Weight Lifting for Runners and
by S. Scott Zimmerman
Copyright (c) 2002
As a runner or triathlete, you can benefit from weight lifting in the several ways.
Benefits of Strength Training
- Increases muscle strength for improved running and daily activities
- Increases muscle mass and reduces body fat so you look better
- Increases the body's average calorie-burning rate (helps you lose or maintain
- Increases the tendon and ligament strength to help you avoid injury
- Increases bone density (for stronger bones)
- Reduces the risk diabetes, osteoporosis, heat disease, colon cancer,
lower-back pain, blood pressure, and cholesterol
- Improves balance, digestion, mood, and sleep
Importantly, weight lifting can help restore muscle balance that running
creates. Specifically, running strengthens the muscles on the hind side of the
body: the calves, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. To maintain proper
balance, you should strengthen the front side muscles, primarily the quadriceps
(quads) and abdominal muscles (abs)
In addition, weight lifting can strengthen your upper body to improve running
form and avoid arm and shoulder fatigue during the latter stages of a marathon
or a triathlon.
Key Strength-Training Exercises
As a runner or triathlete, you really want to spend most of your training time on the road
not in a gym. Therefore, I suggest you do compound exercises, that is, those
exercises that build several muscles at a time. Here are the exercises I
- Squat for the quads, thigh adductors, glutes, and erectors
- Stiff-legged deadlift for the lower back, erectors, hamstrings, thigh
adductors, glutes, lats, upperback, and forearms
- Crunch situp for the abs
- Bench dip or bar dip for the triceps, pectorals, deltoids, and lats
- Pullup (chinup) (or equivalent exercises) for the biceps, lats, pectorals,
upper back, abs, and forearms
- Bench press for the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps
- Overhead (seated) press for the deltoids, triceps, and traps
For details of these exercises and alternative exercises for the same muscle
groups, go to Exercise and
Kinesiology Web page, which includes video clips of how to do each exercise.
To further increase the efficiency of your strength training--to give you
more time on the road and less time in the gym--and to emphasize endurance over
muscle mass, I recommend the following:
- Do one set of each exercise. If you have the time and interest, you could
increase this to two or more sets on some or all the exercises. Research has
shown, however, that for most people, one set is as beneficial as multiple
- Use light weights and do many repetitions. (If you want muscle bulk, use
heavier weights and fewer repeitions.)
- During the rest period between each exercise, do your stretching
Free Weights vs. Machines
||Most serious body builders prefer free weights (dumbbells,
barbells, chinup bar, dip bars, and a bench) over machines (bench press
machine, lat machine, cable row machine, etc.). I also prefer free weights
because I feel that they are better at improving balance and coordination.
But machines also work fine, so go ahead and use whichever system you
prefer. Also, nothing's wrong with mixing or alternating free weights and
Key Principles of Strength Training
- Strength exercises fatigue and wear down the muscles. The body builds them
back up--and increases their strength--while you
are at rest. Therefore, rest is as important as exercise. Always
rest at least 48 hours between exercise bouts. In practice, this means that
you should do each exercise two or three times per week, with at least a day
of rest in between. (Feel free to do abs crunches daily, if you desire.)
- For best results, you should perform each exercise to "temporary
muscle failure." This means that you should do as many repetitions
(number of times you lift a specific weight in a specific exercise) as
possible, until fatigue prevents you from doing even one more repetition (or
"rep" for short).
- To avoid injury and get the most from your exercises, you should learn
proper form for each exercise and maintain that form for every rep. In other
words, you should never "cheat" on form to squeeze out another
rep; once you can't do another rep using proper form, you should quit.
- Long-distance running in some ways counteracts the effects of strength
training. To avoid this problem, do your strength training on your days of
light running, that is, on your easy days or on your days off from running.
If, on a running day, you can separate your running and strength training by
at least 6 hours, all the better.
- If you feel pain or excessive discomfort, immediately quit the exercise.
You might need to go to a lighter weight, skip that particular exercise for
the day, or skip the remainder of your training that day. In some cases,
your body just might not be made to handle a particular type of exercise.
For example, because I've had low-back problems in the past, I can't do the
normal deadlift. Instead, I use a special apparatus called a hex bar (or a
trap bar) for doing bent-legged and stiff-legged deadlifts.
- Perform each repetition slowly: a 1-3 second push or pull followed by an
even slower return to the initial position.
- Start with light weights and build up slowly. For each weight-lifting
exercise, choose an initial weight that you can lift for 10-15 repetitions.
If you pick a weight and can't make at least 10 reps, drop back to a lighter
weight. If you pick a weight that you can do more than 15 reps, increase the
weight. During each strength-training session, try to increase the number of
reps. If and when you can go up to 20 reps with a particular weight, move to
a heavier weight (2-10 pounds more) in the next session, such that you can
barely lift it for 10-15 reps.
- Monitor your progress by including information about your weight training
in your exercise log.
- Suspend all strength training during the taper period in preparation for
your races, except for maybe light lifting in the early part of the marathon
An Exercise Program
Here's a sample exercise program. It includes an A day and a B day, which you
alternate. For example, over a two-week period, your schedule would look like
On your A day, you might do the following:
- Squat (barbell or dumbbell)
- Bench press (barbell or dumbbell)
- Chinup (full-body or leaning chinup). The leaning chinup is done with a
bar at about chest level; you hang from the bar with your feet on the
ground, so that, as you pull yourself up, you don't have to lift the full
weight of your body.)
- Stiff-legged deadlift (keep your legs slightly bent, but stiff)
- Abs crunches
On your B day, you might do the following:
- Dip (parallel bar or bench), also called triceps dip
- Deadlift (bent-legged)
- Overhead press
- Abs crunches
For an explanation of how to do these exercises, go to the Exercise
Instruction Web page. You should take some time to explore this Web site so
you can find a variety of exercises for each major muscle group.
Good luck and happy lifting!