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A case for strength training for runners.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I have been doing a lot of thinking about my recent half marathon in Cleveland and what exactly brought about such a dramatic reduction in my overall finishing time. The reason I feel it is so important to hash all of this out like this is that it is easier for me to see facts, trends, and patterns if I lay it out in writing VS juggling it all around in my head.

In short, I am seriously becoming more and more at odds with my old, chronic cardio ''party till I puke'' mentality - my mentor will be proud. Anyone that has known me for a significant length of time can attest to my mentality of push as hard and as far as I can and then go farther because such Herculean efforts bring a sense of warped affirmation and validation.
The price tag has been heavy doses of Ibuprophen, hanging on the railing to climb stairs, pain and chronically sore joints. All in the name of validating my manhood.
I have been slowly changing my tune over the last few months and this last race has largely turned my attitude around.

I strongly believe that strength training will not only improve running performance but will also preserve it during times of injury where you cannot log the miles and that the obsessive ness over logging a lot of weekly miles just because you feel you will somehow lose all your fitness if you don't is a recipe for disaster.

My case is as follows:

1) After my first half marathon, I did not allow myself to recover properly and in my zeal I injured my IT band. For those not familiar with an IT band injury

In short it totally shut me down for months. Anyone who has dealt with a running injury knows how mentally taxing it is to deal with an injury that puts you out of commission. I worked with my trainer with ST and basic conditioning exercises for almost 5 months. I ran very little. Conventional wisdom would tell you that my running fitness would have gone down the toilet. I finished the Green Bay Half Marathon 5 minutes slower than the first one with very little run training. I didn't lose a thing.

2) Late last year I got a good case of Plantar Fasciitis. The inflammation started shortly after my marathon then the straw that broke the camels back was doing too many squats and other stuff at Crossfit. I could barely walk much less run. I was out of commission again for months on end. Even when I thought I was OK after a few pain free months, a short run would tell the story that I was not. Mental anxiety ensued about lost fitness, feeling like I lost my way etc... It was at that time I started seriously looking into kettlebells. After several months of this agony and VERY little running, I PR'd my 5k time at a local race.

3) This year. I trained very little for the Marquette Half and it showed. Time constraints and other issues kept me off the roads like I felt I needed to be. I PR'd my half time with a time of 3:15. Not impressive by other standards but it was good for me. I got alot of cramps toward the end and it was hardly a glorious finish.... Then a few weeks later I started seriously training ( my KB was hit and miss) after a few weeks of this intense training 3x per week and very little running again, I finished the Fall Classic HM with a 2:59, thats almost 16 min off my time... a huge time gain. Yes I had a friend pacing me but if you don’t have the strength or endurance to work at that pace, you are going to shut down. I also did experience some difficulties in the race BUT it was not like it was before and it happened much later.

Bottom line results: In every instance I was able to preserve fitness and even improve on top of reducing the severity of cramping. I have also read that cramps are just as much a part of muscular imbalance as it is electrolyte depletion. Small discrepancies can produce big issues at the long course distances whereas it isn’t so much a problem when at the shorter 5+10k distances.

These findings plus what I have been reading about “chronic cardio” have really gotten me to rethink my training strategy. I am not saying you do not have to train or work up to a distance but I am seriously taking issue with this anxiety driven mindset that has people freaking out if they miss a few training days because life happened. I am also taking issue with the “chronic cardio” mindset where the routine is based on these intense, long cardio sessions with no ST and little recovery. Just because you feel good doesn’t mean you are good. There is healing that needs to take place on a very deep level that doesn’t go away just because one takes a rest day. The pounding I have delivered to myself I feel has actually set me back and now I am smarter.

The next 4-5 months will be devoted to ST, light cardio and stripping off the fat. I know it will work. So far my history has proven that nothing will stall my weight loss faster than “chronic cardio”

It’s time to change that.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • v RUN4FOOD
    Good blog. Agreed, strength training is at least as important as doing cardio. Running needs the support of strength training. Arguably the best overall runner in Houston is suggesting all runners need to do more squats, push-ups and old fashion sit-ups.
    1297 days ago
    ST Rocks it is what comes easy to me. The running is what is hard!
    1297 days ago
    sounds like you are getting a handle on it. Note to you: i have achilles tendonitis with a huge hard painful bump on the back of my heel. i saw my orthopaedic surgeon the other day and he fitted me with a night splint. essentially it keeps your foot flexed all night and is really for plantar if that ever happens again you might look into it...any prosthetic device store carries them.
    1297 days ago
    emoticon with the PRs and completeing all those long races. Good luck as you hone your craft.
    1297 days ago
    Looking forward to seeing how you do with this. You do make a really good case - and it's nothing we haven't heard before. ST is good for you. I need to do more of it. The problem is that I feel like I'm accomplishing something after a cardio session - not so much in a ST session. I mean - I work hard enough to break a sweat, but it isn't like running. And that's the backwards thinking that prevents people from doing more ST.
    1297 days ago
  • v 123ELAINE456
    Awesome Blog. Great Wisdom and Insight. I Love Your Blogs. Keep Going. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Enjoy Today. Take Care.
    1297 days ago
    Thanks for sharing. I recently started leg ST - it has helped my knee tremendously.
    1297 days ago
    Great blog, Robert and congrats on the hurdles you're leaping in figuring out what works for you and your goals!
    I HATE ST, and can't get motivated for it for the life of me. I LOVE the way I feel after a long, sweaty run! But, like you, I have had (and am currently dealing with two) different injuries that have sidelined my running in the past, and currently for more than 6 months now. I know that ST is what works, and if I'd been keeping it up, I would have been far less likely to injure myself in the first place. I'm also dealing the mental issues now, that I'm finally at a place (age, metabolism, lifestyle?) in my life that diet no longer works on its own to keep my weight in check. But find the motivation to do *anything* physical? Phhttt. Yeah, right.
    Your attitude and perseverance are amazing, Robert. Don't ever change emoticon
    1297 days ago
  • v KGLOVER71
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I can relate to your injury story and your training pattern. Good luck with your new focus. emoticon
    1297 days ago
    I found this very interesting. I'm a keen runner too and wonder if, by your desciption, I have been doing to much cardio and not giving myself time to recover. I thought that if I pushed myself harder I'd get fitter and faster but instead I seem to have got slower and fatter. Perhaps I should try doing things your way for a while....

