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This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Weight Training for Ultramarathons”, please leave it below in the comments section…
Just like all the other athletes, ultrarunners can benefit from cross-training. The long run is your fundamental workout as the extreme distances you’ll be facing will require an enhanced anaerobic capacity. But that’s not all you’ll need out there on the course. A balanced training for an ultramarathon should increase both your strong and weak points.
Speed and strength are abilities you’ll rely on too even if they’re not typically a primary focus. Weight training is one type of cross-training that directly develops muscle strength. That’s why most athletes from various other sports always do some degree of weight training, adapting the workouts or choosing specific ones that align with the requirements of their chosen field.
Transfer of energy
Your leg muscles aren’t the only set of muscles you use when you run. The whole body is in motion and energy moves from your upper to your lower body. If the upper body is weak or is inhibited in its movements then the lower body’s performance can be negatively affected. So even though the strength in your arms and shoulders isn’t the primary engine for running, it still in an indirect way contributes to propulsion.
Abs and back muscles
These muscle groups also take some of the punishment from running. This is particularly true if you happen to be one of those runners with a heavy foot strike. They take a beating along with your legs on rugged and downhill terrain as well. Consider doing some exercises like the leg dead lifts and those that use the ab machine. Some runners tend to stiffen up their upper body as they run. While this may be tolerable on short or middle distances, on 50 miles or more you could get really strained.
The act of running tends to develop the hamstrings more than the quadriceps. It is this imbalance that can sometimes lead to dead quads. You may already know about how downhill running can strengthen this particular group of leg muscles. In case there are no nearby hills in the area where you live and train, weight training focused on the quadriceps muscles can be a good alternative.
Remember that weight training is for augmenting your main training. Developing your upper body to the point where it gets bulky for example is counter-productive as this will only add extra weight for your legs to carry. You’re still going to run a footrace not join a body-building contest. Thus weight training for ultrarunners is recommended to be high-repetition but low-weight. As with your endurance build up efforts, keep yourself from overdoing intensity and volume. Muscle development is quickly noticeable compared to increases in endurance. This could easily tempt you to upgrade the load too early and that mistake can easily lead to injury and overtraining.
Do you have questions about ultramarathon weight training, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.