POV: You're training for a marathon.
There are NO shortage of aches, new sore spots,….or the post run munchies.
The long runs keep getting longer.
And so do the mid-day naps.
Because you can only train as hard as you recover, right?
Then a new thought-train rolls into town:
Am I recovering right? Am I doing enough?
What does this twinge mean or that soreness?
Should I get one of those a fancy massage guns?
Did I ice enough?
Did I do the right stretches?
Why isn't my ITB feeling better after foam rolling for the 7th time?
Hoooold up there, runner.
You're getting in your own head!
While pain and intense symptoms are NEVER a good thing and you should get those checked out by a health care professional, there is a certain amount of "discomfort" that comes with training, especially the kind you're doing.
A lot of times, that "discomfort" is just one part your body's language.
Yup, it talks back.
Quite a lot, as you've started to noticed.
And other runners have noticed this too.
Hence why we're going for Round 2 of your most commonly asked half and FM training questions.
This time, we're covering:
Why you need upper body strength work during half or FM training and WHEN to add to it
Why you DON'T want to use ONLY light weights
Does overpronation mean your WEAK and something's wrong with you?
Do you have to STOP running if you feel an overuse injury starting?
Because not everything will go as planned during your training cycle.
But that doesn't mean you can't adapt, pivot, tweak a couple things here, add a couple exercises there, and keep going!
Because frankly, sometimes you can. ;)
Let's give you the knowledge and power to do just that!
Let's dive in!
Do Runners Need Upper Body Strength?
Is it appropriate to add upper body strength days into our [half or FM] training program? I've been adding them to my core days.
By now, you all probably know I love this question. ;)
SHORT ANSWER: Yes!
(We're going to be referencing the same research article we used last week.)
For context: last week discussed WHEN it's best to strength train and run and in what order.
Spoiler: Run first.
Wait 4-6 hours (they were heavy on the 6 hour marker).
Getting specific: It's a big YES to Upper Body Strength work.
Yes, yes I realize we're not running a marathon in a handstand.
You don't have to have boulder shoulders like Captain America.
But you do need to have a strong core.
And your core is more than just a six pack.
Let me back up and explain.
LONG ANSWER: Stealing from the pelvic floor PT world...
(don't skip out on me yet!)
...think of your trunk as a soda/pop can (tomayto/tomahto).
You can theoretically stack concrete blocks on solid cylinder and it won't crumple because of the supporting physics.
But put a dent in the cylinder and chink the amour, and that can is going to get squashed real fast.
Your "cylinder core" starts from your shoulder and ends at your hips. The "core" we typically think about, is only the inbetween.
Occasionally we realize we need strong butt muscles.
But rarely do runners make the connection that they also need strong shoulders/upper bodies.
You don't have to be Dwayne Johnson "The Rock" strong.
You just have to be strong like a runner.
Again WHY the heck do you care?
Because in my clinical experience, runners who don't do upper body work and have resulting poor upper body strength can potentially have worse posture.
Think slouchy shoulders, forward head.
What's this do?
Makes you run slower and get shin splints and plantar fasciitis easier!
Nooooo thank you!
The easiest way to remedy this?
Exactly what this runner suggested: doing upper body work and core work in the same day.
But let's take it one step further.
What if we could work core and upper body TOGETHER?
(work smarts, not harder, right?)
Easy way to do this: do you upper body work in a position called TALL Kneeling (which looks like standing on both knees).
The trick here is to keep your toes (or the tops of your feet) flat on the floor.
Do a little experiment when you try this out.
Try an overhead shoulder press (also known as a military shoulder press) with your toes curled underneath then with your toes flat.
Can you feel a difference?
If not, do the overhead press only on 1 side in those 2 different toe positions, comparing R vs L.
NOW can you feel a difference?
A lot runners like to use their feet to create extra stability. This isn't "bad", but that "extra" stability is the primary job of our core, not our feet (remember: your core is from shoulders to hips).
This tall kneeling position actively works on upper body strength, with core engagement, while teaching your body to NOT rely solely on your feet for stability.
Like I said, work smarter, not harder ;)
Lighter Weights for Marathon Training?
Should we be going lighter with weights during a marathon training cycle?
I completely understand the logic behind this question.
We've got two ends of the spectrum here.
You're already working hard, training to run a looooong distance. And you know you need strength work so you don't break yourself. But how much load is too much overall training load? Maybe lighter weights and a billion reps is the solution?
You're so used to the grind and "hard" of marathon training, why not go hard lifting too? But now, you're running into the problem of there aren't enough recovery hours in the day.
SHORT ANSWER: It's all a balancing act, sprinkled in with a healthy dose of what YOUR body needs.
LONG ANSWER: Just like running training plans, lifting plans also work in cycles.
Also like with running, in lifting, numbers matter.
For example, progressively increasing weight + lower reps = muscle hypertrophy (bigger, stronger muscles)
ONE way to do this: barbell squat with 5x5 block
1st set of 5 reps: 135 lbs
2nd set of 5 reps: 140 lbs
3rd set of 5 reps: 145 lbs…etc for 5 sets total unless you can't increase the weight anymore, then you stay within that working weight.
Lower weight + higher number of reps = still building strength, but now, more in an endurance capacity.
Ex: barbell squat
3-4 sets of 135lbs
Same weight + same number of reps for all sets
Starting to see the difference?
The PLOT TWIST: runners need BOTH.
HOWEVER, you don't do both at the same time.
