Weight Lifting


Experience From - Jay Hodde , Karl King #1 , Charles Steele , Karl King #2 , Dan Baglione ,

Jay Hodde

The benefits of weight lifting to running ultras are the same as the benefits of weight lifting to any other endurance activity.

Think on this statement for a minute: "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link."

You see, when we run, we use more muscles than just our legs. We use our entire body. The body, during exercise, acts as a kinetic chain, whereby energy is transferred from the upper body and into the lower body -- thus giving us propulsion. When the upper body is weak, the energy transfer is not as efficient, and our performance suffers. Make sense?

If not, try this: The next time you run, run with your hands in your pants pockets. This inhibits the transfer of energy from the upper body, making running a lot more difficult. Sound silly? Where are your arms near the end of a 50 miler? (For me, the answer is simple: They usually end up closer to my pants pockets than they should be!)

How does upper body exercise increase running efficiency? It increases the efficiency by which the body utilizes energy -- by more easily transferring the stored, potential energy into kinetic energy that is used for forward motion. So upper body strength is important to running well -- I just wish I had the stamina to work on my arm strength as much as I work on my leg strength. After an event, are your shoulders just as tired as your legs? I know that mine are!

Karl King #1

For those who are beginners at lifting, beware the terrible Ts: too much, too fast, too soon. Think of your program as very long term - there's no need to rush. I've talked with many runners who tried weights, got injured and gave up on them.

When you first start, progress is very rapid. But, it takes 8 weeks of work before you get any significant muscle adaptation. The early, rapid improvements almost all neurological: your brain becomes more adept at telling your muscle fibers how to contract to lift the load. Beginners get excited at their rapid progress and increase the load far too fast. Then they get injured because they're over stressing the muscle fibers and probably connective tissue as well.

Start slow, and use high reps-low weights for a couple months to give your body a chance to strengthen enough for heavier loads latter. My experience after 5 years of weights is that they can help a lot, especially with abs and lower back. Just don't expect miracles overnight. The other thing I've noticed is that I have to stay very light on the upper body stuff or I'll add lots of muscle that looks great in the mirror but is just extra weight to be carried while running.

Women do not have to worry about adding much upper body weight because they have to work themselves to death to add a lot of muscle. Testosterone helps spur muscle growth, so guys have a natural advantage in that regard.

Charles Steele

I had experiences that relate to two current threads. Re upper body workouts: My running training this year has been poor, thanks to injuries and work commitments, but my upper body condition is the probably the best it has ever been. This made a noticeable difference in the run: in past 50's I've suffered various shoulder & arm pain/cramps; this time I had none. This helped me in the late stages of the race, as it was one less contribution to degenerating running form. My training emphasized pushups and pullups, in ratio of 2.5 to 1, with up to 250 pushups per workout, usually averaging maybe 170, and doing this every two or three days. I supplemented this with a few weight lifting exercises, and lots of exercises for the abs, back, and hips. My running muscles were in bad shape, but this general muscular conditioning helped me drag in to the finish.

Karl King #2

Chuck Hammonds asked about sore back and abs after an ultra.

Abs get little support while running and that tends to stretch them out over many hours. Back muscles can get sore from hours of pounding if you're a hard lander, or if you tend to run with a tense upper body. Courses with some rugged, fast down hills ( Dr. David Horton's Mountain Masochist 50 comes to mind ) can really pound your back.

Runners who are new to ultra running and want to do it for many years should consider some ab and back exercises to strengthen those areas. What works for me are exercises included in my weight lifting routines. Namely, stiff-legged dead lifts for the lower back ( spinal erectors ) , ab machine for upper abs, leg lifts for lower abs I use relatively light weights but do the exercises 2-3 times per week. In the 3-4 years that I've been doing these, no back or ab problems.

Some people get really tense in the upper body when they run. It's no big deal in a 10K race, but you can't run 50 that way without getting really sore. Be aware of your body while you run and learn to relax if you get tense.

Others on the list probably have their own favorite ways of strengthening abs and back muscles.

One other muscle set that can fatigue in ultras is the one that is used in breathing. We take breathing for granted but don't realize that many hours of breathing at a faster rate can tire those muscles. I don't know of any specific exercises for those, but one thing that helps is to use a Breathe Right stip on the nose the day of the ultra. With wider air passages, the load on the breathing muscles is reduced. I never wear one in training because that's the time to stress the muscles so they'll grow stronger. Some recent studies concluded that the strips were of no advantage in exercise. That's probably true for short-term exercise. Virtually all of such testing never considers that might people might actually want to exercise for 10 or more hours at a time. So they put subjects on an exercise bike for 20 minutes and then draw profound conclusions. It usually takes me 20 to get to the point where I feel ready to run hard.

Dan Baglione

Subject: Quadriceps/Leg Press

George, I'm no expert on physical training; but my own experience is that the Leg Press strengthens calf muscles more than quads. I feel that one of the best exercises for quads is an exerciser or bicycle on which you can strap or otherwise lock the feet tightly to the pedals and, then, concentrate on pulling up, not letting one foot be pushed up by the downward thrust from the calf muscle on the descending leg.

I would be interested in the comments of anyone more knowledgeable than I on this subject. I currently do two sets of 20 or more reps at 360 lbs with one set of 20+ reps at 500 lbs in between. I have quite large calf muscles.