Last year’s Western States reduced my quads to petrified stumps from a forest of doom. Have you ever run on stumps? I don’t recommend it. They’re not responsive and they don’t fit well to your hips.
For this years Western States I”ve decided to employ a stump grinding strategy: weight lifting. Fact is I used to lift weights regularly when I was running marathons. It helped me avoid injury from all the pounding on the hard surfaces. But when I started running mostly trails I stopped lifting consistently for some reason. I didn’t think it was that important. I think I was wrong.
This year I’ve started again, focusing only on my quads for downhill running, and my arms for carrying water bottles over the long distances. My regimen is pretty simple and, since I’m defiantly not looking to “bulk up”, stresses high reps with low weights. Here is what I do:
Two sessions per week that last no more than 20 minutes.
Quads Single Leg Squats – Four sets (two sets each leg, alternating) with 20 reps each (stepping backward) standing up using a 50 to 60 pound barbell over my shoulders. I prefer the backward step vs forward lunge because it gives more isolation on the quad.
Traditional Squats – Two sets with 20 reps standing up using 80 lbs barbell over my shoulders. Sometimes if I’m in a hurry (like most of the time) I’ll just use the same weight as the single leg squats and go right into these sets with no break. If I use the lighter weight I’ll throw another 10 reps in the set. These also help with the back and glute muscles.
Arms Single Arm Curls -- Two sets x 100 reps (50 each arm, alternating every curl) standing up using 15 lbs dumbbells. I do these with a good rhythm to simulate the running movement.
Single Arm Tri Extensions -- Four sets x 25 reps of single arm tri extension (over head) standing up using same 15 lbs dumbbell as curls. I like to incorporate these sets in with my curl sets. So, I start with the curl set, do 100 curls (50 each arm alternating), then go right into the tri extension with my right arm and do 25 reps, then move to my left arm and do 25 reps. Keeping the weights in my hands the through all the sets adds another element of fatigue which I believe builds endurance.
In the past I've used heavier weights with fewer reps. However, by doing this I tend to gain size in my arms which is NOT what I want (no Mr. Universe ambitions here!). Ultimately, as a runner, I'm seeking the strength from my weight lifting to go the distance, avoid injury and combat fatigue. I believe I get all of this from lifting weights.
However, with a family and a full time job that does NOT include running, my goal is to be as efficient as possible. To save time I often run from the gym after work and head straight in to lift when I’m done running. Or, if I’m running from home on the weekends where there is a gym 1.3 miles away, I’ll plan to run by the gym toward the end of the run and stop in to lift before I’m done. I prefer lifting after a run because my muscles are warmed up and I feel better doing it.
If you are starting to lift for the first time, go easy with lighter weigths and lower reps until you've been at it several months. Also, there is no "right" weight, or right workout. There can be variation on your workouts, and it is good to mix things up. I recommend working with lighter weights first and focus on increasing the number of reps before you add more weight, particularly if you are in an endurance sport.
So, to lift, or not to lift? If that is the question, I prefer to lift.