When I first set out to write this post I had planned to say that gym work was a valuable thing for a runner to do. I still stand by that but with some important caveats.
Does it matter?
Short answer I believe is “Yes”. I should expand on that though.
For many years I didn’t go near a gym. I trained hard and pushed my fitness and endurance hard but at no point did I worry about upper body or core conditioning. I did have problems though, particularly with my lower abdominals. I was finding that after 6-8 hours on my feet during an event that the area of my body in the most pain was my lower abs. Each step felt like someone was punching me in the gut.
OK, so that’s the first development area: Core Conditioning
Next thing I found was that when you spend a large amount of time on your feet your arms and shoulders start to really ache. During long distance events you tend to be wearing a backpack or carrying water and over time it really adds up.
Right, that’s the second development area: Upper Body Strength
I had the opportunity to join a gym so I grasped it and worked out a programme that would develop and tone upper body, strengthen my core and put some power in my legs. Notice I included legs in there. I didn’t have a particular problem with my leg strength but I felt that I needed an all over body workout.
To cut a long story short training my legs was a bad idea. My hamstrings got really tight and that in turn pulled my hips out of alignment and before I knew it I had back issues. I needed physio to get that fixed. The combination of running 6-7 times a week and doing a leg workout combined to over-train my legs and caused them to tighten up. Hence the hip issues. After I got them fixed I cut out the leg workout from my programme.
So now my workout is based roughtly 50/50 between core strength and upper body. I do 5 exercises on chest, shoulders and arms, then 4 sets on core. The whole workout takes about 40 mins, I do this twice a week and I’ve been keeping that up for 18 months now.
Has it helped?
I think so. 8 hours into an ultra I’m no longer suffering with my abs. I don’t get any pain from them at all now. Having more upper body strength helps also. I just don’t get so much tiredness. None of this makes completing ultras a great deal easier. It’s still like a slow-motion car crash. It still hurts a lot but at least I get to focus on the bits that should be hurting rather than the bits that shouldn’t.
So to conclude. I think doing gym work is a great idea for a runner. Just don’t over do it. I like to think of it as simply conditioning and that it doesn’t have a goal in itself. I’m not trying to lift more and more weight all the time. As long as I’m pushing myself each I cannot expect the weight rise all the time. Most of all though I try to enjoy it. It’s totally different to running and a nice addition.