    Best wishes
    1297 days ago
    Thanks for sharing this. I'm not a runner but I tend to OD on cardio and avoid ST because I don't like it as well. I've been worker much harder the last couple of months to find a balance and I'm feeling great so far. I can't wait to hear how your adapted plan works!
    1297 days ago
    Great insight!

    1297 days ago
  • v FITFOODIE806
    One of my triathlete friends (finished IM Madison in Sept!) has the money to pay for a coach. At the first meeting, the coach said, "Stop all the garbage miles. More is not always better." I have to remind myself of that. I'm finally sticking to a tri specific ST plan and am looking forward to seeing some results this Spring. Thanks for the reminder that it's worth it!
    1297 days ago
    I love your blogs! Where do you live? I lived in Manitowoc, WI for 4 years and I loved it there. I miss the snow but not the shoveling! emoticon
    1297 days ago
  • v MKELLY72
    Thanks for writing this. I have been kind of mentally beating myself up lately, because I have slacked off on the cardio part of my training, but I have increased my ST sessions in their place. It burns me out if I don't get some kind of break, and I have really been liking the additional ST instead of spending so much time on cardio.
    1297 days ago
    I agree with everything you've said here. I think a lot of people over-train. And I think there is a happy medium that needs to be reached, and not just physically either. Mentally, you can't let it consume your life, or you start to alienate yourself and others.

    Thanks for posting this. It is very introspective!
    1297 days ago
    Great blog. I still can't seem to shake the notion that you have to do more than 30 minutes of serious cardio for maximum results; however, I've cut it back to 20 minutes right now. I have also been working on my ST too.
    1297 days ago
  • v LINDAK25
    It sounds like you're on the right track. Especially if it means fewer injuries and better endurance.
    1297 days ago
    Keep working on what works for are doing so great!
    1297 days ago
  • v CHRISTINA791
    I've basically come to the same conclusion myself. My running instructor did stress the importance of strength training (especially the glutes as a runner's core), but I found it easy to shrug off... until I injured myself. I went to physio for a bad calf strain and was given plenty of ST homework by my PT, almost all of it in the butt and hip area, since that's where my calf injury originated. I'm still not as good about hitting all my strength workouts, but it's definitely become more of a focus, and I absolutely work it into my race training schedule. Right now I do a full body strength workout three days a week, with particular focus on the running muscles.

    I've cut back on the running and cardio, too. I'm still going out most days a week, but aside from long runs I'm keeping it to 20-40 minute sessions. I definitely notice a difference (not to mention that it's just more fun).

    It's interesting how you mention the training. I felt I hit a great balance with training for my last race, up until I got sick with a few weeks to go. Various things piled up, and I basically fell into a slump right before the race. I still wasn't 100% for the race, but I managed to PR by four minutes and almost break a two hour HM. It was proof that when it came to race day, my body knew what it needed to do (just don't ask how I felt for the week after).
    1297 days ago
    I have started having a twinge under my ankle and have started a resting regime from running/walking on the treadmill. Still I get this feeling that I need to continue hitting it hard, so I must train myself to just take it easy. Good luck with your healing.

    Thanks for posting this.
    1297 days ago
    One thing that I have always made sure to do is have strength training as part of my routine. I got away from that a little when I got into boot camp, but now, due to a knee issue (scraped the hell out of it on a run last week), I am back to strength training, and so glad I did. Ended up with a personal best 27:19 on my last 5k before I start training for my first HM, which is coming up in March.

    So I'm definitely with you on the importance of strength training!
    1297 days ago
  • v ADAMM9
    I've seen better performance this year by running slow (less-cardio-intense) and cross-training with cycling and body-weight strength training (push-ups, pull-ups, dips, plank, etc) than in any years prior. You can't operate on heavy-cardio all the time.
    1297 days ago
  • v CM_GARDNER78
    Love this wisdom. Love the strides you're making. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1297 days ago
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