Strength Training for Runners

There are still a lot of misconceptions about running and how to best train runners to minimize injuries and enhance performance.

Part of the problem is that there is a low barrier to entry to running.  All you need to do is start running, right? No gym membership, no equipment, heck most people don’t even do anything to prepare themselves for running.  They just decide to start running.

For recreational runners, running also tends to be a fitness choice.  Many people pick a way to get in shape and start exercising, and feel like they need to choose.  Do I want to do strength training or do I want to do cardio work?

Competitive runners also have some misconceptions when it comes to training to enhance their performance.  In the past, many have believed that strength training will bulk you up too much, make you less flexible, and may even slow you down.

There is no doubt that running requires cardiovascular conditioning.  But we can’t ignore how the rest of the body is biomechanically involved.  

Let’s simplify running a little more.

Running is a series of little jumps.  The rear leg has to propel the body forward.  The stride leg has to absorb force.

To minimize your chance of running related injuries and enhance your running performance, you need to understand both of these concepts.  

The key to both of these is strength training.  We can build tissue capacity to handle these forces much more efficiently, especially if we build a specific strength training program for runners with these two concepts in mind.

Strength Training for Runners

When it comes to runners, my go-to resource for injury rehab and performance enhancement is Chris Johnson.  Chris has an excellent website and clinic that specializes in runners.  He’s helped me a ton over the years.

Chris has an amazingly comprehensive book right now, Running on Resistance: A Guide to Strength Training for Runners.

We had been talking online recently, and I thought that my readers needed to benefit from Chris’ amazing knowledge on runners.  So we sat down and talked about the book, as well as a bunch of other topics related to strength training in runners:

Running on Resistance: A Guide to Strength Training for Runners

A Guide to Strength Training for Runners CoverIf you’re interested in learning more, Chris’s book is an amazing resource for both runners, as well as rehab and fitness professionals that want to work with runners.  It is a detailed guide and program to building capacity, becoming more resilient to injuries, and enhancing running performance.

Chris was nice enough to extend a special 15% off discount just for my readers.  Check out the book below:

Does Periodization of a Program Help Improve Strength?

When designing programs to enhance strength, there are many variables that you can (and should) manipulate to facilitate improvement.  These can obviously include the sets and reps (volume), loads (intensity), frequency, and rest time (density).  However, how we periodize these variables is also very important.  Periodization is the systematic structuring of how you plan on manipulating these variables over time.

You probably know me well enough by now to know that I value systems and planning.  One of our fundamental principles in program design at Champion is to “begin with the end in mind.”  It drives me crazy to see programs written month-to-month without a goal in mind.

So it makes sense to develop a system of how you plan on periodizing your strength training, wether in the personal training, sports performance, or even rehabilitation setting.

While the strength and conditioning world has really embraced the concept of periodization, physical therapists are notorious for a complete lack of periodization.  It’s not uncommon to perform “3 sets of 10” in the rehabilitation setting forever.

Perform a Google search for strength training periodization and you’ll find a sea of conflicting terminology that is likely to make you dizzy.  Linear periodization, reverse linear periodization, non-linear periodization, undulated periodization, conjugated periodization, concurrent periodization, and block periodization are some of the many types of periodization programs that you can find.

Unfortunately there is little consensus on terminology or definition, feeding the confusion for people looking to learn about periodization even more.  Add to that the ability to essentially say anything you want on the internet without needing any scientific validity and you’ll find a dozen different “best” ways to get strong.

But the real question still remains – does strength training periodization even matter?  And if so, what type of periodization is best?


Effect of Periodized Versus Non-periodized Programs on Strength

Since the rehabilitation setting does such as poor job at implementing periodization into programs when returning from injury, we should start by establishing the need for periodization.

Anytime I have a research question in regard to Strength and Conditioning, I head over to Chris Beardsley and Bret Contreras’ website Strength and Conditioning Research.  Chris has an excellent article on our current scientific understanding on strength training.

The article reviewed 7 studies comparing periodized and non-periodized programs on strength in untrained individuals.  Of these studies, 4 reported significant benefits of periodization over no periodization.

Similarly, there were 7 studies comparing periodized and non-periodized program on strength in trained individuals.  Of these 7 studies, 4 reported significant benefits of periodization and the remainder reported no differences. Using periodization may therefore have a beneficial effect on strength gains in both the trained and untrained population.

