Radhika Meganathan talks to the assistant secretary of Chennai District Powerlifting Association JYOTSNA JOHN about the importance of strength training for serious runners.
Meet the NSCA certified personal trainer and Olympic weightlifting instructor – Jyotsna John, who founded The Unit in Kotturpuram, in 2012. Since then, she and her team have helped train over 900 people into a better lifestyle through exercise and nutrition counseling. In this exclusive interview, she shares her strength training tips for the avid runner.
How did you get started in strength training?
I have played competitive basketball for 16 years. I started strength training during my high school, as part of fitness regime for the sport. I loved how strong I got and how much better my jumps were when I trained and I haven’t looked back since.
How important is strength training for runners?
Extremely! Running places a lot of stress on the knee joint and the muscles around it. If you don’t have the strength to carry your body over the many miles you have to run both for the long training period and on race day, you will definitely get injured at some point. Strength training will help you avoid this pitfall.
What kinds of strength training programs are available for runners?
With runners, the focus is not on building big muscles or lifting big weights. It’s on building stability through the knees, hips and ankles and increasing their tolerance to distance running. At The Unit, we usually recommend light weights and lots of reps along with plenty of core training to help our runners stay injury free.
How should marathon runners set goals for strength training?
Do shorter runs at faster paces once in a while. It’s a good measure of how strong you’re getting without creating too much stress on your joints.
How does strength training help in recovery after a marathon?
Benefits of strength training are largely indirect. If you’re stronger and more capable of handling the impact of tens of thousands of steps on a hard surface (like the road) at high velocity, then you are likely to need less recovery time.
Are there different ways of strength training for men and women Marathon runners?
Women can tolerate more volume than men. Hence, the only (tiny) difference is, strength training for women usually involves more sets and reps than for men. Otherwise, the exercises and the training itself is the same for both gender. Same group of muscles, same demand on both muscles and joints, why should the training be any different!
Your strength training tips for first time marathon runners?
What do you most worry about training runners?
Runners are by far the most obsessive, neurotic bunch of people I train. Even in the middle of an injury you can’t tell them to take a break because if you do, they react as if you’re trying to steal their inheritance!
For the runners I have so far trained, their weekly mileage is usually more important to them than their joints and they are for all these reasons more prone to injury than the average person. I’ve always found this amusing, because if you ask any runner why they started running, they’ll tell you it was to get fitter. But the longer they’ve been running, the less they care about health and the more they care about random numbers like mileage, tempo and other such things that look good on paper.
So is this what you’d like to caution long distance runners against strength training?
Yes. Don’t over-train. Somehow runners seem to be particularly susceptible to overtraining. The need to clock miles or put in the time for lifting weights should not outweigh your need to be healthy. Listen to your body and if needed, take days off from training. Rest before you need it and eat enough carbs to keep your muscles fuelled.
Is it better to do the strength training at home or with a trainer?
If you can’t afford professional training, at least do a few sessions with a good trainer and learn the right way to perform your movements. Bad movement patterns can cause injury and wear out the joints. But if you are a serious runner, investing in a good trainer will help you understand exercise technique and prevent injuries.