Just like with running, lifting also works in cycles, called mesocycles.
Just like with running where you build base mileage, slowly increase intensity and speed work, move into a maintenance phase, and then finally taper in preparation for race day, the same principles apply to lifting.
However, most running training plans don't incorporate that much detail, because frankly, most runners care more about the running part than the lifting part.
Don't shoot the messenger!
The point here for half and full marathon runners:
Don't rob yourself of strength.
If you need to make your lifting workouts simple, then let them be simple.
Doing "simple" strength workouts is better than doing no strength workouts.
Pick a weight that makes 12-15 reps a challenge, but a challenge you can finish.
You're still building stronger muscles this way, but recognize that if you find your running performance plateauing, that might be a sign to up your lifting game.
Easy Lifting Rule to Follow for Runners:
don't lift so heavy that you're so sore you can't run the next day. (If you follow this guidelines, you'll confidently find a good working weight to.)
Example: RDLS or single leg deadlifts are an exercise I have to be careful with.
I LOVE crushing the challenge of using heavier weights! But wow, I have to be careful. That particular exercise targets your hamstrings (…duh) but it does so in an eccentric manner, meaning, it's requiring strength from that muscle group when those muscles are in an elongated position.
Translation: this is a super applicable running "muscle position" but it's hella hard and taxing…on any muscle! It makes them strong, for sure, but it's very common to be extra sore. So proceed smartly with exercises like this and learn my mistakes.
Does OVERPRONATION mean You're Weak?
I overpronate (pretty much only on my right side). I wear stability shoes, but I'm wondering if there are things up the kinetic chain that I should be strengthening to help with this? Is overpronation a symptom of weakness elsewhere or could it cause overcompensation or injuries in other areas of the body?
Welcome to club of pancake feet. ;)
SHORT ANSWER: flat feel or overpronation is not generally a symptom of weakness or overcompensation from elsewhere in the body.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't strengthen your feet.
Or that overpronation ISN'T caused by somewhere else further up the kinetic chain.
LONG ANSWER: let me explain…
My personal case: Both my feet are flat, my right one more of a pancake than the left. For me, that's just how my feet made. They've been that way ever since I can remember at the age of 6.
But as a result of them, I do need custom, corrective orthotic inserts in my shoes and I need to be diligent with my strength work.
This is because I'm at a disadvantage when it comes to foot biomechanics (which then impact my ankle, knee, hip…you get it).
I'm missing some of the springy-ness of a normally formed arched.
And over time, with gravity and miles, my feet could potentially get flatter.
Which would be bad.
So we don't let that happen.
Looping back to: I'm diligent with my strength work, which includes…you guessed it, feet strengthening exercises.
Your action steps here:
Pay attention to your feet; is one flatter than the other?
Which side do injuries happen for you? Is it on the same side as the flatter foot? (It might; it might not)
Pay attention during your single leg strength work: are exercises or balancing weaker/more difficult on the flatter foot? (again, might be; might not)
By simple paying attention and listening to your body, you can glean a LOT of information. Your body is always talking to you; you just need to be tuned in to listen.
Based on the answers to those questions, you can begin to develop a clear road map of potential strength deficits and/or compensations that you can begin working on, R vs L legs.
Potential OVERUSE Injury: Do I have to STOP Running?
If you begin to feel an overuse type injury forming due to lack of strength, do you have to stop running entirely to pick up on strength? Or is there a way to build the strength up to minimize pain in other locations like a calf or hip?
I feel this question in my running soul.
SHORT ANSWER: you don't typically need to stop running entirely, although you may need to adapt your plan.
LONG ANSWER: the key here is "beginning to feel an overuse injury forming".
Meaning, it's just starting to rear its ugly head.
Your Action Steps:
Be clear and honest with yourself: has this injury only *just* started or has it actually been around for 1 month?
Have you had this overuse injury before? If so, do you have exercises for it?
Adapt your training plan. You can keep running IF:
you can decrease speed or mileage and NOT have any pain/symptoms of overuse injury providing that you're doing the strength work/mobility/corrective exercises etc needed to address the injury.
Because here's where the physical therapy mindset takes over:
Both strength work and running are ways to make a muscle stronger. But when an overuse injury is festering, the bandwidth of what the muscle can tolerate is probably reduced. But it's NOT zero! It requires an adjustment of training plan for appropriate load…and patience on your end. ;)
And briefly to address the second half of this question: when trying to address pain in your calf or hips, there's typically more to it than only strengthening ONE muscle group.
Address any hip mobility, hip strength, and core deficits
Address any ankle mobility deficits, check hip strength, foot strength, and upper body pull strength (which could include core).
Seem a little farfetched and vague? I promise it's not. It's all about training the entire the amazing movement marvel that you are.
And that's a wrap running fit fam!
Where these answers/questions helpful and useful for you?
Do you have more questions than answers now? (don't worry, that's normal.)
In fact, drop your questions below in the comments section! Because like you've seen from this blog and the last one, someone probably has the same question too.
(ok, if posting your question on the wild wild internet is a little intimidating, you can still always DM me on IG).
Until next time,
Dare to Train Differently,
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit
P.S. Want to get a head start on your injury prevention? Grab my FREE Running Guide HERE!
Barrie, B. (2020). Concurrent Resistance Training Enhances Performance in Competitive Distance Runners: A Review and Programming Implementation. Strength &Amp; Conditioning Journal, 42(1), 97-106. doi: 10.1519/ssc.0000000000000528