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High-rep Workouts for runners? No Thanks!

Building real strength away from the gym

Strength work for runners should focus on max strength efforts, pushing the body beyond what it experiences in regular running. Unfortunately, some fall into the trap of high-rep, low-intensity, body-weight styled exercises. This approach simply repeats the same movements that a runner goes through during a run, especially for a trail runner.

In essence, high-rep work fails to challenge the body in a way that promotes maximal strength development. It misses the opportunity to cultivate power, explosiveness, and muscle adaptations that go beyond endurance. For runners, the high-rep work is already done during the running itself. Strength training should provide something different, something more.

Trail runners, in particular, need to understand that additional high-rep, low-intensity exercises are essentially a waste of time. These routines are unlikely to enhance the specific strengths required for the challenging terrains and elevation changes they face.

Leave the high-rep work to the running, and let strength training be the domain of power, intensity, and deliberate muscular challenge. But what if you’re a runner who hates the gym or wants to escape conventional strength routines? Then we have some valuable alternatives for you.

Max Strength Development for Runners: Outside the Gym Walls

Runners often associate strength training with weights, gym machines, and a plethora of exercises that may seem disconnected from their primary sport. Building maximal strength, however, is pivotal to performance, injury prevention, and overall development. Here’s how you can accomplish this without setting foot in the gym.

The answer lies in utilizing running-specific routines that align with the sport’s demands while fostering maximal strength. Let’s break down these alternatives:

1. Enhanced Running Form with 8 to 12 Second Sprints

Sprinting requires powerful, explosive efforts, engaging the core, legs, and arms in ways that mirror the demands of running. These short sprints:

  • Improve Power: Maximal effort sprints recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, enhancing power.
  • Enhance Running Form: Emphasizing high knees, powerful hip extension, and arm drive improves overall running technique.
  • Implementation: Include 8 to 12-second sprints in your routine with a 2 minute recovery between each, focusing on maintaining perfect form throughout.

2. Running Hill Repeats:

Hill repeats are a runner’s resistance training, building both strength and endurance:

  • Strengthen Key Muscles: Engages the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves, simulating uphill running.
  • Builds Power: The added resistance of an incline increases the demand for power.
  • Implementation: Find a suitable hill of 6% to 10% gradient and focus on explosive, controlled efforts of 30 to 60 seconds.

3. Cycling Hill Repeats for Power Endurance Development:

Cross-training with cycling offers unique benefits:

  • Power and Endurance: Extended efforts at 40 to 50 RPM build quad, glute and hip strength for downhill running.
  • Smooth Pedaling Technique: Staying seated and maintaining a smooth stroke translates to muscular control.
  • Implementation: Choose appropriate hills of 4 to 12 % and perform repeats lasting 3 minutes to 6 minutes.

4. Stair Repeats with a Weighted Vest:

A versatile workout that emphasizes max strength:

  • Strength and Power: Sprinting up stairs with added weight demands extra strength and coordination.
  • Sport-Specific: Directly targets muscles used in running, especially uphill.
  • Implementation: Select even stairs and perform sprints of 20 to 30 seconds with a snugly-fitted weighted vest or a loaded running pack that is 5% to 10% of your body weight.

Maximal strength development doesn’t always mean hitting the gym. By incorporating these running-specific routines, runners can engage in effective strength training that aligns with their sport, all while staying true to the essence of running itself. It’s about embracing the outdoors, the hills, the stairs, and the road, and turning them into your strength-building arena.

At Mindful Runner, these tailored exercises are part of our holistic approach to trail running, reflecting our understanding of the runner’s body and mind. It’s about knowing that the road is enough, and more, if we know how to use it.

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