Strength training for runners starts with your connection to the ground. Like any sport, using the right equipment for the job can improve technique which then assists in a better performance outcome and reduced injury risk.
On the other hand, using equipment not fit for purpose can inhibit our progress and set ourselves up for injury.
Runners absolutely must be strength training as part of their weekly schedules. It's a non negotiable for us here at Run Vault Performance.
We look at the benefits of strength training in a shoe designed for this purpose and factors to help you make a decision for what is right for you.
The right shoe for the right job
Just like choosing the right shoe for running, which the team at Run Vault can do very well for you, using proper equipment for your cross and strength training is equally as important. As a runner myself I know how expensive this sport can be, so I'll take you through my list of things to look for when choosing a shoe for your strength training.
I'm currently training in the Topo Athletic ST-5 shoe which is great for the gym.
Why you shouldn't use your running shoes for strength and cross training
First and foremost, let's look at why we shouldn't be using our running shoes in the gym. Strength training with running shoes hinder your performance. I know because I spent years strength training in any shoe I had available as I left home which often was a running shoe. Although I understood the importance of strength training for my running performance, my thoughts were always on running so didn't give shoes much thought. It wasn't until I swapped out the running shoes for more specific strength training shoes that I started to feel the difference and improved movements of my body, especially under heavy compound moves and unilateral exercises.
You lose all connection and feeling with the ground due to the bounce and nature of the foam with a running shoe when strength training. If you are relatively unstable through your joints a running shoe will only amplify this instability as your platform to the ground is not still to begin with.
Most running shoes have soft bouncy foam which help the muscles respond and spring effectively to the opposing forces throughout the running cycle, this however is not what we want when in the gym strength training.
Your foot sits in a running shoe for that purpose, running. Your weight is generally distributed across the ball of your feet to promote running form efficiency.
For strength training and lifting, we want weight distributed across a larger surface area connected to the ground, allowing you to drive confidently through any lift with power and control.
By having a firmer outsole along with a structure that keeps the foot stable throughout all movements in exercise, you'll be able to perform the task with better range and work the muscles you are targeting more effectively. You'll also significantly reduce your risk of injury, especially through the joints as you'll be able to hold your position more comfortably with a stable and grounded shoe.
What should I look for in a strength training shoe?
As runners and endurance athletes, our core focus is progression through training and performance on race day, so when it comes to strength and cross training we are performing the exercises for this purpose.
With this in mind you don't have to purchase a shoe that is only for strength training and lifting. Think about the type of lifting and training you are doing, the frequency and overall goal.
Consider a shoe from a company that primarily makes running shoes
For running and endurance athletes, I recommend looking for a shoe that is designed and built by a shoe manufacturer that make running shoes as their core product. These companies have the runner front of mind when building a shoe which assists in an easy transition from your running shoe to your strength training shoe.
Choose a shoe that serves more than one purpose
There are strength training shoes available that are also built for other activities, acting like a hybrid shoe, meaning they can be used for strength training, cross training such as boot camp that may have elements of running, along with walking or jogging as well. This gives you more scope in your training without having to carry around a suite of shoes with you.
Look for stability, firmness, minimalist stack and a small to no offset.
When strength training for running and endurance sports, we want to work on range, eccentric and concentric loading of the muscles along with tendon and ligament strength as well response and power. With all of this in mind (which is a lot!) your program should include all of the following:
Compound bilateral (dual limb) lifting such as deadlift and squat variations
Unilateral (single limb) exercises such as single leg RDL's
Isometric holds such as squat holds, wall sits, core holds and calf raise
Plyometric work such as speed skaters, agility ladder, hurdles, box jumps.
Avoid a narrow shoe, or one that squashes your toes. You want your feet to be able to flatten out as much as possible when under load, giving you a large and stable surface area underfoot.
When is it okay to use your running shoes for strength training?
There are times when I would suggest wearing your running shoes when strength and cross training simply due to the nature of the movements. If you are not used to a minimalist shoe on your foot, dynamic movements and frequent change of direction can increase your risk of injury as you may experience more range and a higher impact than what you are used too.
Boot camp, generally involves movement in many planes and running
Plyometric work, such as speed skaters, hurdle jumps, some box jumps
Plyometric work is the closest type of training to running that is not running. Plyometrics is a type of exercise training that uses speed and force of different movements to build muscle power, of which we explain in more detail with an example session here.
How will this make me a better runner?
You'll gain massive benefit with proper form, movement and range when it comes to strength training for your running with the correct shoe like the Topo ST-5. Put simply, your muscle mass and bone density will increase, two factors that diminish with prolonged cardio (running) and needed for longevity of life.
I've noticed an improved metabolic rate, fitness, performance and reduced recovery times between running sessions as well as a significant reduction in injury in both myself and our Run Vault Performance coached athletes.
Improve your confidence and proprioceptive awareness
The stronger and more connected we are to our body and ground, the better we move without a direct line of sight when running.
Proprioceptive awareness can be improved with a properly designed strength program including unilateral and plyometric exercises. You can dampen the effect of this training with soft and cushioned running shoes so it's important to train with a shoe that allows you to have a better connection with the ground. You'll strengthen the entire chain of muscles throughout the movement providing a better result overall with a shoe that allows the body to do the work instead of a shoe that can suppress and hide any impact or load.
How to choose a shoe for you
Don't overthink it! Think stability, firm and minimal to no offset. I'm using the Topo St-5 shoe from Topo Athletic. It's built by a running company with the runner in mind. It's affordable, versatile and lightweight with support through the midsole, 0mm offset and only 14mm in stack height, keeping me connected and in control with every exercise.
Run Vault Performance are a team of qualified endurance and strength coaches that support many athletes form all walks of life across the world pursuing their training and racing goals.
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