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Strength training, core work, plyos, drills, and a cherry on top… how much faster do these extras really make us?


For how much I love running, I’m not as studied-up on the literature as I could be. You know: Lydiard and Daniels and Salazar and so on, and the varying training styles people love to argue about on letsrun.

Perpetually behind the times, I recently acquired an abandoned dog-eared 2009 issue of Runner’s World that had a feature on Kara Goucher’s Boston Marathon training regimen. [Yeah yeah yeah, we’re all aware there is a camp of self-important individuals who feel the need to throw copious amounts of haterade at Runner’s World every chance they get, but if you’re not averse to dismounting your high horse and ignoring the “Beginning Runners” training plans or whatever else might offend the senses of people who consider themselves serious, RW can be an enjoyable resource with thought-provoking features. At least, from my rookie perspective.]

Unrelated, but a Google image search for "Haterade" yielded this. Laughter ensued.

Anyway, I paged through the feature on Kara and took some mental notes:

In addition to her 100+ miles in prep for Boston, the article claimed that she tucked two sessions of Pilates, 2-3 strength training workouts, and 2+ stints of plyometrics or drills into her weekly regimen. In other words, lots of extra stuff that isn’t the running itself.

Of course, those are just the basics, and don’t include her weight vest, sauna suit, ice vest, pressurized bedroom, alter-G treadmill, massage therapist, sports psychologist, and a host of other irritating ways to complicate running that a nobody like me will never have to worry about. Thankfully. 


Sometimes I fantasize about being an elite tape-breaker, but other times I revel in what a relief it is to just be another average joe putting one foot in front of the other, where the only pressure I have to navigate is whatever I put on myself.

Even so, reading about all her strength, plyos and Pilates got my wheels spinning that I should reintroduce strength/core work into my training. Especially now that I’m not cross-training, and can no longer count on the sneaky back/core/leg strengthening I used to get from rowing.

All these extras, though, sheesh. Are they even worth it? How much does a horrifically average runner like me need, if all I really want to do is… get as fast as I can, within my means? Couldn’t I just get by on… you know… running? With perhaps a sprinkling of planks and pushups as post-run garnishes here and there? And hill workouts for leg strength?

Kim Smith, who ran a 2:25 at London this year, seems to take a much more basic approach to her training than Kara, and I’ve read elsewhere that KS doesn’t do much in the way of extra strength or core work – although that could obviously just be some major sandbagging on her part. Debates on the effectiveness of strength training, etc. for runners can be extensive, and I know there are plenty of elites who subscribe to including all the extras, and plenty of other elites who don’t bother with it.

Do you strength train or include specific plyometrics/drills as a regular part of your routine? I loved the Washington Ran Here post on drills from awhile back, and if I can sucker up the gumption to not worry about looking like a doofus on the road outside my house, I’d like to start incorporating some of those into my plan.

What does your strength/core/drills routine look like? How often, how long?

How effective do you think the “extras” are? Have you noticed any tangible gains from introducing strength training, plyos, etc. into your schedule? I suppose that the “extras” might be useful in the way of injury prevention, but other than that, I’m suspicious.

Truly, all I’m looking for here is permission to be a lazy bum and cut any significant amounts of strength training out of the picture. And I’d really love to hear a little more about what other runbloggers do on a regular basis in the way of the “extras.” (Links to your specific posts on this subject are great if you don’t feel like going into detail in the comments.)

As a frame of reference: our core work and strength training for college rowing was probably a far sight more intense than what I imagine the typical runner might require. I could be totally off base with assuming that, but from what I’ve read, most runners’ strength training sessions don’t seem all that intimidating. Basically, I have no idea what an appropriate amount of strength training + “extras” would be for a runner. Any thoughts from the former college-runner crowd? What did your “non-running extras” routine look like?  

24 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/12/2010 07:39

    i used to lift 3x a week (and do core 5x) but ever since this summer, specifically my trips to philly and texas, i’ve totally fallen off the bandwagon. once i got out of my routine it was too easy to keep it out. and now that i don’t have ready access to a gym i’m likely not going to be seeing weights/plyos etc anytime soon. and i feel major guilt about it! hahahah

    • 09/15/2010 20:40

      You and me both…! I’m interested to see if my falling off the wagon will have any effect on my strength/ other stuff.

  2. 09/12/2010 08:42

    Plyos/Drills are something I generally don’t touch because, well…I’m lazy. I’ve been told they are helpful in terms of making form improvements, and I believe it. (See also, hill bounding. One of those things that I’ve NEVER done put probably should.) Particularly if you’re time crunched, or so I’m told.

    I lift a bit, but its just a bodypump sort of class at my gym. I go with a friend as often as I can…and purely for vanity. I have more muscle than you average runner and I don’t want to look all gross. I clearly don’t have time to do hard core lifting, so a couple hours a week helps. I used to do pilates as well – which was useful in dealing with a weak core /streching- but once that was on a different day than the weights it fell by the wayside.

    I think all these things are nice, but the bottom line is they shouldn’t take the PLACE of running. It certainly can’t hurt to dabble – and in the case of plyos you can get a lot of out of it, but it just seems more logical to get the miles in. To me at least. So take it for what its worth.

    • 09/15/2010 20:40

      I like your approach. Also, I need to look into this “hill bounding…”

  3. 09/12/2010 10:01

    I don’t do a huge amount of lifting, but I try to incorporate it about 2-3 times a week. Nothing serious, but just enough to keep me strong and toned.

