Strength training options
March 27, 2014 6:03 AM   Subscribe

I want to improve my endurance exercise by strength training. According to research I should go for a high weight very low rep program. I know there are a few commonly recommended books for that like Starting Strength and The New Rules of Lifting (for Women). I wonder if there is a way to do this without going to a gym or buying expensive equipment, and without following a whole comprehensive program that assumes that weight lifting will be the focus of my life.

I will go to a gym if that is my only real option. If so, I'd still like recommendations on what to do. Are there books about high weight low rep exercise targeted for runners/cyclists/triathletes/other endurance exercisers? (the people in the research I linked did 85-90% of their one-rep maximum for each exercise, four sets of three to four reps per exercise) I feel that many strength-training-for-runners books and magazine articles emphasize bodyweight exercises with more reps and are more for general health and perhaps some injury prevention but I want to focus on improving speed and it seems that those exercises don't do anything for that. I also don't want to gain muscle though (not because I have an irrational fear of "bulking up" but because that doesn't seem to be necessary), and it seems that many of the strength-focused books do focus on gaining muscle
posted by blub to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
How do you intend to access high weights without a gym? The "expensive equipment" are the weights and the mechanisms that allow you to load the weights together and put them in the proper position to lift them. Even for a small, novice woman, you'll need weights in excess of 100 lb, and that's not something you can jury rig out of canned foods and kitty litter.

If you read Starting Strength, you will find that Starting Strength calls for three workouts per week, with each one taking less than one hour. When strength training takes over someone's life at the novice level, it's not because SS requires it, it's because that person wants to spend more time on their new hobby.
posted by telegraph at 6:12 AM on March 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well, gaining muscle is inherently part of gaining strength...

"Body By You" by Mark Lauren lays out a program that only uses bodyweight/ household items, and moves up to more challenging bodyweight exercises as you improve. He recommends starting with an exercise that you can do 10-12 times, but you could opt for more difficult ones that bring you to failure sooner. "You Are Your Own Gym" is a more "advanced" version of the same thing that includes more exercise options.
posted by metasarah at 6:40 AM on March 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You really don't need any expensive equipment or a gym to do strength training--just set yourself up with some weights at home, and then give yourself a routine of 8-10 exercises you can work through two or three times a week. Of course everyone likes Starting Strength, but since you're a runner, you might look to something like 10 exercises recommended by Runners World.

As an aside, I looked at the actual study described in the article you linked (I can send a copy to you if you would like). It is a nice study, but small (16 men and 5 women started it, and 5 dropped out, leaving only 16 people, mostly men). The study was actually conducted to see if a different training regimen (low rep/high weight/minimal time) could benefit master's (> age 40) endurance athletes. They wanted to look at this group since their training needs/physiological responses and development etc are different from younger or elite athletes on whom most studies that have led to the the general advice you usually hear about how to use strength training for improving running times. I would really caution you to not base your training program on this single small study. In fact that study does not really try to conclude that this workout scheme is better than the usual strength-training regimens recommended for runners, especially if you are not a male master's marathoner.
posted by gubenuj at 6:54 AM on March 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's mostly just semantics but by 'not wanting to gain muscle' I think you're talking about putting on size rather than getting stronger. There's two different aspects of weight training and it helps to distinguish between them.
posted by unixrat at 6:55 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you considered high-intensity interval training with sprinting? These are brief ~10 minute workouts in which you might, say, alternate all-out-sprinting/walking for 20/40 seconds, respectively. Anecdotally, with just lifting and sprint training I've seen huge benefits in cardiovascular endurance and baseline jogging speed.
posted by nicodine at 6:59 AM on March 27, 2014

Do a modified SS program. Focus on the core, compound lifts (bench press, overhead press, squat, and deadliest). Lift three days a week. I have no doubt that you could be in and out of the gym in under 45 minutes.
posted by Silvertree at 7:11 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The New Rules of Lifting for Women workouts have me in and out of the gym in well under 45 minutes, and it's only every other day or so. It is a comprehensive program, but doesn't really consume your life unless you add more to it. The main thing I like about that book over other similar weight training books is that all the instructional pictures use women, and are therefore probably easier to use as a model if you're female-bodied.

The main problem with home weight sets is that they're expensive and take up a fair bit of space, plus my apartment floor isn't really set up to allow me to drop the weights if I need to. The smaller home weight sets top out at a low weight level, plus the weight discs tend to be smaller-sized than standard so posture for deadlifting gets weird. I'd rather pay my $8/mo for the local gym with standard-size weights and racks and a floor that isn't my problem to maintain.
posted by asperity at 7:46 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite] has some creative instructions for putting together home weights, often involving bulk sand.
posted by bunderful at 8:00 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I similarly dislike gyms and I've had moderate success with a constantly-changing bodyweight program. I started off with the beginner bodyweight routine from nerd fitness, and have modified it to my taste every few weeks, and I'm pretty happy with my current routine. I use some adjustable dumbbells (cheap and take up almost no space) and I'd recommend a pullup bar too.

Also, bodyweight stuff isn't all high reps - you can modify just about any exercise to become harder with added weights or just different angles etc rather than just adding reps. Yoga is another option that I never really enjoyed, but many people have gained strength from it (obviously this very much depends on what kind of yoga you're doing). There are many bodyweight/yoga exercises that you can't even attempt until you have quite a lot of strength, so it gives you something to work towards, gradually increasing the difficulty as you grow stronger. Another option is p90x which is done at home with dumbbells, and again can be modified to your liking or used as-is.