I wouldn’t say the research is overwhelming, but leans towards at least some form of periodization being more effective than using no periodization at all.  I think we would all anecdotally agree with this as well.


Effect of Linear Versus Non-Linear Periodization

Now that we have established we should use some form of periodization, the focus now shifts on determining what the best form of periodization may be to improve strength.

Lets simplify, and perhaps oversimplify, the forms of periodization for this conversation as either linear periodization or non-linear periodization.

Linear periodization refers to the slow decrease in reps and increase in load.  For example a 4-phase program may look like this:

  • Program 1 – 3 x 12 with a light load
  • Program 2 – 3 x 8 with a moderate load
  • Program 3 – 4 x 5 with a moderate to heavy load
  • Program 4 – 5 x 3 with a heavy load

Linear Periodization

As the reps go down, the weight goes up.  This has been the most classic form of periodization used for the last several decades.

Antagonists to the linear periodization model often point out that the benefits seen early in the program in regard to strength and hypertrophy are not maintained throughout the program as the focus continuously shifts from program to program.

This has lead to several variations of non-linear periodization, including one of the most common, undulated periodization.  Undulated periodization involves continuously shift the focus of the program on either a daily or weekly cycle.

A weekly undulated periodization program may look like this:

  • Week 1 – 2×15
  • Week 2 – 3×8
  • Week 3 – 5×5

While a daily undulated periodization program may look like this:

  • Monday – 2×15
  • Wednesday 3×8
  • Friday 5×5

Undulated Periodization

While many have stated that undulated periodization is more beneficial at eliciting strength gains, does the research agree?

A recent meta-analysis was publish in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.  They reviewed hundreds of articles and ultimately select 17 that met all their strict criteria for analysis.

Of these 17 articles, here are a few bits of information:

  • 12 compared linear periodization to daily undulating periodization.  3 compared linear to weekly undulating.  1 study compared all 3.
  • 7 studies were on untrained people (<1 year experience), 10 on trained (> 1 year), and no studies included advanced trainees (>5 years).
  • 16 out of 17 studies reported significant increase in strength in both linear and undulated periodization.  12 studies found no difference between the two periodization models.  3 found undulating better than linear and 2 found the opposite.

The overall meta-analysis also agree and the article concluded that there is no difference in strength gains between linear and undulated periodization.

However, when analyzing trained individuals, people that had previous experience with linear periodization had an improvement in strength when switching to undulated periodization.  There was no difference between the linear or undulated periodization in untrained individuals.

Based on this it appears that as your training age increases, you may need to change your training stimulus to maximize your gains.  However, linear periodization will work fine in new trainees.

Realize that the majority of articles you read on the internet are geared towards the very small percentage of people that fit into the advanced trainee grouping, when in reality, this is not what 95% of us see on a regular basis, especially in the rehabilitation and general population personal training worlds.  Sure, advanced periodization programs are needed to get from 500 lbs to 600 lbs on a lift, but probably not as much from getting from 100 lbs to 200 lbs.

Linear periodization offers a great way to introduce and teach movement patterns with a lower load and higher rep scheme, then as the movement skill is perfected, the load can safely increase.


Periodization for Strength Training and Rehabilitation

Because the topic of periodization is so large, important, and so often neglected in the rehab and personal training setting, I have a past Inner Circle Webinar on Periodization for Strength Training and Rehabilitation.  In this webinar, I am going to discuss the above concepts in much more detail and show you how we periodize some of our programs for healthy people and those coming back from injury in the physical therapy setting.





3 Mistakes Coaches Make When Training Women

Tony GentilcoreToday’s guest post comes from strength and conditioning guru Tony Gentilcore.  As one of the premier strength coaches and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance, Tony knows how to train people and get results.  There are many misconceptions in strength training women.  Tony provides a great article on some of the mistakes he commonly sees when coaching female clients.


3 Mistakes Coaches Make When Training Women

Before I begin lets address the obvious.  I’m not a woman.  I’m a dude. And as such, like most dudes, I have a strong affinity for old school Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, Star Wars, Rocky I, II, III, and IV (but not V), Rocky Balboa was eh, beef jerky, tanks, and leaving the toilet seat up. 

To save face, however, I’m not what you would call a “guys guy.” I like to buy flowers for my girlfriend just because, I’ve watched every episode of Sex and the City (true story), and, while I’m sure I’m going to catch some flak for admitting this and run the risk of losing my Man Card, I’m rather fond of the occasional pedicure (also, true story!).

