Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Weighty Issue, Part 1

Should runners lift weights? I believe so. In fact, I think almost anybody, runner or not, can benefit from weight training. That doesn’t mean that lifting weights will automatically make you faster, or a better runner, but I think there are enough other benefits to make it worthwhile. And, if you are very weak or have muscle imbalances, weight training very well could improve your running. The program I use focuses on the core (chest/shoulders/back/abs) and legs. A person can run 100 miles and still have very weak legs. Especially if you lack long hills in your area, adding some leg exercises can help you when you are faced with hills in a race.

First, a little about physiology and a few misconceptions about weight lifting.

1. Lifting weights will make be muscle bound.
2. Lifting will take too long.
3. I don’t belong to a gym.

1. Body/Soma Types:

A system, developed by W.H. Sheldon, uses the terms ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph to describe the build of an individual. In the simplest terms, ectomorphs are those with lean, slight builds who don’t easily put on weight. Think Paul Tergat. Mesomorphs are those who are naturally more muscular and easily add muscle mass. Think Herschel Walker. And Endomorphs are those who tend to be soft and chubby, and have difficulty keeping their weight down. Think Jack Black. While a lot of Sheldon’s research is questionable (after identifying the 3 body types, he attempted to draw conclusions about the personalities that went with each) the basic idea of somatotyping is generally accepted by exercise physiologists. However, in actuality, most people have some characteristics of each body type. Knowing your body type(s) is helpful in determining your workout routines and diet.

So, for most people, and runners in particular (because most are ecotomorph type builds) adding muscle is hard. When you combine the fact that you are doing many hours of an aerobic activity each week, you are not in danger of looking like Mr. or Mrs. Olympia from a basic lifting routine. And, if you are that 1 in a million freak of nature, you’ll be the envy of all your skinny runner friends.

2. Strength Endurance

For distance runners, strength endurance is much more important than raw explosive power, so the lifting routine I use and recommend for other runners is a fast-paced circuit training/Superset routine. This allows you to complete your lifting in a minimal amount of time, and also adds an aerobic component to the workout. You’ll be moving from one exercise to the next quickly allowing one muscle group to rest while you exercise the next one. This also limits the chance of building up any appreciable muscle mass.

3. Gym or Home?

While a Gym is ideal if you have access to one, you can do quite a lot of lifting at home with just a few dumbbells and a few machines. Also, at home you never have to wait for a machine making it easier to quickly move through your circuit. If you have the space, it also might be more cost-effective in the long run to start acquiring the necessary equipment. Check out Craigslist for good deals on equipment that people bought and never used.

Sample Lifting Routine:

In the following routine, do one set of each exercise and then move to the next. Start with 1 complete set and build up to 3 sets. Each set should be between 7 - 10 reps (first 2 sets) and 6 - 8 reps (final set). Try to select a weight that brings you close to failure by the end of each set. If you move quickly, you should be able to do each complete set (1 set of each exercise) in 10 minutes, meaning the whole workout is only 30 minutes. Strive for good form, even if it means less weight. Generally doing this 2 or 3 times a week is ideal. I show the abs as exercise 10, but you can save this one and do it anytime while you are watching TV or whatever.

1. Bench Press / Push-ups
2. Lat Pulls / Pull-ups
3. Pull-overs
4. Dumbell Shoulder Presses
5. Upright rows / power cleans
6. Good Mornings
7. Leg curls
8. Leg extensions
9. Calf raises
10. Abs/Obliques/Low back

Exercise Details
Below I show a few photos of each exercise and describe a little about each.

1. Bench Press (or Push Ups):

Lie on the bench and grasp the bar a little wider than shoulder width. Put your feet on the bench to avoid straining your back and/or cheating. Lower the bar to your chest and then powerfully push the bar back up till your arms or straight. Don't bounce off your chest.

2. Lat Pulls (or Pull Ups):

Grab the bar with a wide grip. Tuck your knees under the support (or get somebody to hold your shoulders) so the weight doesn't pull you up in the air. Lean back a bit, then pull the bar down till it touches your chest. I do 5 to the chest, then do the next 5 bringing the bar down behind my neck.

3. Shoulder Presses:

Get 2 dumb-bells and hold them in front of your shoulders with your palms facing your body. Push them up at the same time, rotating your hands till your hands are facing away from your body at the top.

4. Pullovers:

A great exercise for expanding your chest and working the serratus. Lie on your back with a dumb-bell, holding as shown. With only a slight bend in your elbows, lower the weight over and behind your head, feeling the stretch. Reverse the motion, again keeping your arms almost straight.

5. Cleans (from a hang position).

One of the best single lifts for your core. Start with a very light weight till you get the feel for this one. Bend over and pick the barbell up till you are standing with arms straight down. This is the starting position. Bend slightly in the knees and then explosively drive up, using your legs to get the weight moving. Then using your upper back swing the weight up till it is high enough to bring your elbows in, supporting the weight against your chest. Lower the weight back to the hang position and repeat. 10 reps of this exercise will get your heartrate up higher than any speedwork.

6. Leg Curls:

Doing one leg at a time, curl each leg till it comes as close as possible to your butt.

7. Leg Extensions:

Again, use one leg at a time. Slowly extend your leg till your knee is straight. Hold it a few seconds, then slowly lower.

8. Calf Raises:

Use a calf machine, or use a step as shown below. Grab a dumb-bell in the same hand as the leg you'll be using. Lower your heel till you get a good stretch. Then flex your calf till you are on your tip toes.

9. Good Mornings.

Great exercise for your lower back and hamstrings. It is very important in this lift to keep your back arched (lordosis). Avoid rounding your back even if it means not going down as far.

Sources Used:

Exercise Physiology; Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance (McArdle, Katch, Katch)
Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (Schwarzenegger, Dobbins)


Will Thomas said...

Great How-to article with pictures to illustrate. I'm trying to develop an at home work-out and this blog came in great. Thanks!

Paul DeWitt said...

Hi Will,
Glad you found it useful. I'll be adding part 2 in the next week or so, which is my abs/obliques routine.
- paul