THE BLOG
10/17/2012 05:23 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2012

Pain-Free Running, Part 2: Strength

One thing's for sure, when it comes to going the distance in anything (including next month's New York City Marathon), strength is super important. I mentioned in my last blog post that a thorough warm-up to prevent injury is imperative to making it through long-distance races, runs and other competitions. Strength, however, is another preventative measure and a key to your success.

You have to be mentally, emotionally and physically tough if you want to reach your goal of training and running for a marathon -- or any race, for that matter. It comes down to the double Ds: discipline and durability.

You can't deny that running for long distances is based on endurance and relies on your lungs to work hard, but if you want to reach that finish line, then your body's structural integrity had better be top-notch. I'm not just talking about strengthening your legs, either. Running is a total-body workout, and if you slack on training your core and the rest of your upper body, you'll regret it on race day. You need to have the discipline to implement a strength program to keep your body durable.

I know, I know, focusing on a strength program for running can be difficult. It's hard for us do something other than run in order to see the benefits. Training for any sport can make you feel this way. Oftentimes we learn that specificity training is always the best way to train -- if you're a football player, agility drills seem pretty obvious, while a baseball player does rotational exercises mimicking swinging a bat in the gym. Similarly, as runners, we want to pound the pavement. The truth is that we need to develop strength in different muscles so that our bodies can handle the repetitive motion of running. Most importantly, we'll avoid injury and boost performance.

While I'm a lover of the saying "practice makes perfect," I also understand the principle of adaptation. Running in a straight line for hours on end isn't going to get us any closer to our strength goals, but we'll certainly tire out a lot faster. We need the discipline to actually remove running from the top of our list, at least for a little while, especially if we want to get stronger. In the end, this act of discipline and adaptation could mean the difference between finishing your marathon or not. And for you advanced runners, it could also mean a better time.

I have three rules to follow in order for you to gain the strength you need:

  1. Resistance: If you're a beginner, using your body weight is fine. But that will change quickly. I don't care if you use a weighted vest (my favorite for training runners, actually), a dumbbell, or a barbell, but you have to add resistance -- otherwise, your body will adapt to your weight quickly. If you are advanced, add resistance right away.
  2. Fewer Reps: So, you want to get strong but not add a lot of muscle mass. Easy -- keep your reps and your sets low. If you do too many reps and too many sets, you'll gain muscle weight and you don't want that. Being bulkier will make running difficult. Think lean.
  3. Structure: Plan your strength program so it compliments your running. Six to eight weeks prior to the big event, during a time in which you can afford to keep your running to a minimum, focus on your strength training and then gradually move back into your running program.

Here are some of the exercises I recommend before race day, targeting the lower and upper body and, of course, your core:

Lower Body:
  • Squats
  • Hip extensions
  • Multi-planar lunges
Upper Body:
  • Rows
  • Pushups
  • Shoulder presses
Core:
  • All planks
  • Shoulder external rotations
  • Hip abduction
  • Ys

If you're planning to run the New York City Marathon in the next few weeks and some of my exercises seem new to you, then focus on core exercises. Besides, you'll need to be focused on your running, too. You can check out my super core workouts here or here.

Last, but definitely not least, don't forget your warm-up. I didn't teach you a proper warm-up for nothing! If you need a refresher, you can find my last post here, and you can always reach me on Facebook.

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