Back in my days running track and cross country at Stanford University, I remember my coach telling me I needed to get a bigger butt—and it wasn’t for the sake of my appearance. I was never gifted with powerful glutes, which is why my kick and sprint speed was always my weakness. However, fast forward 15 years to last night in the kitchen when my 9-year-old daughter joked that I had “a big butt.” She’s right, I finally did figure out how to get those horse-like powerful glutes that I was always lacking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after I had hung up my racing shoes.
Following retirement, I got more and more into weightlifting and added a good amount of size to my 127-pound, 5-foot-11-inch frame. I noticed the extra effort it took to lug around the additional muscle weight while running, but I also noticed how much faster I could sprint. I remember doing hill repeats and, for the first time in my life, feeling as powerful as the sprinters on TV look. I must say, it feels pretty good to have some power in my legs.
So how do you get that extra power? If I had the opportunity to do it all over again this is how I’d incorporate weights into my training plan to gain the kick I always lacked.
Strength Training for Runners
Focus on your lower body. Strong legs and glutes are essential for explosiveness and speed, which is important for runners at all levels and distances. The more explosive you are, the easier your marathon, half marathon, 10k, or 5k will feel. I recommend doing squats, lunges, and step-ups with dumbbells (see below for exercise instructions) twice a week.
Gradually lift heavier weights. When I started doing this, I got results. For the exercises above, start by doing three sets of a higher number of reps (15-20) with a light weight. Over a period of months, slowly add more weight while simultaneously decreasing your number of reps and increasing your number of sets. Work up to 10 sets of 4-5 reps using the heaviest weight you can safely use.
Perfect your form. You never want to put your body at risk for injury. I had a really hard time doing deep squats until a couple of years ago when I finally picked up an entire book about squat form. Only after reading that was I able to refine my technique. Now I can do a full butt-to-the-ground squat with heavy weight without any discomfort during or after the lift. It cannot be overstated: Technique is hugely important. Here are links to technique instruction for each of the exercises I mention above.
Take in more calories. Your body doesn’t make something out of nothing, so if you want to grow muscle and get stronger you need to be taking in more calories than you are burning, otherwise you are wasting your time. But that doesn’t mean just focusing on protein. It’s important to follow sound advice from a nutritionist to gain muscle in a healthy way.
Cycle your lifting schedule. One thing I notice now is that when I lift heavy my legs are dead—and not just on the subsequent day but for days afterwards. As a result I recommend doing heavy lower-body days during the off season. For example, if you generally take a month off in the winter, this is when you want to hit the weights. Do them on hard run days; you won’t be able to adequately recover if you tack them onto an “easy” day.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.