  4. 09/12/2010 11:45

    I lift for vanity and do drills because I see professional runners doing drills and want some of that. I am not sure how much either helps me. I think both (either?) will only benefit you if you do them consistently. This happened to me with lunges, the simplest exercise in the world that makes me sore as ballsack every time I do them. I would do lunges one day, be paralyzed by pain the next day, and then not do them for a week and a half. Ten days later…same deal. It was pointless. Ever since writing that post I’ve tried to be pretty consistent with drills (2-3 times a week) and am waiting to see if there’s any difference.

    • 09/15/2010 20:39

      Hahahaha, so true. That tends to be my problem with lifting lately. No commitment to it outisde of getting painfully sore every few weeks.

  5. 09/13/2010 02:45

    I absolutely HATE lifting weights. It makes me roll my eyes the entire time that I’m at the gym. Not sure why, either. I do yoga when I remember and have lately started doing this hip routine I found in Running Times after my runs. I think they’re helping because my butt (piriformis) no longer hurts.

    When not training for a marathon, I do these fun interval thingys. They’re something like: Run 3 miles warm up. Then you do 800m intervals with exercises (crunches, pushups burpees) in between. They’re actually pretty fun. My neighbors think I’m a nut, though.

    • 09/15/2010 20:42

      Yes yes yes! I do those Interval Thingys too, except with hill repeats. A few sets of 5 hills, with some pushups, burpees, etc in between sets. I think they’re fun. 🙂

  6. 09/13/2010 05:55

    You’re gonna need some plyos and core workouts to get you through the long, dark winter…

    I used to be good at doing drills 1x/week for a few months back in 2008…. But yeah. I should do better with them. I think they do help with form?

    As for core – I just do 100-300 various abs or 4-5 minutes of planks (with breaks!! Heck I can hardly last 45secs) whenever I do a “core workout”.

    • 09/15/2010 20:44

      Valid point; maybe my circuit/strength/core stuff will make a reappearance after I get sick of running in freezing rain. 100-300 various abs! Holy ca-ristmas. I cant stand doing repetitiony things for abs and much prefer planks. Mostly I just hate abs in general, because I can do a zillion of them and never see a result. So why bother..?

  7. Lacey permalink
    09/13/2010 08:56

    i’m sure none of it hurts, esp the plyos/ form exercises. strength training is probably key if you do it correctly. i think this might be where elites differ from other athletes. they have set schedules and it is their job all day every day to do all the right things to optimize their performance and they have people constantly supervising and evaluating how things are going for them. i’m sure some people respond differently to some of these things than other people.

    • 09/15/2010 20:46

      I wonder a lot about whether it would be really good to introduce micro exercises like balancing stuff, and pretty much any exercise that would target my angry knees. I just don’t know what to introduce that wouldn’t irritate them further…

  8. 09/13/2010 09:23

    I strength train 2-3x a week and do core work every day. I’m lucky in that I can lift weights at work, although I did it 2x a week even before I was a trainer. I don’t do plyometrics/drills because I haaaaaaate them, but they’re definitely good for you.

    • 09/15/2010 20:47

      Wowz, you’ve got the full menu. I need to get back to that kind of dedication.

  9. Murdoch permalink
    09/13/2010 13:33

    Probably like 3 times a week i’ll do some ab work and pushups after a run. Nothing major, Im too cheap to join a gym so I just do what I can at home. Core and upperbody is huge for longer distances because when you’re just about empty keeping good form and swinging your arms is a big way of keeping forward motion.

    • 09/15/2010 20:49

      Woohoo! I love that you just said this, because that’s pretty much all I do right now as a gymless individual. 100 pushups (in sets of 20/10) 3x per week, plus some fancy plank stuff. And that’s it.

  10. 09/13/2010 15:41

    I only work on what needs fixing to make me run better. My posture has always been awful, so pushups, chinups and core work are all really useful. But I’m lazy, so now that I’m into hip stuff, I stopped the core stuff and the others are always in maintenance mode (1 day/week of a few sets of pushups, just enough to know I can still do it).

    I think if there’s a hole that needs filling and you know the payoff will be worth it, go for it, but just to do something without a specific reason is not very motivating (to me, anyway).

    • 09/15/2010 20:51

      I started trying to build up to “real” chin-up/pull-ups this summer and was enjoying that, but now I’m without pullup bar. …

      Your mindset of “targeting the weaknesses” resonates with me. There’s definitely not a lot of drive to do extra stuff that has no tangible value or result, but specific reasons really help…

  11. 09/13/2010 20:33

    i used to think a strong core was optional (haha…yeah right) but a few months ago, i started doing an ab routine 2-3 times a week and it improved my running heaps! (stabilizes stuff.) i don’t know what the “appropriate” amounts of strength training is either, but i’m curious to find out!

  12. 09/14/2010 19:03

    hey girlie!
    i am a big “extra” trainer! I spin/road bike 3x a week, lift weights 3x, swim 3x, and run 4x. I think the balance of working different muscles each day prevents burn out and injury!
    I hope your week is off to a great start!

    • 09/15/2010 20:53

      That sounds pretty similar to what I did in my “former” life before moving here and trying to live without a gym or cross-training equipment. Now it’s just running, and I guess I’m enjoying it so much that I’m looking for permission to keep being a lazypants…


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