When people realize that strength training can help their running, they often gravitate towards something obvious like squats. Squatting works the legs, and running requires legs, ipso facto—let’s do some squats! Now squats are great, but if you have muscular imbalances, lingering injuries (particularly knee pain) or you’re just fatigued from your training miles, then squatting can be an extra strain you don’t really need.
Luckily there’s something else you could be doing that’s actually more effective: deadlifting.
The deadlift is closely related to running.
Besides making you stronger, the deadlift trains you to hinge forward at the hips and align your trunk with your knees and feet in the same way you will when running. Also, the strength you’ll gain in your glutes and hamstrings, which make up part of your posterior chain, will help you to apply more force as you rake your foot back to propel yourself forward after your foot strikes the ground.
Deadlifting can help you avoid knee pain.
This common runner’s affliction can crop up when your training volume goes up or you’re pushing hard on race day. If you’ve never experienced it then I’m willing to bet you know someone who has. Quite often, knee pain is the result of a weak posterior chain, or being ‘quad-dominant.’ Basically, that means that your glutes in particular aren’t doing their job, which forces your quads to do overtime and can lead to painful patellar tracking issues.
Deadlifting done correctly should fire your hamstrings and glutes, forcing your quads to play more of a supporting role, which creates good muscular habits and can help prevent potential knee pain.
Deadlifting will help you hold onto solid running form longer.
Again, done correctly, deadlifts train scapular rotation, which will contribute to a nice upright, solid torso. Not only is an upright torso more efficient while running, but that scapular rotation will help keep your airways open. Form is one of the first things to go during a long race as the fatigue sets in and you slump forward, but deadlifting will help you avoid that and stay upright, which will give you more endurance. Another benefit of a strong upper body, particularly arms and shoulders, is that it’ll help you drive forward during those long days leaning on your hiking poles, or pushing off your legs as you haul arse up climb after climb.
Deadlifting is time-efficient.
You can get through an effective deadlift session in 30 minutes flat, and that includes spending 10 minutes or so mobilizing before you start. There are a number of rep schemes you can follow, but lifting for power and overall strength, not muscle gain, is the goal here. You want to be lifting in rep ranges that will overload the muscles and trigger the training response you want.
Lifting heavy weights (comparative to your own ability) for 4-6 reps will achieve that power. Try the 5×5 formula, in which you warm up with some lighter sets before completing 5 sets of 5 reps at a challenging weight. Another method I’ve found to be really effective is the Maximum Sustainable Power (MSP) method, created by Jacques DeVore, in which you build up to a heavy set of 5 before dropping down to sets of 4, 3, 2 and 2 again.
Deadlifting is actually fun!
I’m not advocating making a spectacle of yourself, training topless in the gym and screaming mid-lift to draw attention to your incredible feats of raw strength (seriously… I’m not). But it is gratifying to challenge your body in a new way, and there’s a quiet sense of achievement to be had when you find yourself warming up with weights that had felt beyond heavy weeks before.
You can even brag about your progress on social media, just be sure to add that you’re only doing it to help your running…
A Proper Deadlift
Remember to keep a hip-width stance and a flat back. You don’t want to look like this:
This article originally appeared at Trainingpeaks.com.
Matt Pearce is a writer and strength and conditioning coach from Northumberland in northeast England. He co-founded and co-runs his own gym, Real Fitness Strength and Conditioning, and his main focus is helping endurance athletes implement strength work into their training.