A Structured Guide to Building Strength for Ultra-Runners
A Structured Guide to Building Strength for Ultra-Runners

A Structured Guide to Building Strength for Ultra-Runners

Running may seem purely cardiovascular, but strength training is a secret weapon for runners of all levels. Integrating well-structured workouts into your routine can boost speed, efficiency, injury prevention, and overall running enjoyment. Here's your guide to crafting a strength training structure tailored for ultra-runners:

Benefits of Strength Training for Runners:

  • Reduced Injury Risk: Stronger muscles stabilize joints, absorb impact, and improve proprioception, leading to fewer injuries.
  • Increased Power and Efficiency: Strong glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core improve stride mechanics, propelling you forward efficiently.
  • Improved Speed and Performance: Building power translates to faster sprints, hills, and overall race times.
  • Better Running Economy: Strength training reduces energy expenditure per stride, allowing you to run further and faster.

Structure and Key principles:

  • Frequency: Aim for 2-3 strength training sessions per week, with at least 48 hours rest between sessions for recovery.
  • Focus: Prioritize compound exercises that work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously, mimicking running movements.
  • Progression: Gradually increase weight, reps, or sets over time to challenge your muscles and avoid plateaus.
  • Warm-up and Cool-down: Dedicate 5-10 minutes to dynamic stretches, light cardio before your workout, and static stretches afterward.
  • Listen to Your Body: Adjust intensity and volume based on your fitness level and recovery needs.

Sample Strength Training Schedule for Runners:

This is a flexible 2-day split example, adjust based on your experience and preferences.

Day 1: Lower Body & Core

  • Squats: 3 sets of 8-12 reps (dumbbells, barbell, or bodyweight)
  • Lunges: 3 sets of 10-15 reps per leg (dumbbells, barbell, or bodyweight)
  • Deadlifts: 3 sets of 6-8 reps (dumbbells, barbell, or kettlebells)
  • Glute bridges: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Plank: 3 sets of 30-60 seconds
  • Side plank: 3 sets of 30-60 seconds per side

Day 1 Lower Body is ideally paired with a challenging running session. My recommendation for athletes is to engage in intense interval or tempo training in the morning, followed by the gym and the Day 1 routine in the late afternoon or early evening. While some strength may be affected by the demanding run, the objective is to enhance recovery in this perfect scenario.

Day 2: Upper Body & Core

  • Push-ups: 3 sets of as many reps as possible (modified versions also effective)
  • Pull-ups or rows: 3 sets of as many reps as possible (assisted variations work)
  • Overhead press: 3 sets of 8-12 reps (dumbbells or barbell)
  • Anti-rotational exercises: 3 sets of 10-15 reps per side (cable wood chops, Pallof press)
  • Bird-dog: 3 sets of 10-15 reps per side
  • Dead bug: 3 sets of 10-15 reps

Day 2 Upper Body holds a slightly less crucial position, but it's important to focus on optimizing recovery time again. I recommend scheduling this workout either 48 hours before or after day 1. For instance, I usually schedule these workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays for athletes with a standard 9-5 schedule from Monday to Friday. Wednesdays are designated for light recovery exercises like an easy run or bike ride, while Fridays are set as rest days.

You might have observed that we are deviating from the traditional approach of high repetitions and low weights. This older method is typically employed to enhance muscle definition and tone for aesthetic reasons. Instead, we recommend utilizing a moderate to moderately heavy weight that allows you to complete all repetitions without reaching muscle failure.

Additional Tips:

  • Consult a trainer: Working with a certified trainer can ensure proper form and program design, especially for beginners.
  • Incorporate plyometrics: Once foundational strength is built, consider adding jump squats, box jumps, or bounding drills for explosive power.
  • Don't neglect unilateral exercises: Exercises like single-leg lunges and deadlifts improve balance and stability for better stride mechanics.
  • Prioritize quality over quantity: Focusing on proper form and controlled movements is more beneficial than rushing through reps.
  • Be patient: Strength building takes time. Consistency and progressive overload are key to seeing results.

Remember: Strength training is not just about lifting weights. Bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, and even running drills can be effective, especially for beginners.

By incorporating a well-structured strength training program into your routine, you'll build a stronger, faster, and more resilient runner, ready to conquer your next challenge.

Happy running!

Note: This guide provides general recommendations. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.