Pop culture references and societal norm commentary aside, I’ve been in the fitness industry for a little over twelve years now, and in that time I’ve trained my fair share women.  Some have been elite athletes – ranging anywhere from world-class triathletes to Olympic hopefuls – in addition to both collegiate and high school athletes. Moreover I’ve also worked with a gulf of women in the general fitness population from varying demographics with any number of varying goals and needs (not to mention training experience).

On top of that, throughout my career, outside of my current role as strength coach (and co-founder) at Cressey Sports Performance, I’ve had the opportunity to work with female athletes and clients in both the corporate and commercial gym setting.

In short:  I’ve seen it all and feel I have a well-rounded perspective on the topic of “female specific” training. 

It’s on that note I’d like to discuss some of the universal mistakes I’ve observed numerous coaches and trainers make when it comes to working with and training female clients.  Here are my top 3 mistakes coaches make when training women.


Buying Into the Term “Female Specific” Training

do-women-need-to-train-different-than-menI don’t deny the fact there’s an array of differences between the female and male body – both anatomically and physiologically.

Boys have boy down there parts and girls have girl down there parts. We all learned that fairly young in life. Also, hormonally speaking, there’s quite a bit of diversity between men and women – the most obvious of which is the different levels of testosterone and estrogen.

Although estrogens are thought of as female sex hormones and androgens are considered male hormones, both men and women make hormones in both groups, with different ratios depending on gender.

Men have much higher levels of testosterone (which explains why it’s much easier for men to add muscle and stay a lower body fat level), and women have higher levels of estrogen.  We don’t need to go into the deep science on hormones for the sake of this article, but we’d be remiss not to at least note that hormones do enter the equation.

When working with females one (or more) of the following scenarios will affect how we go about training them:

  • Athletic Amenorrhea (losing your period).
  • Pregnancy Training
  • Training for Menopause
  • Menstrual cycle (this will HIGHLY dictate training and nutrition).

We DO need to consider “stuff,” and we absolutely should not make light of any of the above talking points.

However, I don’t really buy into the whole “female specific” training mindset – especially if we’re referring to a healthy, non-injured client/athlete.

The human body is the human body and whenever I work with a female client I treat her just as I treat my male clients. I assess them, look at their movement quality, figure out if there are any red flags from a postural and alignment standpoint, and if we’re in the clear, they’re going to squat, deadlift, push, pull, carry, and lunge just like everyone else.

I don’t do “girl” pushups with my female clients.  I do pushups (and progress and regress accordingly).  I don’t do “light weight/high reps” because they’re girls, either.  They TRAIN just like everyone else.

Which serves as nice segue to my next point.


Stop Using Terms Like “Sexy” and “Toned”

Walk into any grocery or convenience store and peruse the magazine shelves and you’re bound to notice an endless barrage of words like “sexy” and “toned” directed towards women.

Conversely, guys are inundated with terms like “jacked” and “chiseled” and “gainzzzz” and other bro-tastic adjective you can think of.

For women, I don’t like the connotation the mainstream media beats over their heads.  And I certainly don’t like the message it conveys. Is it any wonder why so many women (young and old) are programmed into thinking they have to look a certain way to fit our lame societal norms? It sucks.

When I start working with a female client I try to gravitate towards terms like “strength” or “athletic” or “performance”…..because I feel they’re more empowering and have a less nefarious tone to them.

And speaking of performance……


Stress It!!!!

If there’s one thing I can universally point to that separates female clients from male clients it’s that male clients compare themselves to themselves, while female clients compare themselves to other females.

Put another way, most of the time (not always) male clients will be more concerned with what he weighed last month or what he lifted last week. He’ll almost always lean towards being more temporal minded and compare himself to himself.

This isn’t to say that guys aren’t competitive with other guys – I’ve seen way too many improvisational “deadlift offs” to state otherwise. But rather, generally speaking, most male athletes and clients are more concerned with competing against himself and setting performance based goals.

Conversely, most women (not all) are more societal comparative.  Meaning they’ll lean more towards comparing themselves to other women.

And don’t play it off as it that’s not true ladies!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out with my girlfriend walking around the city and out of nowhere she’ll blurt out something like “That girl should not be wearing that!”  When was the last time you heard a guy do that?  Never.  NEVER!!!!!!  Crocs don’t count.

But back to my main point.

