Review – Runners Connect Strength Training System

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Photo Credit: Push Ups by Flickr user Tim Cigelske, used under a Creative Commons license.

If you want to achieve your best as a runner, strength development should be a key part of your training regimen.  First, it can help in resisting injuries, especially as you age.  It is far easier to develop aerobically than it is structurally when you run, so you need to make a conscious effort not to let your engine get ahead of your chassis.  Additionally, running helps develop certain muscles, like your quads, faster than others, and the potential imbalances that develop can lead to issues with form or potential injury.

Additionally, appropriate strength training can lead to significant performance gains.  First, you can increase mileage, which leads to further development of your aerobic capacity yielding improvement at nearly any race distance.  Additionally, more strength and power leads to better running economy – you can lengthen your stride without overreaching, and a strong core combined with balanced strength development through the rest of your body allows you to direct more energy forward instead of losing it to extraneous motion, increasing your efficiency.

You might be tempted to just jump into strength training, based on your own beliefs on what you need, advice from your friends, or some cool-looking workout you found on the Internet.  While doing something is better than doing nothing, it’s likely you’ll end up neglecting certain regions that need work, like your lower legs and feet, or your hips and glutes.  Additionally, it’s easy to fall into a rut, continuing to do basic exercises like planks or squats that eventually become too easy.  All this combines to reduce your return on investment, which is an important consideration for the time-constrained athlete.

Click to expand and see a screen shot of the contents of the Runners Connect Strength Training program

If you’re looking to get more serious about your strength training, Jeff Gaudette at Runners Connect has put together an outstanding package of workouts suitable for a wide range of needs. Some of the benefits of this system include:

  • Workouts are designed to target a range of development needs, from general strength to foot/ankle/lower leg.
  • The program is designed as a series of progressions, so you can increase the difficulty both within the workout (by adding, say, a stability ball to certain exercises) and by stepping up to the next level (which may incorporate more dynamic exercises or weights).
  • The workouts range from bodyweight exercises to plyometrics to full gym workouts, so you can choose the ones that fit your reality even on a daily basis if necessary (like if you are traveling and don’t have access to suitable equipment).  In fact, the vast majority of the workouts don’t require weights.
  • The workouts are running-specific and some include drills to help with your form development.  In fact, there is a whole workout set designed as drills, plus warm-up and cool-down routines that get you ready to run.
  • Nearly all of the routines include a video to demonstrate proper execution of the exercises, which is far more helpful than just trying to follow a write-up.
  • Jeff includes a set of “prescriptions” that help you execute a progression appropriate to your goal race (from 5K to marathon), plus custom workouts designed to recover from or prevent common running injuries like Achilles tendinitis and hamstring strains.

Ample video footage is included for instructional purposes

Now a word about the nomenclature – all the workouts are named after Greek gods (and titans, with a human hero thrown in as well if you want to get technical).  While at first this seems a bit “cheesy”, it actually makes the workouts a bit easier to remember and more distinctive versus, say, “advanced core with medicine ball.”  Plus, some of the names are intuitive – Achilles for lower leg, Atlas for core, Hermes for speed (and he wisely leaves Aphrodite out, so that routine can be up to your imagination!).

Some basic equipment is recommended (or, in a few cases, needed) for these workouts, including:

  • Resistance bands – these are needed for most routines, especially the hip and lower leg work.
  • Yoga mat – while not essential, this is generally a cleaner and more comfortable alternative to doing your work on the floor.
  • Stability ball – this is mandatory for the second step in the core progression (Apollo dynamic core) and helpful for more advanced options in the first step.
  • Medicine ball – two of the more advanced routines (Aether – circuit training, Ares – power core) are built around the medicine ball, but you can hold off on this initially.  Jeff recommends starting with a 6-lb. medicine ball (we’ll see if I ever advance to 10 lbs.!).
  • Gym for weight routines – the advanced general strength routine (Zeus) is performed using free weights, machines, and cable weights, but this is the only workout where you need such equipment.  However, the Chronos and Aether circuit training regimens work well in a facility with an indoor track (especially in winter).
  • And this is my personal preference – an iPad works great for displaying the workouts (use Dropbox to sync with your computer and GoodReader to view the documents), and it’s far more convenient than making and carrying printouts.  Plus you can rock out to Katie Perry while strengthening your core (umm, we all do that, right?).

I’ve been putting over 3 hours per week for the past 4 weeks or so into trying many of these workouts, including Athena (legs), Bia (hips), Atlas (core), Apollo (dynamic core), Achilles (lower leg), Artemis (transition to minimalist), Poseidon (general strength), and Chronos (circuit training – bodyweight), plus the Hephaestus warm-up and Nike cool-down routines.  Each takes between 10-20 minutes (except the warm-ups and cool-downs) and Jeff’s description of the first-level workouts as “basic but not easy” seems apt.  Experienced strength-training runners will advance quickly, and this is a good building block for those relatively new to strength training.

I can say that after 4 weeks I feel a notable improvement in certain areas, especially my lower legs/calves and my hips.  Some of the routines are similar to workouts you may know, like Jay Johnson’s myrtl routine – but Bia is a supercharged version, more suitable for building strength as opposed to “just” warming up or cooling down.  It’s easy enough to do a quick Poseidon or Athena routine after your run, and the Achilles and Artemis lower leg routines can easily be done in work clothes (making them great as a mid-day energy boost).  While many of the exercises are familiar, especially at the “first level” (push ups, squats, lunges, planks, etc.), you are bound to find a few new ones, and the progression will definitely introduce new stimuli for your training.

There are a few minor glitches in the write-ups where exercises aren’t clear, and some situations where the video does not match exactly the written routine, but these are manageable, and Jeff has been more than responsive when I’ve asked for clarification.  The amount of information available is significant, and it does take a bit of time to digest it all, but the good news is you can start small and expand as you develop your strength.

I’ve modified the names of my own core workout (Prometheus – a step up from Atlas in difficulty) and hip/upper leg routine (Kratos – likewise a progression from Bia) to fit this scheme and continue to mix them in.  These workouts are definitely worth “writing in” to your training plan, and I’m working on that very process right now.

So please check out the Runners Connect Strength Training program if you want to get serious about improving as a runner.  It will provide you both the tools and the motivation to make structural development an asset as you pursue your future race goals.  I offer my clients a discount on their coaching package if they purchase this routine, as it makes communicating workouts far easier than writing up a description each time (even when I do mix and match exercises to fit their specific needs).

Disclosure:  I am an affiliate for the Runners Connect program and do earn a commission on your purchase (so please stop back if you do eventually decide to purchase it through the links provided above, and help support this blog!).  However, I would have written this review without such an arrangement, and have been fully honest in doing so.  I purchased the program with my own money before such an offer was made.

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