Lots of mirrors. Lots of people in a confined space. Lots of people in a confined space talking to each other and sneaking (or not sneaking) a bicep flex in the mirror.
People using the squat rack as a curling machine. I could go on for hours. I used to hate the gym.
Nowadays, I just hate it a little less.
Throughout my running career, I’ve realized that strength training can dramatically improve running form and endurance. A strong core, a lean upper body and strong quadriceps and calves allow me to run on the balls of my feet for 15 miles or so without too much fatigue.
With good form, a runner is much more efficient, allowing the athlete to maintain a faster pace over a longer distance. And at a distance of 26.2 miles, everything comes into play.
Here’s a couple tips for developing a painless Student Recreation Center regimen that will improve running form and increase your pace.
Set a goal and develop a plan.
Just like developing a successful running regimen, developing a lifting program takes thought and planning. The first step is to set a goal. The key to setting a goal is to make it attainable yet challenging and to ensure that it compliments your running program.
In my case, my goals are to develop lean upper body muscle, strengthen my core and maintain my calves and quadriceps. This equates to three to four sessions at the gym per week, lifting with an emphasis on controlled movements and high reps and most importantly, short rest times.
Function, not figure.
As you are developing your individual workout routine, remember that you are in the gym for one reason: to get faster. Developing muscle tone just happens to be a welcome side effect of developing speed. So unless you intend on running your race on your hands, save the bicep curl for last. Think of it as your dessert.
Before you even look at a weight, make sure that you complete a five to 10 minute warmup and stretch. I prefer to jump rope as a warmup. This exercise will raise your heart rate quickly and will activate most muscles in the body.
A rule that I always follow when beginning to lift is complete complex lifts first and simple lifts last. A complex lift is one that activates more than one muscle group. For instance, compound lifts such as the power clean and Olympic power snatch activate almost every muscle group in the body, and thus are the most complex lifts.
As fun as those lifts are, they do not fit into a running regimen. They develop fast twitch power, not endurance strength. The back squat however, is an essential compound lift for athletes of almost every discipline.
A simple lift is one that only activates one muscle group at a time. Prime examples are bicep curl and tricep extensions.
My reasoning for going from complex lifts, namely the back squat, to simple lifts such as curls, is to conserve energy in the gym. By exhausting yourself on simple lifts, you may not be able to complete the more important complex lifts.
For runners, I there are three essential lifts: squats, push ups and pull ups. Each of these exercise activates multiple muscle groups and can be done just about anywhere. Ab and other core exercises are also very important. Planks, crunches and leg lifts are three great exercises to start with.
Rest, reps and sets, oh my!
These three variables can drastically change the result of a gym program. Entire classes can be taught on how to obtain specific results by manipulating them.
A basic rule of thumb for developing endurance strength, is to complete high reps (12 to 15) with rest times that are no longer than a minute between each set. You should complete four to six sets on each exercise.
Weight should be calculated based on the amount of reps that you can complete within a set, not by how “badass” you look because you can bench two plates. Lift at a weight that is challenging, but still allows you to complete the set with proper form.
Special attention should be paid toward leg exercises. Due to the high mileage of my running regimen, I refrain from pushing too hard at the squat rack. On most days, I use the unweighted bar in order to complete these exercises. Squatting with proper form is an excellent way to increase flexibility in the glutes and hamstrings. If my legs are not fatigued, I will lift a maximum of 105 pounds. This is simply to maintain quad strength and flexibility.
Single leg squats are also useful for improving quad strength. These can be completed by standing on one foot and bending at the knee while keeping your hips facing forward and chest up.
Get in and get out.
Its important to remember that lifting is not the most important part of a runner’s training. Its just icing on the cake. Therefore, do not exercise to exhaustion. If you are fatigued from the mileage that you are putting in, shorten your lifting regime or take the day off.
These are practices that I personally follow. Since I started lifting consistently, I’ve noticed that improvements in all aspects of my running, from form to endurance.
As you are developing a lifting plan, be open to new ideas and exercises. There is no clear cut plan for making the perfect lifting program and without a qualified coach observing your progress, it will take some time to learn how your body reacts to different exercises.
As long as you don’t use the squat rack to do bicep curls, you’ll be alright.