As an example I once had a 50+ year-old female client get flummoxed whenever she trained at the same time as a 22 year-old ex-Division I decathlete.  She’d routinely compare herself to the younger woman and wonder why she didn’t look like her despite being twice her age!  Mind you, she looked amazing!  She’d always get compliments on her work ethic and physique – but sadly they fell on deaf ears.

To help combat this mentality, as a coach I continually make an effort to not place precedence on physique or weight goals, but rather performance goals – especially with women.  Of course if someone’s goal is to lose weight for health reasons or they’re a physique competitor, I’m all for it. Their training will reflect that goal. 

However, I often find that by stressing performance based goals like being able to perform their first unassisted, bodyweight chinup or squatting 1x their bodyweight for reps or being able to conquer their first Tough Mudder, it sets a much better tone moving forward.

In general I find that strength is an often UNDER-stressed quality pursued by women (and men), and I LOVE when a woman finally has that “light bulb” moment and recognizes that strength is a beautiful thing and something to be revered and embraced.

When that happens, cool things follow.



Get in Shape in 2012

Each year around this time I offer an article about fitness to help those with New Year Resolutions and those that want to get in shape in 2012.  I like to update this every year as trends in fitness are constantly changing.

Why You Need to Get in Shape in 2012

I discussed this in last year’s article on How to Become Healthier, Richer, and More Attractive, but the numbers are real and worth reiterating.  Recent reports are stating that close to 75% of Americans will be overweight by 2015.  That is completely insane.  I’m going to take this directly from Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko in his new book The New Abs Diet (which I still love and you should read more about here), but here are some startling facts if you are overweight:

  • 50% more likely to develop heart disease
  • 360% more likely to develop diabetes
  • 31% more likely to die of any cause
  • 120% more likely to develop stomach cancer
  • 590% more likely to develop esophageal cancer
  • 35% more likely to develop kidney cancer

But for some reason, these numbers don’t scare us enough, maybe these next two will since no one seems to care about their health, lets focus on what really motivates us – money and…  well, you know:

  • 14% less attractive to the opposite sex
  • 37% more in expenses for prescription drugs
But there is hope.  Exercising a small amount each day has been shown to:
  • Reduce mortality by 14%
  • Reduce chance of cancer by 10%
  • Reduce chance of cardiovascular disease by 20%

So in a nutshell, getting in shape in 2012 will allow you be healthier, richer, and more attractive.  Where do we start???

Home Workouts

Like I do each year, I will start this section off by saying that I fully encourage people to go to a gym and work with a qualified personal trainer or strength and conditioning specialist.  There is NO DOUBT in my mind that this is ideal and will provide much better benefits than any home workout.  That being said, this section isn’t geared towards people that want to do that, it is geared towards everyone else.  Realistically, I know that there is a large percentage of our population that simply can’t or will not do this, so encouraging home workouts is an option for them.

In the past, I have discussed the best home workout programs and included such staples as P90X, Mark Verstegan’s Core Performance series, and Yoga (click the link earlier to read more).  I still like all of these programs but there are three programs that have been on the market since I originally published this article in 2008 that are worth mentioning.

Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Training

Show and Go TrainingI have always kept the target of these articles to programs that can be conducted at home, however Eric Cressey has released his Show and Go Training program that anyone can use on their own.  Unless you have a sweet gym in your basement or garage, you will need to get to a gym to perform these workouts.  However, this is the next best thing to working one on one with a fitness specialist.  Eric shares his acclaimed training programs and provides a comprehensive program that any can follow and any can benefit from.  This is the next step program that many of us are probably looking for to narrow the gap between a home workout like P90X and a real strength and conditioning program.

Click here for more information on Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Training.


P90X2The sequel to the original and has 12 new workouts.  I really enjoyed the original P90X programming and thought they did a good job with the production of the DVDs.  P90X2 is even better.  This time around, they took feedback from the millions of P90X users and combined it with more modern science and fitness research.  I like the added focus on recovery and mobility in this new series.  Like the original P90X, P90X2 is a very thorough program.  You won’t get bored quickly and you will be challenged.  You may still probably mute the DVDs and play your own music once you are familiar with the programs!

Click here for more information about P90X2.


