runners include:
Plank and plank variations (plank punches, plank saw, and bird dog)
Plyometrics and SAQ drills
Plyometrics and SAQ drills help those who are running after a race time. Plyometrics help increase the rate of force production, which is the ability of your muscles to exert maximal force output in a minimal amount of time. This is especially important for runners chasing their best 5k time because being more explosive simply make for a faster finish time. Here are some great plyometric exercises:
In addition to plyometrics, SAQ drills help increase a runner’s ability to accelerate and stabilize the body in all directions. Stability is especially important in trail races where rocks, bumps, tree roots, and winding paths can do a number on the runner’s body. As Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician, notes in this Runner’s World article, “The benefit of great balance isn’t just to prevent you from falling on your butt. A stable runner is a healthy runner and a more efficient runner.”
An easy way to add in SAQ drills is with an agility ladder or a set of cones:
- Ladder drills: single foot hop; hopscotch; two jumps forward/one hop back; high knees
- Cones: square hops; shuttle sprints
If you’re new to designing workouts for endurance runners, a great place to start your research is the Iron Strength workout, designed by Dr. Metzl. It’s a basic but effective program and focuses on exercises that mimic the movements used in running and building strength where it’s needed.
More articles to help you become a better trainer:
- What Are Strength Training Exercises For Runners? By Jon-Erik Kawamoto
- How to Properly Program For a Client With Shin Splints by Daryl Stubbs
- The Best Core Strengthening Exercises to a Healthier Spine by Matthew Ibrahim