My simple strength training routine

Since my previous workplace provided relatively cheap access to local gyms (access I still have for at least the next few months), I decided to take advantage and bookend many of my runs with a brief strength workout… or as I call it, swolework.

I have an on-again off-again relationship with strength training. I first started pushing weight while living briefly in San Antonio during 2000, as my apartment complex had a freely available fitness room with weights and I wanted to take advantage.

I sampled various fitness books on lifting weights at the store and bought the simplest, most accessible yet comprehensive volume I found: Bill Pearl’s Getting Stronger. Even today, you will not find a more comprehensive and point-blank summation of all the different functional barbell, dumbbell and machine weight lifting exercises you can do for every major muscle group than you will in this large paperback book.

Sexy basic workout plans like Stronglifts and Starting Strength are obsessed with heavy compound lifts like squats/deadlifts/benching at max weight. But I still find the approach of training more specific individual muscle groups at a manageable weight the real winner for most non-bro, non-powerlifter trainees. I’ve always found the most results keeping a workout plan simple.

Throughout the subsequent 18 years I’ve stopped and started strength training workout plans depending on my situation or needs. I’ve also done various Bodyweight resistance training plans, from comprehensive programs like Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym or Adam Rosante’s 30 Second Body… to simple barebones programs like One Hundred Push Ups or the RCAF’s 5BX.

I’ve seen results with all of them, though they’re fairly tough to follow (even being able to do them at home), especially if you’re doing anything else… such as running every day.

Once I got into running it became impractical to compound fairly taxing miles of running with any strength training beyond the basics. Even a relatively slight strength training routine can cause enough upper body and midsection soreness to compromise my running and other day to day life if I’m not careful.

But it’s not like I avoided it completely. Sometimes after a store fun run we would do some basic core exercises. Runners do benefit some from supplemental strength training. I just didn’t want to do too much and compromise my running.

Once I regained access to the gym about a year ago, I rarely did more than spend a few minutes on the exercise bike or rowing machine, or perhaps some basic stretching.

After a while, I drifted back towards the machines and weights and started doing a slight amount of post-run lifting. And I mean a single set of six relatively light reps for each of what I consider the basic upper body muscle groups (Chest, Shoulders, Back, Triceps, Biceps), before stretching or hitting the exercise bike to cool down.

After changing jobs my access to the gym got curtailed, so I didn’t strength train for a while. But recently the bobsled skids to the gym were greased again and I’ve decided to step up my strength training. I experimented with and eventually adopted an adapted approach of what >Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes has referred to as the 320 Method.

In Cortes’ 320 Method, you start with 3 sets of 10 reps total (spread in any combination among the 3 sets, like 3-4-3 or 5-3-2), using the maximum weight you can push for 5 reps. Then you work your way up to 20 reps spread over 3 sets (hence the term 320). Once that becomes easy, you add weight and go back to 10 reps over 3 sets, repeating the process.

Admittedly, that’s not exactly how I do it.

Like before, I train chest, then shoulders, then back, then triceps and biceps in that order. Starting with my chosen chest exercise (usually a chest press, but I’ll switch to flys or something else as desired), I choose a weight I find challenging to lift but that I can capably push for 10 reps (if needed I’ll do a preliminary test rep, to gauge if possible, and may reduce weight if needed before beginning).

1st set: 10 reps at that weight.

2nd set: 6 reps. If the 1st set was easy enough, I add weight for these reps. If it was fairly challenging, I’ll stay at the previous weight for the 6 reps.

3rd set: 4 reps. Again, I’ll add weight if the previous reps were easy enough to indicate it’s possible. Otherwise, I stay at the prior weight.

  • I always try to do the sets as 10-6-4. I am open to changing the number of reps for a given set as needed, but my goal is always to do 20 reps spread over 3 sets (3-20). And typically, you want to do the most reps during that 1st set and the least reps during the last set, as subsequent sets should become more difficult.
  • I never try to max out with these lifts. Since it’s supplemental, I’m not aiming for GAINZ or to get SWOLE AF with these lifts. It’s entirely possible I do all three sets with the exact same weight, or even that today’s workout was lighter than the weight I used in the last workout.
  • In fact, to take a page from Planet Fitness and their somewhat silly Lunk Alarm policy… I do not want to ever grunt while lifting, or use momentum to jerk the weight up or down. I want all movement to be in clear control from start to finish. If I have to grunt or jerk, the weight is too heavy. If necessary I’ll end the set early to reduce the weight. And unless the grunting/jerking happens during the last rep and I know it’ll be easier to lift the next set after some rest, I may reduce the weight before the next set.
  • I want to finish the last set feeling like I could do another set or two if needed. Usually, I’ve run several miles prior to this plus am looking to run some more the next day, and am not looking to pile on a substantial amount of needed additional recovery.
  • Some people thrive on slammed workloads, but also get to sit around a lot more than I do outside of training. I commute on foot, on top of running home from work. I need to be able to walk out comfortably, get out of bed comfortably the next day, and get on the road to run comfortably the next day. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody in the gym.
  • Afterward I may dynamic-stretch with some leg swings, possibly plank a bit or work the abs for another 3-20 segment on the sit up machine. Since my core’s already doing substantial work to maintain balance and form during my runs (which often occur right after an 8 hour day at work), I’m not looking to seriously bomb them ahead of another run the following day, any more than any of the other muscles I’ve worked out. If I feel my core hasn’t been engaged much that day, I’ll give it a bit of a workout. But otherwise I’ll let it be.

How often do I train at the gym? Right now, about twice a week. If I have a killer weekend run or a race planned, I may only go once, and not at all during the 2-4 days leading up to the big run. Again, this is supplemental, and about augmenting whole body health as well as my running. The bell curve threshold before it begins to hurt my training and life is pretty shallow, so I don’t want to overdo it.

A typical workout:

Chest Press on machine (70% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total between them

Shoulder Press on machine (70% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

Lat Pulldowns on machine (80% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

Tricep Pushdowns on machine (80% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

Bicep Curls on machine or w/dumbbells (80% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

30-60 seconds rest between all sets and weight workouts. Use your judgment.

Dymanic Leg Swings – 3 sets, 6 each side.

Rowing Machine – 20 minutes

  • Doing the lats and arms closer to my max is nothing more than a personal choice based on my capabilities and feeling they can more comfortably handle weight closer to my max without risk of injury than my chest or shoulders. Those numbers are not hard and fast: I just find that the weight I typically use for those workouts are at that proximity.
  • This weight workout takes about 15-20 minutes, with rest breaks. The leg swings take maybe a couple minutes, and the 20 minutes on the row machine is also just a preference. Some days I won’t do any in-gym cardio or stretching at all, and just leave after that. It can depend on a variety of factors, including how difficult my prior run was.

None of this was to get all Bill Phillips on you and give you a comprehensive strength training program for runners. I just wanted to show you how I handle strength training, based on my needs/limits and my past experience with other workout plans.

It works for me. Maybe something like this can work for you.

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