I have to mention it, but P90X has had a competitor the last few years called Insanity.  I’ve taken a look at the program and it is pretty intense.  I love the marketing as well and have to admit, we tried throwing the words “insanity” and “extreme” around in rehab but it just doesn’t work as well when I tell someone to perform their “Extreme Shoulder Program” or “Range of Motion Insanity” program.  If you truly do not want to go to the gym, then P90X and Insanity may be options for you, but the programs are not quick and easy, the both have nearly daily workouts between 60-90 minutes.

Click here for more information about the Insanity workout.

Jillian Michaels

Jillian Michaels

I have to mention that Jillian Michaels can basically sneeze on a napkin and turn it into a well selling workout at this point.  One of the fitness specialists from the Biggest Loser TV show, Michaels has turned herself into a huge fitness business.  She has more DVDs out right now than I can even count, but what may be even more impressive is how many different sports bras she owns.  She is hot right now and has such a variety of home base workout programs that you should be able to find one that fits your goals.  I must admit that I cringe every time I watch the biggest loser and see the workouts they perform, so take popularity with a grain of salt.

Click here for more information on all of Jillian Michaels’ DVDs.

Home Workout Equipment

My original article on the best home workout equipment include items like the Perfect Push Up, Yoga Equipment, and the Bowflex SelectTech Weight System.  Still great products and worth pursuing.  Last year I discussed the TRX Suspension Training system.

TRX Suspension Training and the TRX Rip Trainer

TRX Rip Trainer

I really love the TRX Suspension Trainer.  Over the summer, I published a video of a new exercise I called TRX Serratus Slides to strengthen the serratus anterior.  This is just a small example of how I use the TRX Suspension System in rehab, but the programs that come with the TRX products can form a very good home workout program with minimal equipment.  Eric Cressey and I show a few techniques with the TRX products during our Functional Stability Training of the Core program as well.

TRX now has a new product called the TRX Rip Trainer, which is essentially a bungie cord at the end of a long dowel.  Like all of the TRX products, the Rip Trainer’s production quality is top notch.  TRX really does a great job putting together a great product with a great workout program included.  The Rip Trainer can be used to perform many home exercises including chops and lifts that traditionally require a Keiser or Pulley machine.  There are bunch of new uses that I come up with everyday as well.

I recommend both the TRX Suspension Training System and TRX Rip Trainer, click here for more information on both.

Xbox Kinect Workouts

ZumbaWow, I never thought I would include a video game in this type of article, sounds counterproductive doesn’t it?  The Wii was close, but the Xbox 360 with the Kinect motion sensor really does open up the possibility to offer home workout “virtual coaching” better than a pure DVD video.  The Xbox Kinect system can see you and assess the quality of your movement as you go along with the workout programs.  Games include several dance based titles that can serve as a cardio workout, but also many workout programs including:

I wouldn’t underestimate these options for home workout programs as they can be fun and motivation is the key.

Click here for more information on the Xbox Kinect Motion Sensor.

Self Myofascial Release

I really think that we are going to start seeing more of the trend towards “feeling better” in our home workout programs.  As we mentioned above, P90X2 has a new section of the program designed for recovery and mobility, and Mark Verstegan’s Core Performance programs have always featured this concept.

One simple way to start feeling better in addition to getting in shape for 2012 is self myofascial release and trigger point releases.

UPDATE:  This article has been revised and updated with newer products!  Click here to see my current list of best self myofascial release tools.

Foam Rollers

Thoracic Spine Mobility ExercisesI have reviewed many of the best foam rollers on the market right now.  I still like all my original recommendations, though one new product is also worth checking out.  I have actually gravitated to using the Grid roller myself, and I think it is great, but for those on a tight budget it is hard to justify the extra cost from the simple foam roller.

In addition to self myofascial release, foam rollers are also excellent at working on thoracic mobility, which we all really need in our society.  I showed a video of how I perform simple thoracic mobility exercises on a foam roller than anyone can perform.  Start enhancing your posture now!

Click here to check out the best foam rollers.

Trigger Point Massage Balls

Trigger Point Massage BallThe same company as the Grid roller, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, has released a trigger point massage ball that I really like.  Softer than a lacrosse ball and firmer than a tennis or racquetball with a little nub to really get into a trigger point.  This has been my go to tool for self trigger point releases over the last year or so.  I showed a technique I use for the self trigger point release of the shoulder and rotator cuff.  This is a great compliment to any foam roller you have.

Click here for more information on the Trigger Point Massage Balls.

I hope this information helps.  I am always looking for good products so feel free to comment and share your experiences too!  Good luck with your New Year Resolution to get in shape in 2012!