You might try asking the same question on the /r/bodyweightfitness and /r/xxfitness subreddits (/r/fitness is ok too but sometimes gets a bit bro-y for my liking.). Barbell gym training is really pushed these days - I do think that's a great way to go but I also think you can achieve your goals at home, if maybe a bit slower and with a bit more thinking required about your goals and what muscles you want to strengthen. I don't mind slow results and actually enjoy nerding out and tweaking my routine every so often, so the home system works for me. I haven't gained much if any visible muscle, but I am getting stronger.
posted by randomnity at 8:05 AM on March 27, 2014

ExRx has a good beginner's page with suggestions for exercises that require less stuff. You will still need weights and a bench, though, and they aren't cheap - try craigslist or wait for sales. It might be worth starting at a gym as you'll have rapid gains at first and then buy the weight you need once you plateau a bit.

And be careful! You should probably find a spotter for loads that high.
posted by momus_window at 8:44 AM on March 27, 2014

You can often pick up weights on craigslist relatively cheaply if you have the space, or I bet if you ask around you'd find someone who has some in their garage going unused. There are dumbbell-only programs around (here's one) too if it's easier to pick up dumbbells.

Another option might be looking for an olympic lifting class, particularly if explosiveness is a focus for you as a runner. Crossfit gyms often offer them, if your reason for not wanting to go to the gym is not liking the environment at your local globogym. There are also kettlebell programs you can do at home, I believe gurus like Neghar Fonooni write about them.

Bear in mind that while people for some reason do it for ages, Starting Strength and Stronglifts etc are beginners programs. The idea is that you do it for 3 or 4 months or until your progress workout to workout stalls, to develop a good base of strength and knowledge of the compound lifts before moving on to something focused on your area of interest; whether that area is powerlifting or oly lifting or bodybuilding or sports-specific training. It's not intended you do it forever. I'm not a runner and have no idea what typical runners' programs look like, but I've done SS and you might consider picking up a gym membership for the summer only to do it for that finite period to see if barbell training clicks with you before starting something more focused.

Lifting is a priority in my life and my workouts are less than 60 minutes five days a week and I also make sure I eat 100g of protein a day. It doesn't need to be all-consuming, I promise!
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:24 AM on March 27, 2014

Another vote for joining a gym because you won't have to set up your own stuff. You might also want to look for a personal trainer or a strength coach who will be able to teach you how to perform these lifts properly and safely.

I actually just sent you a MeMail with some programming ideas. All of the strength work I do at my gym takes around 20 minutes to finish up.
posted by astapasta24 at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2014

Best answer: I'm a triathlete. After I finished my first Ironman in 2010, I took a break from endurance training and did Starting Strength for a good 6 months. I got hella strong, my bodyfat% went down (not that hard, I had a pretty high number going into it), and I didn't bulk up. It was more like my muscles started densifying (which is actually what happens when you do high weight low rep, your muscles respond to their near-complete utilization by saying hey, we need some more contractile proteins, let's get on it, as opposed to higher reps which tend to favor an increase in metabolic structures and fuel/fluid storage, i.e. teh dreaded BULK). But my endurance capacity went to shit, and my 2011 tri season was my worst one ever (like, my benchmark early season Olympic-distance tri was 5 min slower than my first time at that distance). But at the same time, my swim time was unchanged, because even though my form was degraded and endurance low, my abs were stronger than ever, and every stroke was absolutely connected.

Granted, my training was geared towards strength, so I wasn't too disappointed with my tri season; if anything, I was psyched to see how little endurance training I could do and still manage to complete those distances. But the problem is that building strength is at odds with endurance. Rippetoe notes that more than 30 min running per week when strength training will likely negate some of the hormonal changes that drive strength increase, i.e. lifting heavy and endurance training are literally counterproductive.

So if you want to strength train for endurance, find a reference that is intended for that purpose. I'm a big fan of Joe Friel's work; Triathlete's Training Bible has a good overview on strength training throughout the tri season, and it breaks down exercises and weights by period (Base, Build, Race, etc.).
posted by disconnect at 11:28 AM on March 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers! It's interesting to see such a variety and I will check out your recommendations. gubenuj I would love to read the original study and sent you a memail. Your point that this was a small study with almost only older male people is well taken, but I liked the "minimal time" component, I am not young nor elite, and 6% improvement is huge enough for me to be interested. I figured even with the limitations this research is probably more relevant to me than most of the research in this area with either elite athletes or people who are totally new to exercise.

To be clear: my point about not looking for a program that wants to be the focus of my life was not just that I don't have time for lots of weight lifting (though time is a factor), but also that I worry about exactly what disconnect says. I think that if I do heavy lifting three times a week, plus endurance exercise 4 times a week, there is not enough time for recovery and my performance will probably suffer (and perhaps my health too).

The article about the research I read did say that the athletes did not gain muscle even though they did gain strength. Apparently the marathoners were able to better recruit existing muscle fibers and that that was exactly why they got faster ("These neural adaptations, in turn, made for more efficiency when running at marathon race pace, because of the runners' increased ability to recruit muscle fibers".) That sounded good to me.
posted by blub at 3:26 PM on March 27, 2014

The You Are Your Own Gym app is good, and based on Mark Lauren's book.
posted by susanvance at 5:53 AM on March 28, 2014

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