Key Weight Training Mistakes
By Will Lind
Image © Will Lind / Functional Running
Based purely on what I read on the internet (which makes the next claim pretty gosh darn conclusive), weight training for runners is fast growing in popularity. I’m seeing a barrage of programs and approaches blasting out across the internet space. I’ve spent the past 12 years or so weight lifting for various reasons, including for its own sake, for recreation, for injury prevention and for improved performance for cycling, obstacle racing and running. I’ve made all the mistakes and I’m here to share the learning I’ve gained from those stuff ups so you don’t have to make ’em too.
1. Getting Sucked In: If you’re new to lifting or using weights you’ll probably experience some amazing development very quickly, including improved body composition and swift increases in the weight you can lift. It’s easy to get consumed by these great advancements and start to put more effort in while chasing the gains. Unless you’re sure it’s really how you’d like to refocus, don’t do this. Stay firm on your running goal and remember the reason why you touched the iron to begin with.
2. Random Lifting: Randomly throwing weight around in the gym will work for the first few months for a beginner. Soon enough you’ll adapt and after that all you’re doing is risking injury and wasting energy. This warning also applies to not setting a progression or plan in place for more experienced lifters. Intention and progression deliver the results, not hopes and wishes.
3. Focusing Only on Lower Body: It seems logical that a runner who relies so heavily on their legs for propulsion needs to work on those two pistons to make them beefier and hardier. Not necessarily so. Weight training is the perfect opportunity to aim for an integrated body, one that is stronger because it’s working as a whole. Also, you want to work on strengthening a weakened, postural compromised upper body that holds its own for the duration of your run.
4. Focusing Only on Thighs: If you’re working your quadriceps because you think that’s where you get running power from you could be doing it wrong. It’s your butt that drives a strong run and that’s where you want to get working. You may well be working thighs because you’re aiming to develop muscular stability or specifically working to develop strength endurance for a mountainous event or maybe a stair climb. If not, ensure your target muscle group is the glutes.
5. Overdoing It: Except for a minority who are cycling through strength and running training with very clear direction (and strong guidance or a solid background of personal experience), you need far less weight training than you might think. For example, the extent of my weight training right now is a kettlebell swinging progression of 8 sets of 8 heavy kettlebell swings, repeated twice per week with steady increases in weight over time. For now, that’s it. Add hill running and I’m very happy with my progress. I’m careful not to waste any energy on strength training that can go into either running or recovery.
6. Looking Only to Weights: There is no one single way to add strength and stability to your run. You don’t have to even come near a gym to gain the benefits of strength training. Use hills and your body. Learn kettlebell swings. Build a slant board. Work up to a pistol squat. Use your imagination. Have fun with it.
7. Relying on Weight Training to Correct Posture and Change Form: This is a pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe that if you don’t change your running movement patterns then you won’t change your running movement patters. The many hours you spend running a certain way will not be undone with a few butt crunches and ab cycles. You need to weight train to assist any change in body positioning but you’re going to need to spend hours ingraining a new way of movement while out on your run to make a new gait or style stick.
8. Looking Only to Building the Obvious: Here the buzz words you’ll hear are core, glutes and legs. But seriously, specific strength training can be used for so much more. Build strength in the feet and calf muscles, enhance the entire posterior chain as one (all the muscles in the back of your body), train the muscles required for stability and support rather than propulsion and train for systems integration so the musculoskeletal complexes work as a unit rather than separate bits.
9. For Some, Not Running: You’re gonna read out there across the internet that you can get away with not running and strength train instead. Some experienced runners who have decided to pull back from running can get away with this; myself included. However, specificity is still key and while it could be true that fitness and strength could cross to running you still need to get out and practice your art.
10. For Others, Running Too Much: From my own experience, you can, and should, consider running less while involved in a weight training program than when you don’t have one. For starters, weight training causes fatigue so you can’t just lump it in there on top of a brimming running program. Secondly, weight training is complimentary so you simply don’t need to pound quite as many miles as you might be right now.