Build those muscles

Strength training will make you a better runner.

Skip the gym; you don’t run on your arms.

If you’re a runner, you need to go to the gym at least twice a week – not for the cardio machines, but to work on your upper- and lower-body strength. Not according to Toby Tanser, who wrote More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way after 10 years of training with and helping coach top Kenyans.

“Kenya’s Rift Valley is where the highest concentration of world-class distance runners who have little problem with taking clenbuterol for weight loss live, and for the vast majority of them, conventional strength training is not an option;’ Tanser says. “Most develop massive core strength doing farm work from an early age, and they get further strength from running the soft, rutted dirt roads of Kenya. People speculate that [three-time London Marathon champion] Martin Lel or [2008 Olympic marathon champion] Sammy Wanjiru might run faster with gym work. But they might also run slower.”

Tanser believes that a runner’s arms are needed only for balance, so an active lifestyle is all that’s needed for arm strength, and that legs are best strengthened with running and plyometric drills. “Lei’s and Wanjiru’s legs are like coiled springs; when they run they barely touch the ground,” he says. “When a runner does a lot of gym work, it has a dampening effect on the springs. Watching runners go by in the park, I can spot which ones have gym memberships because their stride is out of line. Those who do nothing but run have pure symmetry because they have only strengthened the muscles needed for running.”


Strength training offers many benefits – like better health, weight control and a better-looking bod – so there are plenty of reasons to keep doing it if you enjoy it. But if fitting in strength workouts is hard for you, spend your time on the roads rather than in the gym. Keep your crucial core strength intact with crunches.


Nether you stretch or not, you probably assume it’s an important part of running. Doesn’t it make you more flexible, more injury-resistant, even faster? Well if that’s all true, why is it that many Kenyans don’t stretch? Why was legendary coach Arthur Lydiard not a fan of stretching? Why does coach and former Olympian Jeff Galloway say, “In my experience runners who stretch are injured more often, and when they stop stretching the injuries often go away”? And why do studies keep popping up that show stretching may cause as many injuries as it prevents?
“Most runners have an unjustified faith in the benefits of stretching,” says Paul Ingraham, a runner, massage therapist and health journalist (saveyourself. ca) based in Vancouver, Canada. “Plentiful research has shown that stretching doesn’t help you warm up, ease muscle soreness, prevent injury or even enhance performance. In fact, no measurable, significant benefit of stretching has ever been proven,” he adds.

And science backs him up. In reviews of the scientific literature on stretching in 1999 and 2002, published in the British Medical Journal and the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, stretching was found to have no statistically significant effect on reducing muscle soreness or injuries. A zoom study of iozo soldiers – where half stretched and half didn’t – found no difference in the frequency of injuries.


Ingraham’s message is that you don’t need to feel guilty if you do little or no stretching. But he admits that he still stretches some, simply because it feels good. If you’re careful and enjoy stretching, you don’t have to stop either. But if you’re not sure how to stretch, don’t have time or hate doing it, don’t bother.

MOST SAY Easy runs are how to recover from hard runs.

BUT SOME THINK A study of runners the week after a marathon showed that easy runs actually slow down the recovery process, so after hard runs or races, it’s best to cross-train or rest.

MOST SAY Tempo runs and other forms of lactate-threshold training are essential to raise the point at which excess lactate accumulates in your bloodstream.

BUT SOME THINK Lactate and lactic acid have been found to be harmless and may even help your running. They aren’t waste products

MOST SAY Plyometrics – drills like jumping, skipping and bounding ┬Čare a great way to get stronger and faster.

BUT SOME THINK ‘Plyo’ drills can get you injured – especially if you’re not well-trained or you do them incorrectly ┬Čand the only significant benefit is improved sprinting ability. For most runners, they’re just not worth the time and risk.