Weight up ahead of race season

Weight training 'can be massively beneficial to an athlete'. photograph: getty images

Weight training 'can be massively beneficial to an athlete'. photograph: getty images


While weight training won’t replace running, it can complement your training and break up the monotony

It’s fair to say that no one looks at the Kenyan runners and thinks, I wonder what that guy is bench pressing? Yet, weights do have their role in running, and given that spring is kicking in, and a new season is creeping up on the mildly competitive recreational runner, it’s worth looking at as a way of keeping things interesting while improving on form and speed.

“Weight training, provided it is performed correctly and is relevant to the specific sport, can be massively beneficial to an athlete,” says Derek O’Sullivan of Well Fit gym in Skerries.

“Take a rugby player. Playing rugby constantly will improve their basic skills and game awareness, adding in a rugby-specific weight-training programme will enhance their game further. We have seen it in Gaelic games of late, how physical the game has become and the players are adapting their needs to it through weight training, this is creeping into soccer too. Depending on your sport, a training programme can be devised for an individual to enhance their performance.”

Tailored programme

There is no reason why this cannot be done for running, whether it be sprint work or endurance work, programmes can be modified for seasonal work, weather allowances, says O’Sullivan.

By adding in a weight-training programme for an endurance athlete, the programme can be tailored to develop the endurance muscle fibres [slow twitch fibres]. This, in principle, will mean high repetitions and a reasonably low weight, depending on the individual, but provided muscle failure is achieved, gains will be made.

Nevertheless, runners need to choose their weights properly, and much will depend on the distance they’re training for. It’ll dictate not only the weights they train with, but the number of repetitions.

Should there be a different approach depending on whether you’re training for a five-miler rather than a marathon?

“It is a personal thing,” says O’Sullivan. “Timing is a huge element to the way in which one trains. A person training for a marathon will have to clock up more miles, so eating into their training time, whereas a five-miler may have a little more time to allow for more resistance training with weights.

“That said, both are largely seen as endurance runs and the rep ranges will be high. Both athletes, if possible, should still try to get some resistance training in and it doesn’t necessarily need to be hours in the gym – a time-efficient workout will suffice.”

With bad weather still a factor at this time of year, is it something that can replace running sessions?

“Technically it cannot replace running, it can complement your training, and it can break up the monotony of pounding the roads. Unfortunately, for a lot of endurance athletes, through genetics and somatotypes they just don’t like weight training, they are not built for it, just as body builders despise any cardio work.

“However, both can gain a huge amount from cross training in their off season.

“I would recommend that a runner finds some sort of resistance exercise, whether it be a circuit class or something similar, that they enjoy and perform this during the winter and phase in their running as the season approaches. They can work on developing their strength, upper body strength, speed work and the like in the off season and maintain it within the season.”

What’s the biggest mistake runners make when introducing a weights programme?

“Personally, I see it as not seeking guidance,” says O’Sullivan. “They may come in with a friend and think that one programme works for all. Weight training should be specific to the individual.

“A soccer player will not necessarily train in the same way a rugby player does, a sprinter will not train in the same way as an endurance athlete, so prior to making mistakes while performing the wrong exercises, speaking to an expert is essential.”

Three basic weight exercises for runners . . .

. . . assuming that the athletes have no injuries and that the exercises are being performed correctly:

Squat:The squat is as close to the complete exercise resistance training can offer.

Common faults with performing this exercise will be tightness in the hip flexors, calves, restricting one’s movement and not allowing the full range of movement. Knee alignment is crucial.

It is essential that when undertaking this exercise that you are well guided and the instructor is satisfied with your execution of it.

The plank:Although technically not a specific weight-training exercise, it is considered resistance training and again when performed correctly it is hugely beneficial to the core muscles, which are essential for long-distance running. Common faults with this are that people “just dont get it”.

They lie prone on the floor leaning on their elbows and toes, and fail to engage the core.

One should be able to brace their stomach, by pulling their stomach in, not holding their breath, squeeze the glutes and hold the back straight.

A certain amount of guidance is needed here and should be requested. Performing this incorrectly is a waste of training time, so if doing it, do it right, seek instruction, guidance and reassurance that you have it right.

A row:I would always recommend some back work as it is hugely relevant to endurance running.

Having a strong back allows runners to keep their chest tall and open it up as they fatigue as opposed to closing in on yourself and restricting your breathing.

It also helps to keep you upright all day, so really a no brainer. There are a number of different “row” exercises such as: mid row; low row; bent over row; prone row. Again seek guidance when looking to perform this exercise.

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